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How to deliver a calf with an abnormal anterior (front facing) presentation

How to deliver a calf with an abnormal anterior (front facing) presentation

Calving difficulties are the bane of every cattleman, and they are as unpredictable as they are inescapable.

However as abnormal presentations go, you could do worse than an anterior (front facing) one.

In these abnormal cases, one or more of the pieces crucial to a normal anterior calving are missing. Here's what to do in each case.

Calf presented with its head in the birth canal but one or both forelegs retained.


Carpal Flexion (one knee bent)
While in this position the calf cannot be born as the calf could break their leg and it could damage the cow’s birth canal.

Even if it seems like there is enough room, you don’t know what is happening with the hind legs and if there is another problem down the line it could worsen things.

left carpal flexion

To fix it, reach in, push the limb up towards the body bending the higher joints first, and then extend the leg laterally towards the vulva.

Be sure to use plenty of lubricant before doing this, and be sure to retrieve the leg by bending it at its highest joints (the ones closest to the torso) first.

If you don’t, it can lead to the calf’s hoof damaging the birth canal which can lead to infection, infertility and in worst cases death.

Shoulder Flexion (Full leg Back)

To fix this, you have to convert it to a shoulder flexion and then to a normal position.

The first thing to do is tie a rope to the leg outside and repel the calf back inside the birth canal.

Shoulder flexion

The uterus is the ‘roomiest’ place of the birth canal so it is the easiest place to turn the arm. The pelvis is the narrowest and can cause problems if the arm becomes lodged.

Once the calf is repelled into the birth canal, apply generous lubrication to your hand and locate the calf’s head, and then the shoulder.

Follow the calf’s shoulder down to the carpal region. Hold it and twist it toward the calf’s body.

Once you’ve twisted the leg towards the body, push the leg upwards towards the calf’s head by the shoulder joint and carpus.

Extend the leg into the pelvic inlet, but shield the hoof with your hand to prevent womb damage.

Two front legs presented with calf’s head down between legs

In this case, the calf is presenting in an anterior fashion, with both hoofs showing, and they’re facing the right way, but their head is tucked down between their legs and it hugging the body.

Before you do anything, lubricate your hands and attach calving ropes to the calf’s feet in case they slip back into the womb.

head between legs

Then, remedy the position of the calf’s head by grabbing them by the nostrils or mouth and pulling their head into the normal position in the pelvis. If excessive force is used, however, there is a chance that you could break the calf’s jaw.

Upside down

In this case you can try to rotate the calf in the womb the right way around before delivering safely.

However, time is of the essence and a c-section should be considered.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on backwards facing calving complications like breeches in the coming days.

Have you ever had difficulties with an abnormal anterior presentation? Tell us in the comments below.


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