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Assessing problems eases calf delivery

Less than 2% of cattle births are malpresentations, meaning you are dealing with calves needing help to be born, says James England, University of Idaho Caine Center veterinarian.

Assessing problems eases calf delivery

Less than 2% of cattle births are malpresentations, meaning you are dealing with calves needing help to be born, says James England, University of Idaho Caine Center veterinarian.

A large calf also needs assistance. “As long as you can push your hand between the calf’s head [or hips] and the cow’s pelvis without tearing your knuckle off, he’ll fit through,” says England.

“Feel all the way around the calf [not just the top of the head] to make sure there’s nothing abnormal with the cow’s pelvis — protrusions the calf might hang up on. I’ve seen backward calves pulled and the bottom of the cow’s pelvis catch on the calf’s ribcage and peels the breastplate back,” he says.

“Another rule of thumb: Never put two men on a chain or more than two women, or you may injure the calf. Just take your time and try to straighten the calf to where it can be pulled,” he says.

Once the calf is coming properly, try to turn him so his pelvis is coming through the cow’s pelvis at a 45-degree angle. There’s more room to come through that way, without his hips catching on her pelvis, he adds.

Use lots of lubricant around the calf. “This makes it easier to move and roll him so you can reposition him, or pull a large calf. Apply lubricant to your arms, and to the calf if he’s tight,” says England. You can get an obstetrical lubricant from your vet.

Key Points

• Determine whether the calf can fit through the birth canal.

• Lubrication and rotating the calf helps ease animal through.

• Homemade tool helps push calf back into uterus where you can manipulate limbs.

Straightening it out

Often a calf simply needs to be straightened. The correction may be simple (one front leg turned back at the fetlock or knee) to complex (both front legs back, a leg turned back at the shoulder, head back, or breech).

“You have to push him back in, to manipulate the leg or head,” explains England. It helps if the cow is standing, with gravity in your favor when pushing the calf back down into the uterus. If she’s lying down, the pressure of her rumen is against the calf and you don’t have as much room to manipulate him, especially if the head is turned back.

“One thing I use, especially on a calf with turned-back neck, is a tool I’ve made that’s a rod with a U or Y shape on one end. I can put that in the corner of the mouth and hold the head up, while I reach down with the other hand to manipulate the calf.”

It’s like putting your fingers in the corner of the mouth to hold the head, he explains, and is very handy if it’s difficult to get both arms in the cow.

To make this tool, England uses a 5/16-diameter rod and bends it with gloved hands after heating it with a cutting torch. “I bend it close together to create the U, then make a handle at the other end,” he says.

Overall length of the finished tool is 30 inches. The U-shaped end for holding or pushing the calf has a 2.5-inch outside width and 1.5-inch inside width, and is 2.5 inches deep. “Where it comes together on the U, I weld it with an acetylene or electric welder so it can’t cut the calf or cow,” says England.

The other end is made into a handle. “I like a T- or L-shaped handle best. It can be placed against your shoulder to repel a breech calf for manipulating legs into the birth canal, or into the calf’s mouth to hold up the head,” he explains.

“Calves with head turned back can be hard to get because even when you pull the head up it goes right back down again,” he says. The tool prevents this problem and helps keep head and neck in proper position as you start to pull the calf.

“It also works nicely when trying to correct a breech calf — when you have to push him back into the uterus to straighten each hind leg and get it into the birth canal. I can push the calf forward enough to get in there with my hand and straighten the legs.”

Smith Thomas writes from Salmon, Idaho.

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HANDY TOOL: UI veterinarian James England says his homemade tool is very helpful if you can’t get both arms into a cow at the same time, explaining that “you can use it to push the calf back, while straightening a limb or head.”

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.

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