To reduce stillbirths — calves that die before birth or within 48 hours of birth — and make sure calves are off to a good start, go back to the beginning. That is, assess how calves behave at birth to see if you need to retrain personnel who manage your calving pens.

For a normal delivery, a newborn calf should exhibit the following signs, says Sheila McGuirk, University of Wisconsin veterinarian.

  • The calf tries to right its head in minutes.
  • It rolls up on its sternum within five minutes.
  • The calf attempts to stand within 15 minutes.
  • It is standing within an hour.
  • The calf’s temperature, while higher at birth, declines to 101-102 degrees F by one hour after birth.
  • The calf suckles within two hours.
  • The calf’s respiratory rate is 50 to 75 breaths per minute.
  • Its heart rate is 100 to 150 beats per minute.

If most “normal” deliveries do not offer these results, chances are the deliveries were not normal, and it may be time to train or retrain employees on when and how to intervene. Click here for a good resource to help with calving assistance.