Dystocia 2: Getting that difficult calf out!
Last week, we discussed the causes, diagnosis and prevention of dystocia (difficulty in giving birth).
Now let’s try pulling that difficult calf out, dead or alive.
You should see what some farmers do with the poor cow in difficult labour; they tie the calf`s legs to a car or a tractor in an attempt to yank the calf out from the rear. I have heard about villagers who even tie it to a donkey in desperation.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to try to correct a dystocia where farmers try to cut the calf out piece by piece from the mother with a knife, with consequent injuries to the cow.
Although at times these methods might work, they are not the correct remedial practices and they most often traumatise the cow’s birth canal. If these cows manage to survive, they will most likely not be able to conceive or carry a normal pregnancy to term.
The most frustrating thing of them all is when some village farmers only call or bring the cow to the vet after 2-3 days of painful attempts to deliver. Then the calf is already dead and rotten. Most often, these cows will die from the toxins produced by the rotten calves even if you manage to pull the calves out.
Before attempting to approach a dystocia case, it is important to restrain the cow properly. Make sure you have all the required equipment such as two buckets of water, soap, disinfectant, lubricant, paper towels, calving chains or ropes (place them in a disinfectant solution).
Here are some recommended steps for helping cows give birth.
When examining a cow, good sanitation is very important to avoid an infection. Use disinfectant or gentle soap in water and scrub the cow’s rear. Have your finger nails well-trimmed as you can introduce infection or scratch the cow`s birth canal.
Lubricate the calf and the cow`s birth canal (to make them slippery) really well with a good lubricant such as liquid paraffin (not the paraffin that we use to make fire or for cooking). In the villages, people tend to use lots of cooking oil and some use teat cream or Vaseline which also works fine.
Examine if the cervix is fully dilated to allow easy passage of the calf and if not, gently massage it with your hands a few times.
Determine the calf`s position. The normal position for a calf during delivery is both front legs should be extended with the head following and facing forward in a “diving” position. As a rule of thumb, never attempt to deliver a calf in an abnormal position without first correcting its presentation as you could cause irreparable damage to the cow. Try to push the calf backwards as far as possible and try to re-position the head or front legs. It might be difficult to manipulate the calf, that’s why good lubrication is necessary. My husband once came up with the idea of putting a lot of water - like a full bucket - inside the birth canal to increase the space around the calf for easier manipulation. It actually worked that time.
Note that if the cow is dilated and the calf is in the normal position but still no progress is being made, then the calf might be too big for the cow. Both the calf and cow may suffer serious injuries or death if someone tries to force the calf out that is too large for the birth canal. Rather get an expert to saw the calf (if dead) with a calving wire (the same one used to cut horns) or a vet to do a caesarian section.
Place calving ropes (or chains) on both front feet above the ankle joint separately. It’s important to pull one leg and then the other alternately to “walk the calf out”.
If the shoulders get stuck, place a rope around the head to reach behind the ears and tie through the mouth. This traction will reduce compaction of the head against the top of the birth canal and reduce the size of the shoulder and chest region.
At times, it might be necessary to have one person pulling the head out while others are busy with the front legs in opposite directions in a cross manner.
Once the head and shoulders are out, rotate the calf slightly to help the hip enter the birth canal. If the cow is standing, pull the calf gently downwards towards the ground. The birth canal makes a curve downward. If the cow is lying down, pull towards her feet to a degree.
If the hip gets stuck, push the calf a bit backwards and rotate a quarter of a turn and pull the front legs in the direction of the cow’s flan or side to allow the hip bone to go through. Once the hips are out, the rest is history (the calf will come out easily).
As a word of caution, believe me, it’s never going to be easy and one needs a lot of patience and know-how. And remember, you will be dealing with very delicate organs of which if handled badly, will cause permanent damage to the animal or even death. Thus, it’s better not to attempt a difficult dystocia for more than two hours, rather call an expert or a veterinarian.