Garry says the impacts of dystocia can be minimized with:
- Appropriate delivery methods.
- Identifying compromised calves.
- Administering fluids and oxygen to calves with acidosis.
- Warming chilled calves.
- Delivering high-quality colostrum immediately after birth.
- Treating every calf that was exposed to dystocia as a compromised calf.
Appropriate delivery methods
The first part of “intervention” is always examination of the cow and calf. “This evaluation is what determines whether the next step is performing some manipulation of the calf, assisting the delivery, or calling for more help,” Garry explains. “The cow should be examined with care and attention should be paid to cleanliness and lubrication.”
The employee should intervene with close examination if the cow has been in stage 1 of labor for over six hours. Some abnormal deliveries, like uterine torsion, do not allow the cow to progress into a normal stage 2 of labor. In other cases, the cow may be in a state of uterine inertia and will not go into stage 2 of labor.
Once the cow enters stage 2 of delivery -- meaning the water bag appears and she begins to strain -- intervention is indicated if any of the following conditions exist:
- If the water sac is visible for two hours and the cow is not trying.
- If the cow has been trying for over 30 minutes and making no progress.
- If the cow has quit trying for over a 15-20 minute period of time after a period of progress.
- If the cow or calf is showing signs of fatigue and stress such as a swollen tongue of the calf or severe bleeding from the rectum of the cow.
- If it appears that the delivery is abnormal, for example, a backwards calf, only one leg, etc.
“The most difficult thing to teach is judgment about the best approach and timing of intervention,” Garry says. “It is common for workers who have been asked to watch the calving and assist deliveries to act hastily and to assist too soon. The birthing process takes time, especially for heifers, and patience is needed. Progress can be slow as the calving canal stretches to accommodate a large calf.”
Identify compromised calves
Any calf from a dystocia delivery should be considered compromised. “Even if the calf looks OK right after the delivery, it is common for these calves to do more poorly if not given extra care,” Garry ex-plains. “The observable signs of a compromised calf are delayed time to stand, delayed or weak suckle, reduced vigor and strength, or low body temperature at any time after an hour post-delivery.
Scoring dystocias is simple and is one of the key pieces of information that should be kept for calf records. This information is very useful for monitoring and management purposes.
Dystocia greatly increases risk of calf stillbirth and later calf health problems, so monitoring its occurrence is very help-ful in assessing potential causes of poor calf performance. Dystocia records can help management evaluate performance and consider whether changes are necessary in protocols and procedures.
Administer fluids and oxygen to calves with acidosis
The signs of acidosis are the same signs as for a compromised calf. Calves suffering dystocia delivery should be assumed to have a higher than average level of metabolic and respiratory acidosis. Acidosis makes calves weak and depressed.
“Having employees capable of IV fluid administration is helpful for a variety of reasons, including treatment of sick newborns,” Garry suggests.
Warm chilled calves
There are three ways for a calf to increase body heat generation necessary to maintain body temperature in a cool or cold environment. These are brown fat metabolism, shivering and physical activity. “Compromised and dystocia-affected calves are typically less active and tend to have poor cardio-respiratory function, so they don’t deliver oxygen well to body tissues,” Garry explains. “This negatively affects all three sources of heat generation.”
Chilled calves become less active and breathe poorly, exacerbating all of the problems associated with dystocia and calf compromise. “Like any preventive medical practice, avoiding chilling is better for the calf than waiting to see if it gets chilled and then trying to rescue it later.”