Trauma during calving — often from improper on-farm procedures for handling dystocia births — can lead to reproductive tract damage. Left untreated, it impairs future reproductive performance. However, prompt attention can help put your cows back on the road to pregnancy.
Use this guide to determine what action you should take.
The most common problem involves vaginal or vulvular tears. If minor, use topical ointments or creams and insert an obstetrics sleeve or cleaned bread sack filled with ice into the vagina. Cold therapy reduces bleeding and minimizes swelling. To remove the bag of ice, tear a hole in the bag to allow the water to drain out.
More severe tears or lacerations require sutures. Tears that occur above the vulva — up and into the rectum — always require sutures. Fecal contamination and secondary infection always occur. Proper suturing, plus realigning the mucosa, muscle and skin, is needed to correct the problem properly. Ice therapy can be used with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.
These lacerations often lead to pneumovagina. These cows hold air in the vagina, causing irritation and infection and lowering conception rates. If found on pre-breeding exam, most cases can still be corrected. The procedure is called Caslicks surgery.
This is an emergency situation, and immediate care is needed. Blood vessels can rupture, causing acute death. And, the longer the uterus is prolapsed, the more difficult it will be to replace due to swelling.
If down, the animal should be allowed to stay in this position if possible. I prefer to have the cow lying down in sternal recumbancy — her head secured by a halter and her rear legs pulled directly behind her. If she is in obvious distress from milk fever, I administer 250 ml. to 500 ml. of IV calcium before working on the uterus.
After giving a low-dose epidural, I place a large plastic sheet (an old shower curtain or extra large trash bag works great) under and around the uterus. The organ is cleaned thoroughly and the placenta is removed only if it will detach with little effort. If you have an assistant, have him sit on the cow’s rump facing you and hold the uterus up as you insert the organ back into the vagina. This position allows the pelvis to be tilted forward, which allows for easier replacement of the uterus, and puts less tension on the uterus and blood vessels, thereby minimizing further damage.
Once returned, I infuse 1 to 2 gallons of a 0.5-percent providone iodine solution into the uterus. This serves multiple functions. The solution is antibacterial and helps prevent early metritis. The weight of the solution helps to invert the uterine horns and holds the uterus over the brim of the pelvis, thus helping to prevent a prolapse from reoccurring. I always suture the vulva to keep the uterus in place, taking care to leave enough space to allow the cow to urinate easily. Remove the sutures in 10 to 14 days. Antibiotics and IV calcium are normally given, as well as flunixin for inflammation and pain.
I do like to get the cow up immediately after whenever possible. This allows the uterus to hang in normal position, and minimizes muscular or nerve damage seen in downer cows.
Calving is the time to get your cows off to a good start for the lactation. Work with your veterinarian to learn how to deliver calves properly and care for post-calving problems.
Jim Brett is a practicing veterinarian in Montezuma, Ga.