It's a Boy!: Delivering Calves

This guide will walk you through the difficult process of birthing calves.

| April/May 2001

The frigid morning air prompted a shiver, and then a yawn, from me as I anticipated the end of my shift. One more heifer to calve and I could retire to my bunk. Every night for four weeks, we helped deliver 80 to 100 calves to first-time heifers. The Padlock Ranch, with its huge expanse, was well-known for its progressive approach to the cattle business.

I herded the heifer down the alley into a pen so she could be observed more closely. The plan was to leave her undisturbed so she could hopefully calve unassisted. If she had difficulty, we would assist.

Preventing Dystocia

Dystocia, or difficult labor, is intertwined with the management practices of the farmer or rancher. Careful record-keeping can identify lines of cattle, sheep, goats, horses or pigs that have more difficulty with calving, lambing, kidding, foaling or farrowing. Crossbreeding, which often improves the genetic vigor of offspring, often results in a higher incidence of dystocia.

Most animals require little assistance with birthing when they receive a high level of nutrition. If the pregnant animal is too thin or too heavy, problems can occur. Heifers on the Padlock Ranch gained about 100 to 120 pounds during the last trimester.

In contrast to the commercial rancher or farmer, the family homesteader should allow their brood stock an additional year to mature before they give birth since most birthing difficulties occur in young, first-time mothers. In cattle, half of all dystocias occur in first-calf heifers.

Observation and Handling

Close but unobtrusive observation of prospective mothers is another key to preventing dystocia. With planned breeding, the birthing season can be condensed to a shorter time frame, making observation more practical. On the Padlock Ranch, all heifers were checked by a cowboy every three hours.

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