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Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care March 2005

Hi Folks,
I know it is getting into calving season when I am called out for a prolapsed uterus (pushed out calf bed/ cast withers) on two different farms, two mornings in a row. Add in four other emergency night time calvings and it all makes for a busy week of doing obstetrics work. Obviously, many farmers tend to calve in more heavily now and into the next months. This is as it should be, for the pastures will be green not too long from now for the cows to have lots of natural feed when they need it most - to feed their young. It is an interesting biological fact that the end of pregnancy for most livestock coincides with the beginning of spring. For instance, goats and sheep have a 5 month gestation period and are most receptive to becoming pregnant in the autumn, which means lambing/kidding in the spring. Horses have an 11 month gestation period and are most receptive to becoming pregnant in the spring. Cows have a 9 month gestation period and can conceive most anytime, although breeding them in the late spring/early summer (May-June) is usually fairly easy since they are on fresh grass. Obviously, many farmers got the bulk of their herds bred at that time, for they are starting to calve in now.

Last month I talked about dry cow care so now would be a good time to give reminders for the last two weeks prior to freshening and calving. It is good to be dipping the teats twice daily of cows that are two weeks within freshening since the keratin plugs are softening and environmental bacteria can then enter the teat canal and cause mastitis. This is especially true when the bacteria in the cows' bedding and environment are "waking up" with somewhat warmer temperatures. Springing heifers should start being fed at least some of what the lactating cows are eating in terms of hay quality, ensiled feeds and grain in order to have their rumen bugs adjust. Remember that sudden changes in feed rations are to be avoided at all costs in dairy animals. It is a fact that it takes two weeks for the rumen bugs to adjust to feed changes.

In order to try to keep milk fever at a minimum, make sure the ration has less than 2.5% potassium. Grass hays can have higher amounts, especially on farms that have spent lots of money fertilizing over the years in addition to spreading barn manure. Feeding apple cider vinegar (ACV) at the rate of 2 ounces twice daily for at least two weeks prior to calving to older cows is wise in order to help prevent milk fever.

Be careful of feeding minerals free choice, especially salts, to long bred and springing heifers. Udder edema and belly edema can be consequences.

Cows that are within two weeks of freshening need to be observed daily - especially in bull bred herds when the exact breeding dates are not known. Additionally, cows diagnosed as possibly having twins should be watched especially carefully as they tend to calve in 1-2 weeks earlier than the expected due date. Cows that are getting ready to calve will eat less within about 12 hours of calving. The vulva will look somewhat full and yet loose as well. Milk may be dripping from the teats for a few days before hand (remember to be dipping those teats). Cows ideally should calve outside on clean pastures; however, at this time of year, a box stall with liberal amounts of clean and dry bedding is OK and better than cold mud. If you see a cow that is just beginning to show signs of calving, do not move her to some other area if you can avoid it. Doing so can delay calving 12 hours, due to her need to adjust to new surroundings.

If you suspect that something is wrong, by all means put on an OB sleeve, wash her up, apply lube to the sleeve and reach in. This is especially true if a cow has her tail out and you can see her pushing but not progressing over a few hours time. This almost always means something is wrong. Another sign that something is wrong is when a red discharge is seen from the vulva and it is not near her calving date, or, when she has a red discharge and is pushing but not progressing. Very commonly, a cow will have a twisted uterus (uterine torsion) with the signs just described. When reaching in, you will notice a turning, corkscrew-like feel to the birth canal as it tightens down. The calf will feel "far in" (if you can feel it at all). This requires a call to the vet to correct it as the cow will NEVER deliver a calf in this situation. The longer you wait the less chance of having a live calf. Do not "wait and see" . Live calves are a very common ending to a corrected uterine torsion - especially if you reach in the first moment you suspect a problem and call for help in time.

Normal presentations for a calf are frontward with the head and both front feet OR backward with both back legs. Anything else needs correcting. It is not too difficult to re-arrange a leg that is turned back. When doing so, cup your hand over the hoof as you correct the leg so that the little hoof does not damage the uterine wall as it is moved around. If you only feel the tail of the calf and no back legs, this is a breech and they can be extremely difficult to correct, but are correctable nonetheless. If you do not reach in, you will not know what is happening and be unable to make a rational decision about the situation at hand. I never mind a farmer calling and describing what is going on, then talking him/her through it or going to help correct the situation.

One important thing that I always like to emphasize - always make sure the head is coming through the cervix while pulling on the legs. I rely quite often on my head snare/loop to make sure the head is NOT turning back. If the head is still in the uterus and the legs are being pulled, the head often will turn if the nose is not directed into the cervical tunnel. This is especially true if the calf is dead already.

Another thing I find extremely important is that the calf should be delivered with its backbone 11 o'clock or 1 o'clock to the cow's backbone. This is incredibly important in preventing hip lock. To do so, once the calf? s head and front legs are out to the "armpits", stop pulling, crossing the front legs in order to twist the calf somewhat to make sure its backbone is NOT 12 o'clock to the cow's backbone. Do this for a few calvings and you'll agree that the calvings go easier. This is especially important to do with first calf heifers.

Speaking of first calf heifers, NEVER rush a first calf heifer. She has never calved in before and the birth canal needs time to expand. Never be in a hurry to jack a calf out of a first calf heifer - rips and tears are highly likely and some can be fatal. Though not commonly fatal, those rips and tears can really make for a very slow start for her lactation. (Add in corn silage, grain and staying tied in her stall and you will quickly have created a twisted stomach.) Think of it this way - you have invested a lot of money ($1000+) to raise that springing heifer to freshen. You can either ruin her in one quick moment of impatience OR you may only lose the calf but have a healthy milking heifer. It is up to you.

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