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Management tips to prevent calving problems

The best approach in dealing with calving problems is through prevention. It is the key, and producers have been very successful with these measures over the years. However, I still have a list of key preventative measures that serve as good reminders. Caesarian sections and calving pulls have dropped by 75 per cent over the last few years because producers have followed these simple guidelines.


  •  Breed to easy-calving bulls, especially with heifers. All breeds have easy-calving lines which still produce good growth calves in the fall. You don’t have to sacrifice much performance and still have ease of calving.
  •  Watch your second calvers. This is the group we see having the biggest problem with calving currently. If their body size warrants it, breed some of them back to the heifer bulls as well.
  •  Watch the birth weights of any bulls you buy. These weights have been brought down diligently by all purebred producers over the last several years. This is a highly heritable trait and can be easily selected for.
  •  Exercise. I cannot stress this enough. Fat, overweight cattle buildup lots of internal fat in their pelvis, decreasing the size of the pelvic opening. So a proper ration and plenty of exercise keep cows in good shape. Good nutrition is imperative especially the macro-minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. These minerals help to strengthen the uterine contractions at calving.
  •  When checking heifer calves in the spring before breeding or at preg-check time, have your veterinarian warn you of any abnormally small pelvises. The pelvis can be formally measured with a pelvic meter and a prediction of calving ease given or a subjective assessment made. Generally the bigger the heifer the bigger the pelvis but you can select for larger pelvises while keeping the heifer’s weight the same.


Foot-back presentations are only corrected by retracting the other front foot and head gently back into the birth canal and bringing the foot up. Bear in mind, especially with heifers, that this is an indication of lack of room and only two things can fit into the birth canal. This is likewise the same situation and more common with the head-back scenario. This may indicate the need for a caesarian section.

With any assisted calving, use copious amounts of lubricant. There are very good ones out there. With a dry birth the friction creates an unnecessarily hard pull, which is hard on both the newborn calf and the dam.

One must always try and minimize any trauma to the birth canal as that injury will jeopardize any subsequent rebreeding.

Always always pull in unison with the cow’s contractions. A lot of farmers get in too big a rush which makes for a forced delivery. I always use the comparison of a cow naturally calving where contractions are spread out with rests in between. You want the assisted calving to be as natural as possible.

The only time to pull fast is with a backward presentation once the tailhead is presented out the back end. The navel cord is pinched off and the calf should come out quickly and easily at that point.

Learn from your veterinarian. If just starting out in the business you may require your local veterinarian for more calvings. Ask questions during the process to give you more knowledge and experience for the next time.

Take your time when examining a cow for the first time to really get a handle on the position of the calf and its viability.

Cows that produced twins will often repeat with twins. This is a very important point to remember as twins often are presented abnormally. If you note any thing abnormal about these cows close to their calving date they should be examined.

Happy calving. †

About the author


Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]



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