Observation of calving
It is important for a breeder to observe his cows while working. Above all, to be able to place her in time in a separate space, where she will be quiet to give birth. But also to detect in time any anomaly that would require the intervention of the veterinarian.
However, the cow should be disturbed as little as possible during calving: some breeders use a video camera connected to their own bedroom to be able to observe the work of the cow which has chosen to calve during the night.
The normal position of the calf in the uterus at the time of calving is very
important: if the calf is well positioned, the cow will be able to give birth to it without outside help. But in about 5% of cases the calf is poorly positioned in the uterus.
The intervention of the breeder, or the veterinarian, then becomes imperative to save the calf and its mother. Sometimes it is not possible to get the animal out by natural means. The vet then performs a cesarean section.
The three stages of labor
Before giving birth to the calf, the cow lies down. This has the effect of bringing the uterus back to the horizontal and improving the efficiency of uterine contractions: the rumen then passively pushes the calf backwards and the contractions “guide” it towards the exit.
First stage: dilation of the uterine cervix and the onset of contractions
The first stage of calving usually lasts 4 hours (6 hours if the cow is calving for the first time). The cervix, which has been contracted until then, dilates. At the same time, the first uterine contractions, still irregular, begin. They start to move the fetus back. But it is the “pocket of water” which will be between the fetus and the cervix.
Second step: the expulsion of the calf
This stage lasts 2 to 10 hours, with an adult cow usually giving birth to the calf in 3 hours. The contractions increase in intensity and regularity, pushing the fetus. The pocket of water then breaks. The fetus progresses through the pelvic artery: its front legs first appear on the outside, then its head. This prevents the umbilical cord from being broken while the calf’s head is still inside (the calf will then not be able to breathe).
Third step: deliverance
During this third stage, the calf is on the ground, still sticky, licked by its mother, the umbilical cord broken. The rest of the placenta is then expelled from the uterus, whose volume has suddenly diminished, but which continues to contract. These remains of the placenta, called “deliveries”, are expelled within 12 hours of the calf.
If the breeder does not find these remains alongside the cow (this occurs spontaneously in 5 to 10% of cases), he then calls the veterinarian, who will come and perform the “delivery”, or by injecting products that will stimulate contractions, or by intervening manually.
Indeed, if these dead tissues were left in the uterus, they could cause an infection there.
Not all calves weigh the same at birth. It especially depends on the breed of parents. Charolais cattle, for example, are “meat” breeds: they are very massive and have an impressive muscle mass. This is found from birth on their calves, which often exceed 50 kg. Conversely, the Holstein cow, which is a dairy breed, has a thinner format and its calves weigh around 40 kg.
First aid for newborn calves
When the breeder attends calving, as soon as the calf is born, he will free his nostrils of all liquid matter which clogs them and ensure that the calf is breathing normally. In some cases, hanging the calf upside down helps remove this material from the upper respiratory system.
Disinfection of the rest of the umbilical cord remains an important gesture: an infection of the navel is a relatively common complication.
Finally, the breeder makes sure that the calf has suckled very quickly after birth. Indeed, his mother’s first milk is rich in antibodies. During the first 24 hours of a calf’s life, its intestine is permeable to large proteins. These antibodies contained in the first milk (called colostrum) then pass directly from the digestive tract into the blood of the calf: it will thus be in a way passively “vaccinated” by its mother. These antibodies only last a few weeks, but it is enough for the young calf’s immune system to take over in defense against infection.
The disadvantages of farrowing “in the meadow”
When the calf is born in the pasture, in the absence of human intervention, which is relatively common for beef breed cows, the greatest risk for a calf is to be born in adverse weather conditions, most calving takes place at the end of winter, until spring. Cold is not particularly dangerous for a dry calf, but wet, cold weather quickly depletes the calves’ energy reserves.
In the United States, a national survey showed that bad weather conditions at the time of birth were the leading killer of calves (one in five animals).
Here again, the observation of the animals by the breeder makes it possible to limit any disappointment.
Credit : la-viande.fr https://www.la-viande.fr/animal-elevage/boeuf/reproduction-bovins