Spring calving season is nearly upon us again, and along with it all the dangers that accompany it.
There is a risk attached to calving at the best of times, but cutting out some common malpractices can help minimise that.
The cow is served by an overly-large bull
A farmer has to use discretion when picking the right bull for his herd.
While it seems like good business sense to get as big a calf as possible to maximise your margins, it can be counterproductive.
You’ll get no margin if you can’t get the calf out alive or if the cow dies in calving.
Picking stock that is too big for the cow can lead to difficulties in calving, as the calf is too big for the cow to handle. Cesarian sections are a solution to this, but it is a situation you would like to avoid.
Misuse of a calving jack
Calving jacks are a great piece of kit for giving the cow a helping hand. Calving jacks can pull six times stronger than a man and five times stronger than a cow can push her calf out.
Misuse of the jack, however can make things worse and be sore on both your calf and dam. It can lead to rib and hip fractures for the calf.
One common practice used by many farmers is to release tension from the jack once the calf’s ribs are outside the cow to let the calf hang from their hips, be careful not to lever the calf too much on their back as they can be easily injured.
Not getting the cow in the right physical shapeIf a dam is too thin, she can struggle for energy during calving, and if she hasn’t been able to compete for silage with bigger stronger cattle, the calf may be weaker and less vigorous.
If a dam is overly-fat, on the other hand, she may need help during calving.
This is because in such cattle, fat is deposited in the pelvic area, reducing the size of the pelvic canal, and making it harder for the calf to get through.
Special attention has to be paid to a first-calving heifer, who should be approaching their mature body weight by the time of calving.
According to Teagasc, Farmers should aim to have these heifers at 60% of their mature weight at breeding and 80% at first calving.
This varies in different breeds, however. According to Teagasc, Holstein Friesians should be approximately 85% to 90% of their mature body weight.
Not leaving enough room to calf
Cows should be given ample room when they come close to calving, preferably in their own calving pens. If they don’t, it can be difficult for a cow to calf properly and easily.
Unsafely clearing a calf’s lungs
‘Hanging’ a calf is a method of clearing a newborn calf’s lungs by lifting them so the head is below the chest, or hanging them on a sloped surface and letting the fluid drain out.
Farmers should never hang them upside down over a gate or swing the calf as this will distress the calf and make it more difficult for them to expand their lungs to breathe.
Additionally, the calf should not be hung for more than 1-2 minutes as it labours the calf and can cause more stress for both calf and farmer.
Helping the cow calve too early
The first step in the calving process is cervical dilation or in simpler terms; a relaxation of the muscles keeping the uterus closed to keep the calf inside and everything else outside.
If you intervene too early it can be harmful to the cow and calf.
Tools like Moocall’s calving sensor can help you trust your discretion as to when to start helping the cow, with cows calving on average one hour after the first text.
Using the wrong type of lubricant
Washing up liquid will not suffice as a lubricant while a cow is calving because it breaks down the natural lubricant of the cow, can cause inflammation in the birth canal, impedes to movement of the calf and can affect cow fertility later on.
Properly formulated veterinary lubricants will stay around longer, are less likely to dry out during the calving and are kinder to the animal - invest in proper lubrication.