Agriland Vet: Video on dealing with a calf coming backwards

Now that we are in the middle of the spring calving season in both dairy and suckler farms, one of the biggest challenges for both vet and farmer is how to deliver a calf coming backwards or that has a backwards presentation.

This video takes you through part of the final moments of the delivery, from identifying that the calf is coming backwards through to using the calving jack. Remember though It is also important for the farmer to know when to call the vet.

1. Identifying the problem

If the cow has been in the first stages of calving, pacing around and getting up and down without progressing then it is time to check out what is going on.

Restrain the cow in the headlock in the calving box.

Always be aware of the health and safety issues around as a previously calm cow may become aggressive before or after calving.

Clean your hands, arms and in addition wear gloves and use lubricant. Keep the fingers close together so as not to puncture the womb or vagina.

For a calf coming backwards, the calves claws will typically be pointing in and upwards direction.

Feeling the hocks and achilles’ tendon will confirm that the calf is coming backwards.

2. What to do

If you consider that the calf legs are of reasonable size, not too big, and they are moving through the pelvis, put on the calving ropes, one on each leg.

Begin to pull gently and slowly on the ropes either by hand or very carefully using the carving aid.

As the calf hips are pulled through the pelvic opening and the calf tail appears.

3. Navel cord

It is important to know that the umbilical vessels or naval cord are being compressed at this early stage, in other words the blood flow to the calf from the mother is being squeezed.

There is a significant difference here in comparison to the calf coming normally when the umbilical cord does not get pinched until the calf is much further out.

Remember also that with the calf coming backwards the head and nostrils of the calf are last to be delivered so the calf can’t take a breath until the very end.

4. Don’t pull too hard

Despite the time pressure to deliver the calf coming backwards because of the clamping of the umbilicus it is still wise to allow sufficient time for the cow or heifer to dilate properly.

If the delivery is too rapid there maybe a tear in the uterus or cervix with a poor outcome for the cow.

If the delivery feels tight from the very start call the vet. If there’s reasonable pressure and little or no movement, stop. A calving jack is a calving aid and should not be used to force the situation.

If one or both legs are tucked forwards in the womb of the cow i.e. a true breach presentation with tail only presented, stop and call the vet.

5. What to do after delivery

  • After delivery immediately resuscitate the calf by rubbing the chest with straw.
  • Clear mucous from the nostrils
  • Pinching the nose
  • Cold water in the ear
  • If necessary applying a respiratory stimulant under the tongue.
  • Place the calf in sternal recumbency
  • Always check for a second calf!

Calf after delivery

Pictures and video compliments of Frank O’Sullivan, who practises with Patrick Farrelly and Partners in Co. Meath.