I know you’ve heard of the holiday season, tax season, etc. but you’ve probably never heard of calving season. However, it is a very real thing too (just not for the average person).
I wanted to share a grandiose story with you about how I was there when a cow or heifer calved (particularly without assistance). Really, I did. The funny thing is though that just like humans they kind of have their own agenda – so that didn’t happen, but I can still share my experience. Essentially I spent significant time driving to campus at night weekly to crawl around with a flashlight to check on the heifers/cows due to calve and being incredibly nervous that they might.
What is Calving Season?
Calving season begins when the first calf is on the ground or born on a cow-calf outfit. This is also known as calving. It’s an exciting time for anyone involved in raising beef. I am not a rancher, but I am taking a beef production class at NMSU this semester which included an obstetrics lab and it was also required that we participate in calf watch.
What is Calf Watch?
Calf watch is checking cows or heifers (first time moms) progress in labor at specific time intervals to determine if assistance may be needed.
Why is Calf Watch Necessary?
Cattle don’t tell you when they’re going to calve. Will there be physical symptoms that manifest? Yes, absolutely. Those are helpful but you can’t really begin to see this incredibly early on, maybe 24 hours at most. Cows are either bred via artificial insemination where superior genetics can be incorporated or by a bull or a combination of the two. However, when a cow is bred this doesn’t guarantee conception. Farmers and ranchers may determine if cow is pregnant and can even estimate days in gestation using palpation as a technique. You can understand that as cattle are bred over a period of time and conceive at different rates that calving will be spread over a certain amount of time. For our class calf watch from start to finish will be about six weeks total. Cattle producers want to check the health of the calf and cow, be sure that she will let her calf suckle, that the calf has the ability to stand and suckle and soon after calving tag the offspring for identification and record keeping purposes. It’s also necessary because some heifers or cows may need assistance due to dystocia.
What is Dystocia?
Dystocia means ‘difficult birth’ and is incredibly undesirable but still may occur for a variety of reasons. Though cattle producers genetically select for low birth weight sometimes a calf may simply be too large to be delivered without assistance. Dystocia may also occur in heifers as the birth canal may not have the elasticity that it would in individuals that are oviparous (have given birth more than once). A calf may also be positioned irregularly. While this is relatively uncommon these are some general causes for dystocia. Studies have shown that dystocia negatively impacts both calf and cow health. There are three stages of calving and each producer will have protocols that determine how much time can elapse before intervention should take place and assistance should be given.
In the first stage of calving a cow will be restless and expell a chorioallantoic sac (water sac). In the second stage the amniotic sac will break and hang where you can visibly see it, the limbs will enter the birth canal and the calf will be expelled. The third stage is just the expulsion of the fetal membrane after the delivery of the calf.
What Assistance Can Be Given?
There are different ways in which a calf can be ‘pulled’. One of the most common ways is to use a loop knot and place this over each pastern (part of the foot) that is protruding and by pulling straight back with each contraction after the calf is properly positioned.
Why Give Assistance?
Dystocia is especially important to manage if present because when the calf’s umbilical cord is pressed up against their mother’s body cavity due to improper positioning or a variety of other factors they react to this as if their cord has been severed. They breath, except there is no air which is often fatal.
While there are numerous other ways that cattlemen take care of their cows and calves this is an excellent example. The time period calving season takes place over is at least a month on many farms and ranches and requires intensive labor from the cattle producer, their family and any hired hands. Though we were only in charge of doing calf watch once a week per group which works out to once a night weekly this isn’t the case for cattle producers. They’re checking calves at specific intervals twenty four hours a day because they care for the health of their herd and it’s future members. If a calf needs extra attention they get it without hesitation. Examples of this include bottle feeding calves or warming them up indoors. Calves gracing a rancher’s bath tub or living room to warm back up is quite common if needed. If you want to learn more about calving from a cattle producer’s perspective be sure the check out Katie Bertolino’s post who blogs over at Mud, Muck and Med School.
If you want to see more photos of adorable calves born this year try searching #calving #calvingseason #calving16 #calving2016 #calving time and #calfwatch2016.