What to have on hand: Refer to Medicine Box: https://spiritedrose.wordpress.com/jersey-cattle/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 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?
- Resource: Calves that Don’t Breathe at Birth by Heather Thomas
- Resource: Calving School Handbook by Oregon State University
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
An Article by Sheila McGuirk, DVM on checking fresh cows: http://www.vetmed.wisc.edu/dms/fapm/fapmtools/tci/Fresh_Cow_Examination.pdf