Dystocia is a major risk factor for death and infectious disease in early life. The Ontario Veal Association advises providing an extra level of care for any calf immediately after birth, particularly those that experienced a difficult calving. The association's tips include:
- Clear the airway – Remove mucous from around the nose and mouth. To cause a gasp reflex, insert a piece of straw in the nasal cavity or pour ice water over the calf’s head, as advised by University of Wisconsin calf researcher Sheila McGuirk. A healthy calf should make an attempt to breathe within 30 seconds of birth.
- Dry the calf off – If the dam is unable to dry off her calf, use a clean, dry towel to do so. Dry vigorously and “fluff dry” the calf from head to tail, just as a cow does. This encourages respiration and helps the calf regulate its body temperature.
- Place the calf sternal – Sitting upright, rather than lying on its side, will enhance breathing and encourage the calf’s attempts to rise.
- Do not hang the calf upside down – This can cause fluids to drain out of the stomach instead of the lungs. As an alternative, McGuirk suggests draping the calf over a bale and allowing just the head to extend over the edge.
- Feed colostrum – Once the calf is breathing well, administering colostrum will not only provide important nutrients and protective antibodies, but also will increase the calf’s blood volume. Thiscan help to correct metabolic acidosis.
The experts also advise handling dystocia calves with extra care, as many of them suffer from fractured ribs at birth.