Calving 911 – when to call the vet | TSLN.com

Calving 911 – when to call the vet

Kenny Barrett Jr., DVM, MS

For the April 3, 2010 edition of Tri-State Livestock News.

Veterinary clinics servicing cow-calf clients are busy all over with calving season in full swing. Many conversations with producers occur after bankers’ hours over an untimely fetal extraction. Topics of conversation wander and vary while the veterinarian prepares a suitable patch of hide through which a calf will soon emerge. But knowing when to call the vet greatly enhances the chances of a live vigorous newborn. The difference between an unaided delivery and a dystocia is a fine line. Calving problems encompass a variety of issues from fetal monsters to having a leg back.

The most common dystocia we see results from a calf that is simply too big for the pelvis. This is usually the case with heifers. Producers may notice feet with minimal progression after an hour of active labor. When the pelvis is too narrow for the calf, the sides of the pelvis push the legs together and often the legs are crossed near the fetlocks or feet. A pelvis that is short, top to bottom, prevents the head from entering the birth canal normally. The forehead of the calf will contact the top of the pelvis preventing normal parturition. On occasion, the force from abdominal and uterine contractions will push the head of the calf down, or more commonly, to the side making it difficult to find. These calves need to be delivered by C-section, or cesarean.

Other common causes for dystocia include a variety of malpositions. Malpositions include one or more legs tucked back, having a head back, backwards calves, upside-down, or breech delivery. Breech and backwards calves account for the majority of cow dystocias in our practice. Malpositioned calves can be difficult for a producer to diagnose in a timely fashion. Often times these females show mild to moderate signs of calving if the calf never really enters the birth canal. Early diagnosis of a malpositioned fetal part greatly eases manual manipulation. Repelling a calf wedged in the pelvis can induce more sweat than a season of “The Biggest Loser.”

Less commonly we see aberrations of the reproductive tract itself causing dystocia. The cervix and vulva both need to dilate to accommodate the size of the calf. The vulva, being external, is fairly obvious. Producers commonly refer to a female with a relaxed vulva as “springing.” The cervix is a structure with a great amount of connective tissue that normally seals the uterus from the external environment. It has three circular bands and incomplete dilation of any one will prevent normal birth. Problems with the uterus are typically rare but include tears and torsions. A uterine torsion is when the uterus rotates on itself effectively clamping off the birth canal. When palpated via the vagina the birth canal appears to dead-end in a spiral. Sometimes the torsion can be corrected without surgical intervention but commonly the calf is delivered by cesarean.

Last but not least are the fetal monsters. Fetal monsters usually result in veterinarians saying the four lettered word producers never want to hear – “Oh, COOL.” It is broad term used to describe any number of birth or congenital defects. Biology is amazing and on occasion amazingly cruel. Some defects are hereditary and result from parents with normal outward appearance. More commonly the defect is the result of fetal development gone awry. Dystocia results when the congenital defect results in a calf that is misshapen including an extra fetal part or parts, schistosoma reflexum or “inside-out” calves, conjoined twins, and any number of other deformities. Techniques to correct the dystocia depend on the defect but often require surgical intervention.

Dystocia is common and knowing when to call the veterinarian will greatly enhance the chances of live calf. When to call depends on the producer. Some ranchers are comfortable and accomplished when it comes to correcting a malpositioned calf. But, in general, calving should be progressive and heifers should calve in one to two hours. Cows should calve in two to three hours.

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Veterinary clinics servicing cow-calf clients are busy all over with calving season in full swing. Many conversations with producers occur after bankers’ hours over an untimely fetal extraction. Topics of conversation wander and vary while the veterinarian prepares a suitable patch of hide through which a calf will soon emerge. But knowing when to call the vet greatly enhances the chances of a live vigorous newborn. The difference between an unaided delivery and a dystocia is a fine line. Calving problems encompass a variety of issues from fetal monsters to having a leg back.

The most common dystocia we see results from a calf that is simply too big for the pelvis. This is usually the case with heifers. Producers may notice feet with minimal progression after an hour of active labor. When the pelvis is too narrow for the calf, the sides of the pelvis push the legs together and often the legs are crossed near the fetlocks or feet. A pelvis that is short, top to bottom, prevents the head from entering the birth canal normally. The forehead of the calf will contact the top of the pelvis preventing normal parturition. On occasion, the force from abdominal and uterine contractions will push the head of the calf down, or more commonly, to the side making it difficult to find. These calves need to be delivered by C-section, or cesarean.

Other common causes for dystocia include a variety of malpositions. Malpositions include one or more legs tucked back, having a head back, backwards calves, upside-down, or breech delivery. Breech and backwards calves account for the majority of cow dystocias in our practice. Malpositioned calves can be difficult for a producer to diagnose in a timely fashion. Often times these females show mild to moderate signs of calving if the calf never really enters the birth canal. Early diagnosis of a malpositioned fetal part greatly eases manual manipulation. Repelling a calf wedged in the pelvis can induce more sweat than a season of “The Biggest Loser.”

Less commonly we see aberrations of the reproductive tract itself causing dystocia. The cervix and vulva both need to dilate to accommodate the size of the calf. The vulva, being external, is fairly obvious. Producers commonly refer to a female with a relaxed vulva as “springing.” The cervix is a structure with a great amount of connective tissue that normally seals the uterus from the external environment. It has three circular bands and incomplete dilation of any one will prevent normal birth. Problems with the uterus are typically rare but include tears and torsions. A uterine torsion is when the uterus rotates on itself effectively clamping off the birth canal. When palpated via the vagina the birth canal appears to dead-end in a spiral. Sometimes the torsion can be corrected without surgical intervention but commonly the calf is delivered by cesarean.

Last but not least are the fetal monsters. Fetal monsters usually result in veterinarians saying the four lettered word producers never want to hear – “Oh, COOL.” It is broad term used to describe any number of birth or congenital defects. Biology is amazing and on occasion amazingly cruel. Some defects are hereditary and result from parents with normal outward appearance. More commonly the defect is the result of fetal development gone awry. Dystocia results when the congenital defect results in a calf that is misshapen including an extra fetal part or parts, schistosoma reflexum or “inside-out” calves, conjoined twins, and any number of other deformities. Techniques to correct the dystocia depend on the defect but often require surgical intervention.

Dystocia is common and knowing when to call the veterinarian will greatly enhance the chances of live calf. When to call depends on the producer. Some ranchers are comfortable and accomplished when it comes to correcting a malpositioned calf. But, in general, calving should be progressive and heifers should calve in one to two hours. Cows should calve in two to three hours.

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