Cattle Calving: Dealing With Homestead Deliveries

Prepare for livestock parturition by knowing what to expect and what to do. Includes information on cows, goats, sheep and horses.

| January/February 1984

One of the most exciting times in any homesteader's year is the day the animal babies come. Unfortunately, if something goes wrong and a creature is lost during parturition, one's elation quickly turns to sorrow. True, cattle calving mishaps are rare (in her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature very seldom slips up in such matters) . . . but they do occur. If you're a small-scale livestock breeder, then, you need to be informed about and prepared for the big event. That way, you'll know what's going on during livestock parturition, so you can determine if and when your critter needs help.

Mind you, if you're an inexperienced birth attendant, any emergency assistance you offer should consist of one simple step: Call the vet! I do not recommend taking on unfaced obstetrical difficulties yourself unless you have to. Still, one day you just might be in a situation where you can't reach the vet . . . in which case the fate of the mother and baby may rest solely in your—and the good Lord's—hands.

Now I don't presume to be able to unfurl all the mysteries of birth to you in one article. But at least I can give you a basic idea of what to expect when things are going well in the "labor room" and what to do about them when they're not. For simplicity's sake, I'm only going to deal here with the common long-legged, hoofed beasts (cows, goats, sheep, and horses), since these animals generally deliver their young, singly or in pairs, in pretty much the same manner.

Cattle Calving Prep

No matter how much you read about animal birthings, firsthand observation and experience are ultimately going to prove to be your best sources of information on the subject. For this reason, I recommend that—if you're new to livestock midwifery—you [1] get out and observe the births of some of your neighbors' animals, [2] make certain someone with lots of critter know-how is by your side during the first few birthing days of your own stock, and [3] alert your vet to the pregnant animal's due date, and have the doc's number always at hand in case you need help for the baby's debut.

As the critical time nears, you'll want to make up a large labor room with plenty of fresh bedding, clean water, and tempting feed for Mama. Naturally, creating such a space doesn't guarantee that the mother's going to use it (see One of My Favorite Birthing Years below), so you might want to pen her up a few days before she's due. This practice will provide the mother-to-be with a bit of luxury and will enable you to keep an eye on her, in the event that she gives birth early. Check on her several times a day, from an unobtrusive location (a hayloft or another stall) where you won't disturb her.

Normal Livestock Parturition 

OK, you've done everything you can to prepare for the event, and suddenly Mama shows definite signs of approaching delivery: She acts irritable, loses her appetite, paces about with an air of anticipation, constantly looks back at her swollen belly . . . or all of the above. And, when you look closely at the area around her birth canal, you see that the muscles have become very relaxed and almost jellylike.

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