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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                     March 2003

  Hi Folks,

            I’d like to continue discussing calving time since it is the most important time in your cow’s lactation. This month, I’ll begin at the 3rd stage of calving – once the calf is out. (See last month’s Moo News for events prior to 3rd stage of delivery.)  This stage of calving involves the cow passing the placenta (afterbirth/cleanings). Normally, this will occur pretty much right away or up to 8 hours after delivery. With normal calvings when the cow has normal blood levels of selenium and calcium the placenta generally passes within about an hour or two. Any abnormal calving occurrence usually leads to a retained placenta. By ‘abnormal’ I include twins, earlier then due date, difficult/assisted births, low calcium/pre-calving milk fever, or uterine torsion and its correction. The placenta is usually removable by day 5 post-calving; however, the earlier the cow calves in before due date or if twins, the more likely it will take 6-9 days before I can remove them. Although veterinary schools now teach to never manually remove cleanings and rely only on injections of hormones, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, I disagree with this strongly and do not believe those schools understand real-life situations out on the farm.

            So what can we do in the meantime?  First, let us remember what the natural hormone, oxytocin, does. It is secreted internally by the cow anytime the cervix feels pressure (as in calving) and when the udder feels nudging (as by the calf). Unfortunately with difficult/very painful calving, the natural release of oxytocin within the cow is hindered. Recent research has shown  that giving 1-2cc IM or IV 4-6 times daily in the first 2 days after freshening helps best to contract the uterus and release the placenta. Oxytocin is, by the way, allowed by the USDA National Organic Program for this kind of use on certified organic farms. But certain processors ( Organic Valley and Horizon) continue to ban it even for emergency use – go figure! In any event, use of homeopathic Caulophyllum (mother tincture strength) can be useful, as I’ve removed cleanings by day 3 and 4 with cows treated this way. Preparing the cow with Caulophyllum 30C once daily before calving would be a good idea to prevent retained placenta also. For those more inclined to use herbal medicines, another way would be to use Black Cohosh tincture twice daily in the last 7-10 days before calving and switch to Blue Cohosh tincture during labor and after if needed. Obviously, the quicker the placenta is passed, the better chance the cow has to thrive more quickly. If the uterus with the decomposing cleanings becomes septic (like a cesspool), cleansing the uterus by infusing it with a colostrum-whey  product and Calendula tincture or 3% hydrogen peroxide is handy and needed to be done. Traditionally, antibiotic tetracycline pills are placed in the uterus instead. I have switched over to chlorhexidine (the active ingredient in many teat dips) since there is no milk withholding (if I do use pills), and since chlorhexidine is allowed for veterinary use by the USDA NOP.

            Conventional farms that can freely use reproductive hormones may elect to use ECP instead of oxytocin the second day fresh – but be wary of later infection due to uncoordinated contractions of the uterus which can send bad uterine fluid up into the very sensitive oviduct. Cystic ovaries are also a potential outcome. Use of prostaglandins (PG/Lutalyse) is best used at 12-14 days fresh and again 10-12 days later, although individual farmers may find it helpful already at 7-9 days fresh or even use it the 2nd day fresh. Although no research backs up the use of PG prior to 14 days fresh, research does show that it helps to get the uterine environment in good breeding shape quickly when used after 14 days fresh. On organic farms, infusing hypertonic saline with iodine seems to help a uterus which still has varying amounts of pus. Also using homeopathic pulsatilla and sepia will help along with infusions. I am curious if my plant combination Spectra 305 will help, as it generally gets cows in heat later in lactation and just may help to get her to push cleanings and bad contents out. In any event, a uterus needs to be in good shape by 3-4 weeks fresh in order to be ready for breeding in a timely way. DHIA data that I have had analyzed for small herds here in Lancaster county show no difference at all in any of the standard measures of reproduction between conventional and organic herds. So anyone getting tired of all the shots may want to try other methods.

            But – what else can happen to the uterus after calving? It can be pushed out of the cow and create an alarming situation! Such a condition, also known as a prolapsed uterus, occurs to an older cow that has milk fever or in 1st calf heifers that just keep on strongly pushing after the calf has been delivered. That is why it is critical to get a cow up within about 10-15 minutes of delivery. A 1st calf heifer which stands up tends to keep the uterus down in the belly (gravity works!). One that is flat out may feel the urge to keep on pushing when the uterus pushes up against the cervix (which is still fully open from calving). Getting an older cow up allows you to see if she can get up, for if not, she could be low in calcium. Prolapsed uterus in an older cow is due to weak uterine muscles which allow the uterus to flop out. If you do see the uterus pushed out – call immediately and protect it from dirt and muck and keep other animals away. Keep the cow calm and tied so she doesn’t crawl around or try to get up. If she’s up, tie her in place with enough length for her to lie down if she wants.

            If you see a cow pushing/straining on and on, reach in to see if there is a 2nd calf that isn’t positioned correctly (see last month’s Moo News for calf positions). Even if there is a large calf delivered, there still could  be a twin! It just happened the other day- the twin was still stuck in after 2 days, decomposing and causing a life-threatening situation.

            If a cow is not up (or even if she is) give her a bucket of lukewarm water - with homeopathic caulophyllum, pulsatilla or sepia if you like. If one of the back legs is flexed and curled more tightly or if it is straight forward under the cow, chances of a pinched nerve are high. This is especially true if she eats and drinks well and is bright and alert. Use a shocker as a diagnostic tool and plenty of Barn-grip to see if she’ll get up (hold her tail to help balance her). If she can get up but knuckles a hoof, place the hoof on the ground in its normal position. Using homeopathic arnica, aspirin, Murray Bast’s liver tincture or Banamine on such a cow will help – as will getting her up periodically. If the cow can get up part way, electro acupuncture should be helpful, along with homeopathic hypericum, aspirin or Banamine. If she cannot rise at all, get an aqua-float.

            If she grinds her teeth, is older, has cold ears ands has low temp (99-100.3), give calcium IV. Milk fever cows are dull and don’t drink or eat much. Hold the bottle no higher than her backbone and you should be safe. Oral calcium should only be given to standing, wobbly cows – never to a flat out milk fever cow, never. Learn to give an IV – even if you only have 1-2 milk fevers a year. Knowing how to give IV dextrose for ketosis, IV vitamin C for minor infections and IV hypertonic saline to make a cow drink water will keep your vet bill down. It will also give you a greater sense of self-reliance.

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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