The following list of calving mistakes was developed with the help of Howard Tyler, dairy scientist at Iowa State University, and Frank Garry, veterinarian at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University. These practices are still used on some farms — and thought to be good ideas — but they actually can be detrimental.
Use this list to help you banish these practices from your calving and calf care protocols.
1. Do not use sawdust or newspaper as bedding in calving areas. Calves can inhale the sawdust, causing damage to their lungs. And newspaper sticks like glue to wet, newborn calves. In addition, sawdust particles can lead to metritis if they enter the vagina. Use straw bedding instead.
2. Avoid moving cows and heifers multiple times. When a cow has progressed into stage 2 labor — the water bag is showing — and you move her into a new pen, labor will stop. Research shows that such a move at this time can add up to nine hours to the labor process for Jerseys and up to 16 hours for Holsteins. That’s because the cow or heifer stops labor to explore her new surroundings and become comfortable with the area. Instead, move her at the first signs of stage 1 labor, or earlier.
3. Do not rupture the water bag. Contrary to popular belief, rupturing the water bag does not speed up the calving process. The loss of pressure leads to temporary cessation of abdominal contractions, and the calf loses the protective cushion of the water bag as its head enters the birth canal.
4. Do not use soap and water as a lubricant. The soap actually removes the cow’s natural lubricants in the birth canal. Only use commercial lubricants designed for this purpose.
5. Avoid pulling unless the cow is pushing. Don’t pull constantly. Only pull when the cow pushes, and hold the position when she rests so the calf does not slip back in. This also helps maintain pressure on the cervix and speeds up dialation.
6. Stop pulling once the last rib is delivered. This allows time for the transfer of blood from the placenta to the calf prior to umbilical rupture. It also allows some fluids to drain from the nasal cavity and for the calf to take its first breath. Rotate the hips 45 degrees and the rest of the body will deliver on its own.
7. Do not hang a calf upside or swing it to clear fluids. This does not remove fluids from the lungs. Instead, it compresses the digestive organs against the diaphragm and makes it more difficult for the calf to take its first breath. Instead, sit the calf up sternally and elevate a bit to help drain fluids from the nose.