Whether a cow is pregnant or not is very often pondered upon by cattle farmers. As soon as a cow is mated, every farmer is impatient to see that calf born. But how can you tell when a cow is pregnant or not?
Most often, a farmer will complain with dismay that certain cows have got back to mating. This is one of the definite ways of detecting pregnancy failure in animals. This happens every 21 days on average in a cow following the last time it stood for mounting. We call this the ‘heat’ or ‘estrus cycle’ of a cow. (In sheep and goats, it often occurs every 16-17 days). Thus, if you don’t notice your cow getting back on heat, give it an extra 21 days and if it doesn’t happen again, it will most likely be pregnant).
The other common way of a pregnancy diagnosis (PD) is sticking your hand up a cow’s behind and feeling the uterus (baarmoeder) size, consistency and position through the rectum. (I actually enjoy this part- real veterinary dirty stuff). Whatever you do, never do a PD from the vagina, no ways! You will damage or introduce dirt to the uterus and cause abortion.
At this point, I understand that most farmers don’t have much of a picture on how the reproductive organs of a cow look like but don’t stress. A look at farm books will give a much needed idea and after a while of following steps in this article, you will also become a fairly good expert. The more you practice (even on older non-pregnant cows), the more comfortable you will become.
It is advisable for farmers to rather attempt PD from three months after mating, when the foetus is big enough to determine pregnancy with certainty.
Before you attempt PDs, you have to restrain the cow very well in a manga. You might definitely get a kick if you’re not careful. Don’t stress the cow as much as possible and approach it in a calm way and in letting it know you are there, try talking to it quietly (it works!).
There are long gloves available for PD but don’t worry too much if not available. Personally, I rarely use them anyway. Raise the tail to locate the anus and apply a lot of lubricant such as liquid paraffin (Vaseline will do as well) to the anus and your arm. Go gently into the rectum and if it is full of ‘faeces’, empty it by raking back.
Swipe your hands gently along the pelvic bone to locate and grasp the cervix, which is a small rigid tube extending inwards from the vagina. Gently travel further along the cervix, feeling for the uterus (this is the part where I close my eyes for a nicer feel of the uterus). The uterus has a left and right horn and you might feel small pebbles (the ovaries) at the end of each horn.
If one horn is bigger than the other, the cow might be pregnant. After two months, the pregnant horn feels like a small water filled balloon and the foetus should be the size of a mouse. You will still feel the uterus close to the birth canal entry.
At three months, the pregnant horn will be distended and feels like a piece of wood floating in fluid and the foetus is almost the size of a rat. Here, the uterus would still be high up in the birth canal.
At about four months, the uterus sinks below the birth canal into the abdomen. It will be less easy to pick up. The cervix will be softer and feels like a soft tube, lying further down. At this stage, you should feel the foetus and enlarged cotyledons (lots of small buttons that connect the foetus to the mother and enlarges as pregnancy progresses). If you feel on top of the uterus, the arteries will be distended and gives a characteristic pulse wave or buzz (it feels like musical tremors on your fingers).
It will be harder to feel for the foetus at four and a half to five months as it sinks into the abdomen. The foetus will also float away when you touch it and it grows from the size of a small cat to the size of a large cat from four and half to five months. At this stage, farmers can already distinguish the enlarging udder and one-sided bulging stomach.
The uterus is large at six months with the foetus the size of a small dog and the cervix stretches tight like a band across the lower birth canal. Note that you cannot feel the foetus at this stage and you will only rely on the enlarged uterus (feels like a huge fluid filled balloon). The uterine tremor is very distinct here as well.
The seventh month marks the foetus being the size of a large dog and it feels the same as at six months. At eight months, you might be able to feel the head, legs and knees. By reflex, the foetus will also shy away when you try to touch it. By now, even the inexperienced farmer will detect the pregnancy and if you also squeeze the cow’s teats, milk will come out. At this stage, if the calf comes out for any reason, it will survive without a problem.
At the ninth month, when you put your hand inside the cow, you should feel the head of the foetus with its legs extended already near the entrance of the birth canal. Note that the foetus might bite you if you put your hand around its jaws.
So, now you have it. Brace yourselves and stick your hands up that cow and tell us if it’s pregnant.