Calving Preparation

What to have on hand: Refer to Medicine Box:


  • Manure before calving should be soft to loose. If the cow’s manure starts to get too firm in the week(s) before calving, try giving her some lukewarm water and/or soaked beet pulp with added molasses. Molasses will help soften the manure.
  • Make sure cow is in a safe, secure area where you can observe for pending signs of calving.
  • You can give Calcium or CMPK paste/gel/bolus as a preventative around 12 hours before calving if she is making up a lot, has a known history of milk fever, etc.
    • If a cow is cold, showing signs of milk fever before calving, she may not have the strength to calve. She may need a bottle of IV calcium or CMPK to stimulate her muscles for active calving.
    • Generally not necessary for first time calvers.

When is baby coming? (Some or all of these signs should be present when calving is imminent):

  • LIGAMENTS DROP: Look for the ligaments between her tail head and pin bones (rear hip bones) to relax and get soft, like a stretched out rubber band. Each cow is different, but in general, the most change takes place around 12 hours before calving. Click here for photos: How Close to Calving?
  • EDEMA: Her udder will make up until it gets tight, full, and swollen looking. Udder will lose all or most of its wrinkles and edema will cause the quarters to look mis-shapened and swollen. Do not worry if one or more quarters are uneven – this is almost always just the edema (which is basically just excess water) moving around. The odd/varying sizes of the quarters are caused by pressure depending on how the cow lays (for example, some cows like to always lay to their right, so the left side of the udder will be larger, as the edema gets pushed away from the right side and toward the left side.)
  •  MILK IN TEATS: The teats may get hard, full, shiny, waxy and she may spray continuous milk out of the teats.
  • PROTECTIVE INSTINCT: If she wants to be far away from everything and on her own to have her calf in a “safe” spot hidden from potential predators.
  • STOPS EATING: The cow may go off her feed up to 24 hours before calving.
  • MATERNAL INSTINCT: She may start to act distracted or aggressive around other animals (particularly dogs!) even if she is usually very friendly.
    • You may see her sides quiver from contractions and you may see front feet sticking out (ideally).
    • She might lick her sides back and forth.
    • She may try to lay down and push, might get up and down a lot.
    • Another good indicator, her tail will be sticking straight out like she needs to go to the bathroom, but only little piles come out or nothing at all.
  • A SLICK OF GOO: Unusually large amounts of clear goo may indicate near/in calving time. Note: Small amounts are normal for weeks before calving!
  • STRESS: The cow may give little moos. Why? At first, scared but later because cows have a special “moo” for their newborn babies.
  • THE BEST (IDEAL) INDICATOR: when there’s a calf up and nursing! 😉 Then you proudly shrug and heave a sigh of relief that your wonderful cow didn’t even need you and she did everything on her own!

When is baby not coming yet?

If the udder is still loose and has room to grow, you likely have more time. (Note: Sometimes, a mature cow will not “make up” much before calving)

  • If the cow is relaxed and cudding, acting normal.
  • If the teats are wrinkly and not filled with much milk.
  • You may see long strings of clear mucous hanging out, but cows can do this a week or two or three before calving. It’s only an indicator of health, that her body’s working properly in gestation.
  • She may drip some milk a week or so before calving IF a super high producer. Generally, though, cows do not drip milk until “the time” of calving.
  • If her belly and frame have not “blossomed”. The calf is probably not in position yet.

Cow not calving right? There could be a number of concerns:

  • First, she might not want people around bothering her. Some cows are very private and having peeping toms looking in is not appreciated…
  • Second, the calf may be in a problematic presentation or may just be too big to come out. If you see the water break: you should be seeing hooves close after. If you don’t see hooves within 15-30 minutes after the water breaks, you may need to call someone with calving experience or D-I-Y and put your gloved arm (using AI gloves) into the cow to inspect. If you feel proper presentation & nothing seems to be wrong, then give the cow 20-30 minutes more before you try to help her pull the calf out. Often, the problem may just be that the head is slightly tilted wrong or one foot did not come up and those changes can be fixed easily.

When is baby stuck?

  • If you see toes but they keep coming in and out for a long time, then the cow may not be able to push the calf out. The feet should be two, right next to each other, and with the bottom of the hooves facing downward. On top of the front legs you’ll see a tongue, then a muzzle, and eventually the head should pop out.
  • Try to identify which toes you see: front or back? My first heifer had the feet sticking out, but they ended up being the BACK feet and we had to pull a drowned calf out! 😦
  • Keep calf pulling chains and handles nearby (see medicine box for description). If you don’t have chains, a piece of twine may suffice. If necessary, you may need to help the cow get the calf out. First, loop a chain above each foot. Make sure the chains are above the dewclaws! Gently but firmly pull until the ribs are showing outside of the cow. Stop, let the calf breathe a few beats, then finish pulling out. Make sure calf is breathing well, remove sac, and stand back to let mother take over!
  • In bad scenarios, you may need to add leverage by attaching the chain to a rope.

You may have noticed when cows deliver naturally, they pause for a few moments after the calf’s rib cage passes and the calf takes its first breaths of air. However, they’re not just resting. At that moment, the placenta transfers its blood supply into the calf via the still-intact umbilical cord. – Amanda Fordyce in The first 15 minutes of life: How can we best help calves?

birthing issues calves.JPG
From OSU article. Click photo or link for the full article. You may need to look up a visual of what your fingers are feeling if the calf is not in a normal presentation. In a lot of cases, the calf’s legs, head, etc. can be manipulated so they can come out the birth canal.  This article explains how to MOVE the calf into proper position.



  • Cow calves, cow should get up and start cleaning calf.
    • If you want, you can take clean towels and help dry the calf and clean the mouth and make sure the calf is breathing (poke straw up the nose gently to tickle the nose, often the calf will sneeze and blow out any mucus, helping it start breathing. Dry the body with towels and move the calf toward the mother. Hopefully, she will take interest within a few minutes. If she is trampling around and seems dangerous to the calf, remove the calf immediately.
    • The cow may eat her placenta (if there are any concerns about disease, remove the placenta so she cannot eat it).
    • Generally, the calf can stay with the mother for a few hours, at least until the calf is clean and dry [ONLY if the calving pen is clean and disease-free].
    • Offer the cow a bucket of tempered water and a flake of hay as soon as she is up and cleaning her calf. Cows prefer switching between hay – water – licking calf – my belief is that she likes to “cleanse her palate” between licks (I mean, really, would you want all that baby slime in your mouth?) Often, a cow has also not been eating or drinking for the hours leading up to birthing, so she will be hungry and thirsty. Eating and drinking are also VERY GOOD signs the cow is healthy and not coming down with something like milk fever. Resource: Rehydrate the post-calving cow for a quick recovery by Rodrigo Garcia
  • Dip navel of calf to prevent transmission of disease – use a 7% iodine rather than teat dip.
  • Always feed the calf a bottle of colostrum as soon as possible (you need to make sure the calf gets colostrum within the first few hours of birth and calves can’t always find the teat right away on their own, especially dairy calves because a milk cow’s udder is “designed” for machines, not so much for feeding calves). Take a bottle and start milking all quarters of the cow to get a full bottle of colostrum. Feed to calf; try to get calf to drink half or the entire bottle (up to 4 qts.). If the calf does not drink a whole bottle, then attempt another whole bottle 4-6 hours later.

When to first milk the cow?

  • First, milk enough for baby into bottle (1/2 gallon)
  • It’s important to start a cow on a routine within 1-12 hours after calving to help stimulate release of oxytocin, the natural hormone that tells the cow to “let down” her milk (“let down” means to allow the flow of milk from the milk secreting system into the cistern, which then comes out the teat end.)
  • If the cow has not cleaned, being milked (natural oxytocin release) can help stimulate her reproductive system and may help in the release of the placenta.
  • You can choose when to milk the cow after that. If she is spraying milk everywhere, then you can try to milk her right away, but don’t be disappointed if you only get half a gallon or less. Try again in a few hours (4-8) or at your next corresponding normal milking time.
  • Then work with timing to get her on her normal 12 hour routine.
  • For the first week, if you have the ability to milk three times a day, this will reduce edema/swelling much more quickly and will provide more relief to the cow while she is so swelled up.

After care:

  • Move calf to its own pen. A dome is an ideal “home” for a young calf to prevent cross-contamination between animals and because it provides a very stable constant warm temperature.
  • Our calves are in their own pens, but next to each other for company. If together, they tend to suck on ears and can hurt each other.
  • Colostrum should be given for three feedings to ensure they have received the full amount of nutrients to begin their life. This is essential if you want your calf to live.
  • Then put calf on a regular feeding routine.
  • (Note: Do not plan to make cheese until all the colostrum is removed from the milk, as colostrum prevents coagulation. Best to wait about a week.)
  • Watch for signs of problems (see Medicine Kit for more information). Immediate action is needed if you detect milk fever.
  • If a bull calf, the easiest method of castration is by banding at about a week old. You can buy a little hand-held bander and get little rubber bands (that look like green cheerios). An easy method is to have one person feed the calf a bottle of milk while the other person puts on the band. Make sure you have two oysters before releasing the bander!! 🙂
  • For ease of handling, start the calf out on a halter at a very young age. Train them to walk with you anywhere, then when they become big, they will be easy to handle in any situation.

To help with edema (swelling):

Rub the udder with creams to increase blood flow. Be sure to rub firmly along the crease to keep the crease from stretching or tearing. Many new cow owners see BLOOD in the milk and immediately think mastitis. Rather, the swelling has caused blood vessels to burst and the blood is mingled with the milk. Frequent milking, massaging, and a few days will clear up that problem with no harm to the cow.

More on EDEMA:

Retained Placenta?

If the placenta does not expel within around 4 hours from the time of birth, odds are it’s going to not come out for a while (called “retained”) – technically, a placenta still hanging out after 24 hours is considered retained.

Unless a fever develops, the most common treatment for retained placenta…is to do nothing. They look gross, but RESIST TEMPTATION! Leave them be! Just keep a close eye on the cow and within a week to 10 days, most placentas come out. From there, watch for infection and hope for the cow to have her first heat soon, called a “cleansing heat” where you may see some more blood and gunk come out. After that, a healthy cow should start normal heat cycles and have no symptoms of infection.

Options for treating retained placentas
Do’s and Don’ts of Retained Fetal Membranes by Angela Daniels


Why retained?

Retained placentas usually do not happen “for no reason” – though they are more common in cattle. If your cow has a retained placenta, that could simply be a side effect of a difficult birth, perhaps twins. Retaining issues could also be related to mineral issues such as selenium deficiency – review your mineral program to see if any changes should be made. The cow’s blood could be tested for deficiencies to prevent future issues.

Other Resources:

Calving Management:

An Article by Sheila McGuirk, DVM on checking fresh cows:

16 thoughts on “Calving Preparation

  1. maria

    Can you comment on your pre calving diet to avoid milk fever? Do you give bovikalc just prior to calving? Do you repeat?

    Thanks in advance. I really love your website


    1. You can read about milk fever and prevention on another page we have:

      Personally, we do not give anything to the cows prior to calving, and post calving we monitor them closely for signs of milk fever for a couple days. If a cow starts to show signs, we will treat her while it is mild to prevent it turning into anything serious. Some “family cows” are very commercially bred, and want to give several gallons of milk from the start – those type of cows are more difficult to keep healthy, which is why we try to emphasize the word “low production” when people are looking to buy a cow. If you have a cow you know is going to milk a lot, then yes, BoviKalc or another CMPK type product would be a smart consideration as a preventative. Be sure to always keep an IV kit on hand, though, because oral treatments are ineffective once the cow has become cold and her digestion is stopped.


  2. FAQ: There’s some kind of clear slick coming out of my cow’s rear end. Does that mean she’s calving now?
    Mucous just means she’s doing the right things.Could mean a week or two away. Watch for if she’s acting strange, sticking her tail straight out, wanting to go far away from everyone. If the teats are full and glossy, or even spraying milk, that could mean she’s close.


  3. FAQ: A lady recently purchased a Jersey cow, only to find out the cow has had no training and is due to calve soon:

    1. Horns must go. Yes, God made Jerseys with horns, and original cows were wild. He said to have dominion over animals, so we domesticated them and part of that is by dehorning. Losing your life for milk is just not worth it. Consider buying polled semen for your future breedings if you don’t want to deal with horns.

    2. Do not allow her to push you! Whatever it takes, do not let her be boss. She’s probably lonely and adjusting to a new place by trying to be “boss cow” and because you’re smaller, she’s winning. Their ears are sensitive, you can flick their ears with your hand for more impact. Another thought is to carry a rope with you and snap it at her if she comes at you agressively.

    3. I am guessing this Amish farm did not halter train this cow? One thing you can and should do is get some treats, such as grain, to start feeding her. Get your stanchion for milking built ASAP and start NOW feeding her in there twice a day. While she is locked up, start petting her all over. Massage her udder with lotion as the swelling increases (closer to calving).Gently rub and squeeze her teats (not too much, you don’t want to let out the natural plug in the teat end, but you want her familar with you touching her there) This will help her get more comfortable with you touching her, and when she is in milk, you will be very thankful for the time spent beforehand! You should have a halter on her, at least until she starts obeying you consistently. You can get a rope halter with lead (they’re very cheap, about $4 at feed stores and are adjustable). Then when she is locked up one time, put the halter on her. You can let her out and leave the halter/lead on her. One, you’ll be able to catch her more quickly and correct bad behavior. Two, she will drag the lead around and learn about having something pull on her face. Once she is somewhat settled with the halter, tie her closely to a very secure, firm post or wall. She may fuss for a while, but leave her tied there. After one or two days, she should be comfortable with the halter. You can decide to keep her on a few hours and let her go or you can just leave her tied and bring her food, water, and bedding.

    4. To catch her: First, tie up your horse and lock up all the animals you can. They do not need to be added distractions while you’re catching a wild cow. Do you have a trailer, round pen, stall, anything enclosed to catch her in? Corner her in one of those areas with at least one or two other people helping you. You can throw a rope around her neck initially, then try to get a halter on her head. If you really have to, maybe your husband can grab her by the nose. Pinch hard like you are a nose ring, fingers in each nostril. Then lift up her head and the other person can try to slip the halter on. I know I am sounding agressive, and trust me, I don’t like to be, but if this cow is wild and calving in 1 month, you need to get control as soon as you can. Once you get her on a halter and tied, your biggest step is over. In the future, if you have a heifer calf, be sure to put her on a halter at a young age, around 1-3 months old. They’re very easy to handle and the sooner they learn, the easier it is.

    5. Milk pumps – They are very expensive. You can check out craigslist or call neighboring dairies or look in your local papers. But, used are very hard to come by. You can build one if you have the know-how. Otherwise, check out and post that you are looking for a new or use milk pump for your machine. Scroll down to “The Family Cow” and post there initially. They may move it, but you’ll get tons of people looking and helping you. Fyi, price for a new pump ranges $800-1200. I can get a brand new stainless steel pump for $900 from the Amish here. Used, I once found one for $150, but I’ve never seen one that cheap again. My friend got a pump and milker for $800 off ebay, a rebuilt unit. Might check into that. Be sure to get one tho, because dairy cows are NOT modernly bred to be hand milked. Often they have little tiny teats.

    Well, I hope that’s not too overwhelming to start with. I’m sure there’s more to talk about, but I need to get back to work. Let me know if you have more questions and update us all on how your cow is doing. 🙂


  4. Dani Pierce

    She had a beautiful heifer, by my Angus bull small, calf We treated her, all is good the calf has her own mind more quirous about the world, not afraid of me, she wants to scout around, rather then hang close to mom. Thankyou


  5. Dani

    Hi, my Jersry, had her calf today Sun, the29. She does have mastitis in the rear quarter the front one is dead. I dont have a chute and I am alone. My dairy friend says to leave it alone, to dry up, will the calf get sick if she nurses that nipple ? If the cow lets her nurse.I feel like something needs to be done.I dont want to do the wrong thing, but I am 65, and dont need to get kicked. Thankyou Dani


    1. Spirited Rose Dairy

      Dani, The front dry quarter should be ok to leave alone. The mastitis quarter needs to be treated, or you will risk losing the cow. First of all, one newborn calf cannot nurse out enough milk to milk out a Jersey completely. Second, the calf will likely not nurse from the affected quarter and will instead nurse from the two healthy quarters.
      Two options I can think of are: 1. Tie the cow near a fence where you can reach your arms through, but such that the cow can’t reach you if she kicks. Try to at least get the mastitis quarter milked out. 2. Call a vet and see if they are willing to treat the cow.
      Either way, you should probably contact a vet and see what they recommend.


  6. Dani Pierce

    I now have a Jersey, this will be her 2nd calf , her bag is full, she had fluid stringing for 2 days, I check her every 3 to 4 hrs. But she is a few miles away.I worry about har at n7ght she is bred to my angus bull, he was around 60 lbs when born, I dont have her breeding


    1. Spirited Rose Dairy

      What are your plans for her once she calves? Is there any way you can bring her to your house for calving time? If not, then in your checks keep watching for udder development, whether the teats have filled up, and are glossy or spilling milk, that can be a sign she’s imminent. Good luck 🙂


      1. Dani Pierce

        Her udder is full, she has been wet in the back since Sat.when she lays down she moos, then chews her is thursday, I think she has mastitis in both quarters on her right side. She is so sweet, I got her at the sale barn, last spring , she had two black calves on her, and weighed 700


      2. Spirited Rose Dairy

        I wouldn’t worry about mastitis yet, there’s really no way to tell what is edema vs. mastitis at this stage. When she calves, just monitor her milk and see how it is.
        the wetness is probably what we call a “slick” which is good fluid that just shows her system is working. Cows will have that up to a few weeks before calving, and sometimes it’s a lot!

        If she’s chewing cud, she’s probably healthy. Sick cows don’t cud. 🙂 Watch her eyes (you want them healthy, not dull or sunken) & tail head and ears (you want them warm, not cold).

        It’s easy to worry, but just keep monitoring her. When you see lots of blood or major contractions or extreme straining, then you know she’s calving.


  7. Pingback: Heat Detection and Breeding Dairy Cows using A.I. | Spirited Rose Farm

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