Calving 101


In a sort of ‘sequel’ to my post Lambing 101, I decided to do something about calving, and hence Calving 101 came into being.

The gestation period of cattle is similar to humans; around 283 days and parturition takes place in three stages.

  1. Dilation of cervix. This stage takes place around 4-24 hours before delivery of the calf and usually goes unnoticed. Noticeable differences in cows and heifers are behavioural, with the animal isolating itself and showing signs of discomfort.
  2. Delivery of newborn. First, membranes will appear at the vulva of the animal. The head of the foetus will appear afterwards, the stage ending with the complete delivery of the calf. This stage should take around 30 minutes for cows and around an hour for heifers. If no significant change has taken place within 2 hours, the help of a veterinarian should be sought.
  3. Shedding of placenta. The placenta is usually shed from the body of the cow 8-12 hours after delivery of the calf. If it takes more than 12 hours, the placenta is said to be retained, dangerous territory is being entered and a veterinarian should be contacted immediately. Manual removal is dangerous and not recommended as it usually harms the animal. Often, the veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection and usually the placenta will pass by itself.


However, like with childbirth in animal, there are some problems associated with calving. These include, but are not limited to uterine prolapse, hypocalcaemia, calving paralysis and retained placenta.

Uterine prolapse: This can occur directly after the cow calves, usually happening not long afterwards, although it can occur before calving. Uterine prolapses are less common than vaginal prolapses but can still be dangerous and are definitely very irritable. A veterinarian should be contacted who will replace the uterus, cleaning the tissue before pushing it back into the cow.

Hypocalcaemia (milk fever): This is a metabolic disease caused by low blood calcium levels and occurs in between 3 and 10 % of cows with some breeds being more susceptible than others. The majority of cases occur within a day of calving as milk and colostrum production require a lot of calcium which is drained from the blood faster than it is being replaced. Warning signs include agitation and tremor of head and limb muscles and staggering until the cow falls over. Immediate veterinary treatment should be sought as the cow can die very quickly from this point. Treatment should be immediate and is the administration of 300ml or more of 40% concentration of calcium boroglutonate.

Calving paralysis: The paralysis of the hind legs and pelvic area after calving. This can be caused by the cow lying on one side for too long, and whilst this seems harmless, it can cause irreversible nerve damage. If the cow strained a lot during the birth, or the calf was in the birth canal for a prolonged period of time, her pelvic nerves will be extra sensitive and therefore more susceptible to damage. First calf heifers are particularly susceptible to paralysis. To help the animal, supportive care -food, water, shelter- is recommended and anti-inflammatory therapy is given (usually banamine but some steroids can be used). It is essential to provide care for the animal when it is in recovery, such as turning her when she is lying down to prevent further nerve damage as a result of lying for too long on one side.


Discussion topic (ethics):  Is it ethical to make cows breed twice a year? This practice has been installed in several countries already, so should it become commonplace worldwide?


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