Andrew’s first piece of advice is not to panic – we need to remember that calving is a natural thing and that the majority of our herd should calve without any human intervention.
Ideally, we should be intervening with less than 10% of calvings each year.
Maintaining a simple, yet detailed, calving diary at the end of each day throughout the calving season will allow you to look back and assess how your herd is performing once the busy period has passed.
Where assistance is required, it is essential that we are patient and not going in too early.
Calving takes time and while there are guidelines for how long each phase should take, every case will be different.
This is why progress is key. If you are seeing no progress, typically after two hours, then it may be time to go in and investigate.
Time to intervene?
If you handle the cow and the calf is presented correctly and the water bag is clear, this is a sign that time is on your side.
The cow may just need more time to dilate and move to the next stage of calving.
Calving a cow too soon, without sufficient time for her to open up correctly, can cause damage and tearing.
This will leave her more prone to post-calving infection and will also delay the onset of cyclic activity, meaning she will take longer to go back in calf again.
Where the contents of the water bag are bloodied or a dark colour, this suggests the calf is under pressure and it may be time to intervene. However, in all cases, Andrew stressed the need for farmers to monitor progress for some time prior to intervention.
This should be done by camera, where possible, to minimise disturbing the cow during calving. If there is no progress, it’s time to step in.
Making the call
Unfortunately, this comes with experience.
Knowing if a calf is small enough to be born normally is a skill that comes from handling cows for years.
If in doubt, call for help.
What you need to feel here is the space around the calf in at the pelvis.
If the head and front feet are through but the shoulders are not, you need to feel to see if there is sufficient space around the calf.
Lubrication is very important and you should never handle a cow without using it.
Lubrication can also aid getting a calf out, but remember if the calf is too big no amount of lube will change that.
Jacking a calf
A calving jack is a useful tool when used properly on cows that need assistance.
Farmers need to remember the power of a calving jack. A cow forcing is the equivalent of 75kg of pressure at calving.
If two people were to pull a calf with ropes, this brings the force to around 160kg.
When using a calving jack, the force can be anywhere up to 250kg on the calf and back end of the cow.
This is nearly three and a half times the force of the cow calving alone.
Used incorrectly, it can cause serious damage to both cow and calf.
Typically, a mal-presented calf is for a reason. Most mal-presentations occur with multiple births, ie twins or with oversized calves that are going to have difficulty calving normally.
Knowing what you are dealing with is important.
Having a good feel and being able to picture what way the calf is coming will help you decide what way is best to proceed.
A twisted uterus is one such case that can catch out even the most seasoned of campaigners.
A twist can cause the cow to begin the calving process, but without making any progress or showing much signs of calving can then 'go off' the calving procedure.
It is in this case that you are more likely to miss this cow calving and you may only become aware after 24 to 48 hours when the calf is long dead and the cow has an infection.
Untwisting the uterus can be difficult and usually the best option here is to call your vet.