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Parturition Lab Review

Sydney Goldstein
The overall goals of the parturition lab were to teach Animal Science 310 students about
how to recognize and respond to normal and abnormal birthing patterns in dairy cows and
heifers, and how to practice good management leading up to and after calving.
Dr. David Wolfgang educated the lab groups about anterior calf presentations. A normal
calf presentation has both front legs forward, in front of the calfs face, with the back legs tucked
under the stomach facing in a parallel fashion. Before touching the heifer or cow, always wash
up with soap at the very least; it will kill approximately 90 percent of bacteria and aid in
preventing infections caused by manure exposed to the uterus. A good management practice is to
perform a vaginal check. If everything seems normal, it can be good to stimulate contraction by
touching the cervix, but knowing to then let the cow/heifer give birth on her own. Conversely, if
something seems wrong, a common mistake is procrastinating calling for help; often cesarean
sections are needed immediately.
In the case that the cow needs assistance, lubrication is a great way to make delivering
the calf easier. Oftentimes calves need to be rotated or moved before exiting the uterus. In this
case, do not try to work against uterine contractions because it requires a lot of physical effort
with little progress. Once the calf is in an acceptable birthing position, pulling one side of the
legs before another helps prevent the calf from getting stuck in the birth canal. That being said,
making sure one has two front or two back feet, not a mixture of front and back, is quite
important to preventing harm for the mother and newborn. One simple management practice
accomplish this is by cupping the calfs foot so as to not cut or scrape the dams uterine wall.
Chains are often used to get a calf out of the uterus. When there is a need for chains, use
two half hitches, one above a joint and the other below. This prevents pressure from being
concentrated into one area on the calfs body and potentially injuring it. When assisting a cow, it
is important to try and get the fetus out as quickly as possible without doing damage. Time is
especially vital when the allantois has broken. This puts the uterine contractions directly on the
calf, rather than the allantoic sac. Since uterine contractions are so powerful, this can be harmful
and slow birthing progress. With that in mind, a separated placenta or broken umbilical cord cuts
off a calfs oxygen in the womb; at this point during the delivery process the newborn must get
out before attempting to breathe in the fluid-filled environment, which can lead to aspiration and
death. Lastly, keeping in mind that the calfs shoulder at the base of his/her neck is the widest
circumference part of the body can help with delivery. Oftentimes pulling down can help arch
the calfs widest part up through the widest opening of the mothers pelvic area.
Speaking about posterior presentation was Dr. Ernest Hovingh. If a presentation is
posterior with the tail down, use lots of lubrication and do not try and flip the calf around. This
does more destruction than good since the calf can get out fairly easily backwards. Trying to turn
it anteriorly will break the umbilical cord and starve the calf for air. To make sure the calf is
alive, pinch forcefully between the digits of the hoof; the goal is to feel a kicking reflex. Before
pulling on anything it is crucial to make sure both legs bend in the same fashion. As stated
previously, pulling one front and one back leg at the same time will not end well for the dam or
When pulling a posteriorly presented calf, time is more important than with anterior
presentations. The umbilical cord will break with a larger portion of the calf still contained in the
uterus than with an anteriorly placed calf. In order to work quickly, having someone to push
against the mother and someone else to pull on the calf can help speed advancement. Often, hips
or the thoracic cavity of the calf can get caught on the way out since they are wide. Again,
pulling downward is a natural mechanism by which the widest parts of the calf can pass through
the mothers wide pelvic area, rather than the narrow one. Posterior births can be quite successful
when done carefully, as gently as possible, and in a timely fashion.
Finally, Dr. Robert Van Saun spoke about the three stages of parturition. Some
physiological signs, such as loosening of rear ligaments, a swollen udder, a lifted tail head and a
swollen vulva, mark the first stage. Some behavioral signs are isolation from the herd and a
decrease in dry matter intake. This stage usually lasts approximately four to six hours, with
heifers taking up to two hours longer. This stage is an appropriate time to move cows/heifers to a
maternity pen.
Stage two is the expulsion of the fetus. It can last from 30 minutes up to about two for
cows; for heifers it may last upwards of four hours. This stage can be recognized from the animal
lying down. A common misconception is this stage is that the cow needs help if a calf is not on
the ground within an hour or so. A lot of this stems from fear and anxiety waiting for the
Stage three, expulsion of the placental membranes, is the final stage of parturition.
Ideally, the placenta gets passed within 6-12 hours, but it is considered retained when 24 hours
have elapsed and the placenta is still not out of the uterus. The goal for well-managed dairies is
to have a rate of less than three percent retained placentas since they are a breeding ground for
bacteria, often leading to compromised immune function that requires expensive treatment and
impeeds breeding progress.
This lab was very informative about establishing clear guidelines for what is normal
versus abnormal during parturition in dairy cows and heifers. It also very appropriately stressed
that although cows often give birth, it is the most fragile part of their lives. That aspect is
important to keep in mind yet could be easy to overlook. One way to improve the lab would be to
have more iron wombs where smaller groups could have a more hands-on experience. Another
way the lab could be improved could be to perhaps show a video before the lab showing some
abnormal births and herdsmen or veterinarians responses to them. That way some knowledge
would be reinforced at the dairy barns, rather than being introduced to a large of information at
one time.