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Calving

Albert Barth of Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan says uterine prolapse is a generally a one-time accident.  Most of these cows will rebreed, if they are not badly damaged.

Causes of prolapse

“Some studies have shown that low calcium can predispose a cow to prolapse, beef cattle may have a marginal hypocalcemia, but they are not like a dairy cow that goes into milk fever and is unable to stand after calving.  The low calcium is not sufficient to give her milk fever, but may increase the chance for uterine prolapse,” explains Barth.

“Calcium is important for proper function of smooth muscle tissue,” he continues. “When the cow is low on calcium, smooth muscle contraction becomes weak.”  

Another cause is difficult calving.  

“If you had to pull hard on the calf, the cow may be more likely to prolapse,” he says.  “If she keeps straining as she is lying there, she may keep pushing on the uterus, turning it inside out.  It’s always wise to try to get the cow up as soon as possible after calving.  Once she stands, the uterus that may have been starting to come out may fall back down where it belongs.”

“Often we’ll give the cow oxytocin after a difficult birth, to help the uterus start shrinking back down again – just to make sure it won’t prolapse.  Normally, once the calf starts nursing, it starts to shrink down, because suckling stimulates release of oxytocin, a natural hormone, within the cow.  But a calf that has been pulled hard, or had a long and difficult birth, may not get up quickly, to start nursing, so we give the cow oxytocin to do what the calf would have done by suckling,” says Barth.

Considerations

The sooner the prolapse can be replaced, the better, and producers should emphasize keeping the cow calm and quiet in the meantime. After prolapse, the large uterine arteries are tightly stretched and at risk for rupture. 

“If the uterus bounces up and down, or even just hangs there while the cow is standing or walking, this is dangerous,” he explains.

Barth warns to never chase the cow around to try to get her in, if she calved out in a pasture.

“Leave her where she is.  Don’t try to haul her to a veterinary clinic.  It’s always best to have the vet come out.  Leave her lying down, and if weather is cold, protect the uterus by wrapping it in towels or blankets to keep the exposed tissue from freezing or from damage, such as ripping it on a fence if she’s in a corral,” he says.

Replacing the prolapse

“To replace the uterus, most veterinarians prefer the cow lying down rather than standing.  If she’s lying out in a pen or field, and she has a rope on, you can often approach her quietly and may be able to get the needle into the epidural space to anesthetize her hind end, and she won’t get up.  Then we put her in a frog-leg position with hind legs pointing backward, which tips the pelvis up,” says Barth.

“Otherwise the pelvis and vagina are pointing toward the ground and you are working uphill.  We put a rope on each hind leg and tie it back.  A cow is not very strong at pulling her legs forward, so if you have several people, they could just hold the ropes,” he explains.

“Then we remove the placenta and clean up the uterus.  Sometimes it’s easiest just to put the whole thing into a five-gallon bucket of warm water to get the dirt and foreign material washed off.  Then we sit behind the cow, wearing a waterproof suit, put the uterus in our lap and finish washing it,” says Barth.

After the uterus is clean, Barth notes that they begin the process of replacing it.

“We lubricate the clean uterus and start putting it back in.  This is a gradual process; often the cow pushes and you lose what you’ve gained.  Even with the epidural, some cows keep straining.  A rule of thumb is to allow about 15 minutes.  If you haven’t gotten it replaced within 15 minutes, and she’s pushed it out a couple of times, you need to try something different,” he says.  “You will never win once you start to get tired.”

At that point you need gravity to help you.  

“This might mean tipping the cow downhill, or lifting the cow’s hindquarters up with a front-end loader.”  

If she’s in a barn, you might use the rafters for securing a rope to lift her.  Out in a field, you could create a tripod with poles to create a framework for a winch.

After care

“We never give oxytocin until after the uterus is back in place – or the uterus becomes a less pliable mass to work with,” he says.  

Once the uterus is back in, however, oxytocin will help it shrink, making it less apt to be pushed out again.  The veterinarian may place a stitch across the vulva to make sure the uterus cannot prolapse again.

Usually once the cow can get up and around, is no longer lying down straining, and there’s a live calf to start nursing to stimulate oxytocin release, she won’t push the uterus out again.  

“But to be safe, we put a stitch in.  If not completely reverted, the uterus is more likely to come back out,” he says.

If the tip of one horn is not completely reverted, this gives the cow something to push against, and if she strains again she may be able to push it out again.

“The stitch will help keep this from happening,” says Barth.  “The cervix will start to close down, to where it can’t come back out.  By the third or fourth day, the opening will be too small for it to come back through – and it’s safe to remove the stitch.”

In most cases, if the uterus was not damaged, the cow will breed back.  Chances are low that she would ever do it again.  

“We have kept many of these cows in the breeding herd, over the years, and they did not do it again,” he says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As ranchers prepare for the upcoming calving season, University of Nebraska Extension Veterinarian Richard Randle encourages producers to not only make sure their cows are ready to calve, but they are, too. Randle gave a presentation recently about how to manage calving.

“It has been a challenging year for ranchers,” Randle said. “Calving will prove to be just another challenge.”

“In an ideal situation, we want to see the cows give birth to live, healthy, vigorous calves with little or no calving difficulty. We want to see these calves grow efficiently, and have the cows successfully rebreed,” he explained. 

Evaluate their nutrition

The first step to accomplishing these goals is to evaluate the cow’s nutrition program. 

As cows get closer to calving, their energy and protein requirements increase, so producers should evaluate their cows when they pregnancy check in the fall. Randle said it is easier to maintain and improve nutrition at that point, because nutritional requirements are at their lowest. 

He also encouraged ranchers to re-evaluate the cows 80 to 100 days prior to calving, because it is still easier to add condition prior to calving. 

Cows can be evaluated by determining their body condition score, from one to nine, with one being extremely thin and nine being extremely fat. 

Ideally, the cow should have a moderate body condition score between five and seven at calving. In this range, the ribs shouldn’t be visible, are covered and smooth looking. Some fat should be visible around the tail head. 

If a cow doesn’t have moderate body condition, Randle said a producer should consider improving her nutrition. 

“The cow will gain 0.8 pounds a day just from her growing calf,” he explained. 

If she has 80 days till calving and is thin, she will need to gain 225 pounds, or 2.8 pounds a day to reach moderate body condition. If the cow is borderline, she would have to gain 145 pounds, or 1.8 pounds a day. 

Calving takes work

If cows are too thin at calving, it can cause a variety of problems. 

“Calving takes work. Thin cows that are under-conditioned lack the energy and protein needed to have their calf,” the veterinarian explained. “These cows are weak and may have prolonged calving since their muscle contractions aren’t as strong as they need to be to push out the calf.”

“They will also fatigue quicker and have more dystocia problems,” he added.

Calves born to these cows will also be weak, may be deprived of oxygen and could lack the vigor to get up and suck colostrum. They may also be unable to absorb the colostrum as well as healthier calves. 

“These are good reasons why it is important to have the cows where they need to be from a nutritional standpoint,” Randle stressed.

Dystocia

If a cow suffers from dystocia, it can have long-term implications. In addition to calves or cows that die soon after calving, it can also delay or prevent rebreeding and extend the calving season. 

“Calves experiencing dystocia are four times more likely to be born dead or die within 24 hours of birth,” Randle said. 

Although some factors causing dystocia can be controlled through management, sire selection, EPDs and adequate growth of heifers, Randle relayed there is still a 63 percent variation in dystocia issues that remain unexplained. 

“If we have cows, we should expect to have ones that will need assistance and prepare ourselves for that,” he added. 

Calving preparation

To prepare for calving, it is important to understand the three stages of calving, to make sure the cow is progressing and know when to ask for help. 

Randle said it is important for producers to remember that the cervix is open during calving, which makes it open to contamination. 

“Try to be as sanitary as possible if you have to assist the cow,” he explained. “Make sure all the equipment is clean and is in good working order.” 

It is also important to have a minimum 12-foot by 12-foot calving area that is covered, well lit and bedded with straw or wood shavings, where the cow can be restrained. 

“It is important that it is also out of inclement weather, so if you have to assist you aren’t in a hurry and miss something that could hurt the cow or calf,” he explained. 

Randle said if the cow is in stage two of labor, and the time from the feet being visible to birth is longer than two hours, or if no progress has been made in a 30 minute period, then the producer needs to examine the cow to see if it needs assistance. 

During the examination, the producer should determine if the cervix is fully dilated, the calf is in the proper position and if the calf can pass through the pelvis. 

If the producer doesn’t feel they can handle the problem within 30 minutes, Randle said they should call for assistance. Otherwise, the tissues will continue to swell, the calf may be born weak or dead, the cow will be worn out, and it could increase potential future problems for the cow, he noted. 

Pulling calves

Randle also encouraged ranchers to try pulling the calf by hand and only resort to a mechanical calf puller as a last resort. 

“Mechanical pullers are incredibly strong and can injure a cow if they aren’t used appropriately,” he explained. “An adult male can exert 300 pounds of foot pressure pulling by hand, while a mechanical puller can exert over 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of foot pressure, which can result in a calf with a broken leg, and tears, lacerations and bruising on the cow.”

Randle said he likes to use a calf chain, placing independent chains on each leg using a double half hitch. He places one hitch above the fetlock and one below to pull the legs independently. Then, he pulls one leg ahead of the other to narrow up the shoulders as they pass through the birth canal. Once the head and shoulders have been delivered, he turns the calf 90 to 180 degrees to avoid hip lock.

As a final thought, Randle also encouraged producers to be willing to call for help if they can’t correct an abnormal presentation birth within 15 minutes. 

“You have to correct an abnormality before you can deliver the calf, even if its dead,” he said. “Push the calf back inside and work with the cow to correct the position of the calf in between contractions. If you can’t correct the abnormality within 15 minutes, consult a veterinarian.”

“Remember that every calving situation is different. It is dark inside the cow, and you can’t see what going on, so you have to trust your senses,” he continued. “Prepare in advance, and systematically approach each case the same way. Don’t overlook the details.”

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Traditionally, producers were told to make sure a newborn calf received colostrum within the first 12 hours of life. However, new research shows that the majority of that colostrum is actually absorbed within the first 30 minutes of life.

“The importance of getting a calf to mother up is really important,” according to University of Nebraska Extension Veterinarian Dee Griffin.

Receiving colostrum

Griffin said research showed if a newborn calf received 1,600 deciliters of colostrum, it was receiving a sufficient amount.

However, recent research followed newborn calves through the finishing phase and into the packinghouse. This research showed that calves that got twice that recommended amount – 3,200 deciliters – not only didn’t get sick in the feedyard but out-performed and out-gained the other cattle.

“It is statistically significant,” Griffin stated.

“What this means is our cows need to be good colostrum providers,” he told cattle producers. “They need to be fed right and vaccinated correctly. The calves receiving adequate colostrum had less foot rot and pinkeye problems when they were seven to eight months of age, on into the feedlot.”

Benefits

University of Nebraska Extension Veterinarian Richard Randle agreed.

“Eighty-five percent of the calves dying from infectious disease have received inadequate passive transfer of colostrum,” he said.

“In an ideal situation, we want cows to give birth to healthy, vigorous calves with little or no calving difficulty,” he continued. “We want those calves to remain healthy and grow efficiently.”

Colostrum provides immunoglobulins and other components that help the calf fight pathogens and develop an immune response.

“Colostrum also provides nutrients such as lactose, fats and protein,” he added.

Why colostrum?

“When a calf is born, its intestine has the ability to absorb intact immunoglobulins into the bloodstream,” Randle explained. “The intestine rapidly changes over the next several hours after birth.”

“By six to 12 hours, absorption is significantly reduced, and by 24 hours, intact immunoglobulins (Ig) can no longer pass. That is why it is critical that calves receive colostrum as soon after birth as possible,” he stated.

Passive transfer can be determined in the calf, to see if it has received adequate colostrum, by measuring IgG levels 24 to 48 hours of age. Randle said if the serum IgG, a specific immunoglobulin, concentration is greater than 10 grams per liter, the calf has adequate passive transfer, but if it is below that, the calf is considered at higher risk of disease.

“The calf’s immune system is competent at birth, meaning it does have the ability to respond to disease agents, but it is immature, so it doesn’t respond the same as an adult,” he explained. “They are also naïve when they are born because there is no passage of immunoglobulins across the placenta during pregnancy.”

Producer intervention

If the calf doesn’t stand and nurse soon after birth or fails to repeatedly nurse during the first six to 12 hours, it is at high risk of having inadequate levels of IgG to protect itself from disease.

In these cases, the producer may need to intervene, Randle said. Calves suffering from cold stress, born after calving difficulties, dystocia, hypoxia are from cows that lack mothering ability may also require producer intervention, he added.

Where to get colostrum

Ideally, producers should collect colostrum from the dam and feed it to the calf. If that isn’t possible, he suggested collecting it from a mature cow in the same herd and feeding it to the calf.

“Heifer colostrum is inferior compared to mature cows in both quality and quantity,” Randle explained.

Producers can also give the calf colostrum from outside sources, such as a dairy, but he recommends using caution since several disease sources can be transmitted through colostrum.

If producers use a commercial product, Randle said they should determine whether the product is a colostrum supplement or a colostrum replacer. Supplements are very similar to replacers, but the key difference is a colostrum supplement is designed to boost the quality of the natural colostrum. It provides less than 100 grams of IgG per dose.

A colostrum replacer is designed to be fed as the calf’s only source of colostrum in the event no high-quality colostrum is available. It should contain more than 100 grams of IgG per dose, in addition to digestible proteins, vitamins and minerals, the veterinarians commented.

Colostrum replacer can be made from colostrum that is dried and heat-treated to eliminate harmful agents or from blood serum collected and dried from packinghouses.

When purchasing these products, Randle encouraged producers to determine if the product is a colostrum replacer or supplement, if it is made from bovine colostrum or blood serum and if it is labeled with a claim for bovine IgG or just globulin proteins.

He said producers should also make sure the product is licensed by the USDA as a replacer.

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As winter moves into the region, Dan Thomson and Chris Reinhart from the department of animal sciences at Kansas State University discuss management practices to reduce cold stress in cattle, noting that there are a number of factors to consider in evaluating cold weather, particularly as it relates to calves.

“A lot of times, we calve when there is still snow on the ground, and we can get cold stress in those baby calves,” comments Thomson.

Using a rectal thermometer is one way to determine the body temperature of newborn calves, which should be warmer than 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If those calves are less than 100 degrees, they are in mild hypothermia. If they are below 94 degrees, that’s when we get into severe hypothermia, and that’s when we have to warm those calves up,” he continues.

Thomson suggests three different methods for warming up calves, including water baths, heating blankets and heat boxes.

Warming tools

“If we are going to run a water bath, we have to make sure to prop the calf’s head up so he doesn’t drown, and we want the water temperature to be about 100 degrees,” he notes.

Water baths should be out in the calving barn and used only for animals to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases.

“We had a young child die when a calf was put into a bathtub to warm up. The calf had Salmonella, and the young child took a bath the next night, drank some of the water and got a multi-drug-resistant Salmonella,” Thomson laments.

Warming blankets can also be used to treat cold-stress in calves, but producers should be cautious with blankets that can get too hot and burn the animals.

Heat boxes

“If we us a hotbox or heat box, we want to keep that box at about 105 degrees and make sure it has good ventilation,” Thomson adds.

Boxes without proper ventilation can develop hot pockets and be dangerous for the calves.

“Also, we need to clean out the boxes between calves so we don’t have diarrhea or other diseases passed between calves,” he comments.

It's also important to make sure that the animals receive colostrum as soon as possible, while they are being warmed or shortly after.

“The key to neonates, whether it’s a puppy, a kitten or a calf – when it comes to cold stress, fluids and warmth are the two major things,” he explains.

Reinhardt adds that preparation is critical, because it is much harder to manage cold stress than to prevent it.

Feedlots

In a feedlot situation, water and mud are important factors to consider when temperatures begin to drop.

“It’s easy to forget how important mud is in this problem,” he says. “If we have wet pen conditions, it doesn’t have to be that cold to really put the hammer down on feeder cattle.”

Building dirt mounds within the pens is one suggestion presented by Reinhardt, so that cattle have a relatively warm and dry place to lie down if it does rain or snow.

“Cattle will use the side of the mound opposite of the wind as a sort of windbreak as well,” he adds.

Thomson notes that the mounds need to be big enough to accommodate all of the cattle in the pen.

“The ones who don’t get on the mound are probably the ones who need it most. The smaller and weaker calves are the ones who get pushed off of the bunks and off of the mound, so we need to make sure we build the mound big enough,” he says.

Windbreaks

Windbreaks are also important in cold, windy weather, and Reinhardt explains that the breaks should not be solid.

“If we have a continuous windbreak, it’s going to be a really good snow accumulator. Having some gaps in the windbreak and allowing snow to move through will give the cattle some protection from the wind,” he comments.

It’s also important to make sure that the breaks are both wide enough and tall enough to provide enough shelter for all of the animals in the pen.

“Windbreaks are great in the winter, but in July and August, they can mean real problems for feedlot cattle,” Reinhardt adds.

On hot days, a breeze helps to keep cattle cool. Removable windbreaks may be appropriate in areas that get hot temperatures in summer months.

Cold temperatures

Thomson notes that mature cows can also be affected by cold stress, and it’s important to consider the condition of their hair coat when cold weather moves in.

The lower critical temperature of an animal is the temperature at which cows begin to experience cold stress. Cows with a slick summer coat can experience a lower critical temperature at 59 degrees.

“If they have a fall hair coat, we are taking about 45 degrees, and as the hair gets heavier, 32 degrees is the lower critical temperature for a winter coat,” Reinhardt says.

Northern-bred cattle with deep winter coats can go down to 18 degrees or below for a lower critical temperature.

Energy requirements

Reinhardt also comments that animals experiencing cold temperatures may need extra feed to maintain body condition.

“Cows will lose body condition to meet the added demand for energy, and we won’t see it for a period of weeks or even months,” he explains. “When we get a cold snap, we know we have to increase the energy available to those cows.”

Thomson adds that the cold months often coincide with the third trimester or lactation as well, depending on spring or fall calving. This also adds an extra energy requirement for the maintenance of cow body condition.

Concluding their recommendations, Thomson notes, “When we think about these critical management decisions, we should work with our local veterinarian and our nutritionist.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Managing heifers nutritionally can be challenging for producers, and it is incredibly important for the productivity of the heifer later in life, comments an Idaho Extension specialist.

“Certainly we’ve got a lot of opportunities to influence the nutrition of heifers are various times of their lives, whether they are pre-weaning or post-weaning, but the other challenge we have is that there’s a lot of different environments in which we have to raise cows. She has to work as a cow, so that also influences how we develop those heifers,” says University of Idaho Beef Extension Specialist John Hall.

Time of pregnancy

Hall emphasizes that a pregnant heifer is not the same as an early pregnant heifer.

“There’s a significant advantage in getting those heifers pregnant early in the breeding season,” he says, citing research from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center by Cushman, et. al. in 2013. “Those heifers that became pregnant in the first 21 days of the breeding season had greater longevity, stayed in the herd longer, produced more calves in their lifetime and produced more pounds of calf.”

“Getting those heifers to breed early in their first breeding season is the key to lifetime productivity,” Hall comments. “Certainly one of the ways we can control that is through nutrition.”

Nutritional impacts

Ensuring that heifers are pregnant early begins prior to weaning.

“The pre-weaning phase is not a phase we have a lot of control over,” Hall says. “It tends to be influenced by the milk production of the dam and the forage availability during the time of year that the calf is on its mother.”

He continues, “We do know from research that those animals that are heavier at weaning are the ones that tend to come into heat sooner and breed more effectively throughout the course of the year.”

At the end of the day, heifers that gain more from birth to weaning also tend to breed early in the breeding season.

As a result, early weaning can have positive impacts on heifers because producers have more control over the heifer’s diet at that point.

Hall notes that, after looking at several studies, heifers that are weaned between 90 and 100 days, then put on a high-concentrate or high starch diet and managed the same as their counterparts often reach puberty earlier and have higher pregnancy rates.

“That tells us that the pre-weaning phase is a critical time in the heifer’s life,” Hall says. “That nutrition that she is exposed to can affect her subsequent reproduction for the rest of her life.”

“It’s key for us, as managers, to keep track of that,” he adds.

Pre- and post-weaning

“The pre-weaning phase is a critical phase for the heifer,” Hall says. “It’s an important phase in terms of her reproductive life and one we don’t have a lot of management strategies for, but it’s certainly one we have to think more strongly about.”

However, post-weaning phases of the heifer’s life is the one that producers have control over, and it has also been studied intensively.

Looking at research, Hall says that many studies have clearly demonstrated that limiting nutrition can delay puberty, which increases the likelihood that they will have trouble getting pregnant, resulting in long-term reduction in reproductive rates.

“On the other hand, if we have a program in which rates of gain are better for heifers, we see those heifers perform well,” he explains. “These studies gave us the recommendation that heifers need to gain between 1.25 and 1.75 pounds per day from weaning until breeding to reach the proper weight.”

Feeding strategies

Another aspect that studies have looked at is the merit of feeding heifers in a big group compared to in several smaller groups by weight.

“If we split them into two separate groups and feed them according to their size, studies have shown that not only do those lightweight heifers have an advantage, but we have also grown them most appropriately for their target weight,” Hall explains.

The result, he adds, is higher pregnancy rates across the herd.

“When we have big heifers and little heifers in the pen, the big heifers get over-fed, and they get more fat,” he says, noting that, at the same time, smaller heifers are underfed.

Staggered feeding

Feeding heifers can be expensive, but Hall notes that they do not have to be fed on a steady plane from weaning until breeding.

“Can we kind of rough them through the winter when the weather is cold and it’s expensive to feed and then push them along before spring comes?” he asks. “There’s a number of different studies, but across all those studies, it didn’t matter whether it was slow, even gain or slow, then fast gain before the breeding season in a stair-step method. There’s no statistical difference between the heifers.”

As long as heifers reach their target weight, Hall says it is less important how the heifers get there.

In some fairly new data, Hall also says that there are may be advantages to using a stair-step method to feeding heifers, though the research needs to be done to confirm that research.

“From the dairy industry, we now see that the stair-step method prevents adipose tissue in the udder, so, therefore, it allows milk production to be better,” Hall comments. “There does seem to be some advantage over an even gain methodology.”

“As managers, we can use that to our advantage to decrease feed costs, increase profitability and still maintain heifer productivity,” he notes.

Hall spoke during the 2016 Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle Workshop, held in Des Moines, Iowa on Sept. 6-7, 2016.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..