Just as a good mechanic has specific tools for specific jobs you too need specialized equipment during calving season.
Each piece should be clean, disinfected and accessible when calving, and a little practice with this equipment beforehand is always beneficial.
You may not need these particular tools often, but when you do they can save a life, or simply make the job easier for you, and the cow.
A head snare can be an irreplaceable necessity for the experienced cattleman who has to deal with a head-back delivery. The snare is gently slipped around the ears and into the mouth. It has a bit plate to go up against the teeth. Then insert your calving handle into the loop islet hole. You should never pull with more force than you can generate with one arm to gently draw the head back into the correct position.
This snare can be left in place to keep the head straight as the calf is being delivered. After the calf is out, disinfect, dry and hang the snare in such a way as to maintain its looped shape, close to your calving area so it’s readily available when you need it most. Remember you must get it over both ears.
Never try to wrap binder twine around the lower jaw. A sideways pull can easily break the jaw.
It’s possible to pull the head around by placing your thumb and middle finger gently on the inside of the eye sockets. There are also tools for this but my own feeling is you would be wise to leave this type of manoeuvre in the experienced hands of your veterinarian.
Choose your calving handles wisely. There are many on the market but some let the chain links slip off too easily or the links lock in position and are hard to shake loose. I’ve also seen chains with abrasive or very weak links that break too easily. The bottom line is you get what you pay for.
Whatever chain you choose, always double-chain the calf’s front legs to spread out the force and avoid breaking the legs as you pull. A broken leg from a pull is a crushing injury and carries a more guarded prognosis than a clean break where the cow simply steps on her calf.
Veterinarians will attempt to cast all of them, but it’s better to avoid them in the first place if we can.
Good handles and chains will make life easier. It’s also a good idea to keep a spare set around just in case. They can get lost quite easily in the straw and one does not want to be without when you need them.
You can never have enough of the proper lubricant. What you want is sterile jelly that comes by the gallon. It keeps friction to a minimum and can really reduce the stress of a difficult birth. This is particularly critical with a delayed birth where there is a lot of meconium staining and the calf and cow’s vagina are dry.
I highly recommend avoiding powdered lubricants. If a caesarian becomes necessary this type of lubricant can be damaging to the abdomen of the cow if any leaks in during the operation. Pay for a good lubricant and/or surgical soap and use it copiously to minimize contamination and make your job easier.
Situations like mixed-up twins, malpresentations such as breech births, heavily meconium-stained calves and torsions can result in an easy delivery but a calf that is oxygen deprived. Timely resuscitation techniques with the right equipment, such as oxygen and a mask, can save lives in these cases.
In the case of twins, if you lose the first one, you may still get lucky and save the second.
Pulling a backwards calf is another situation where this equipment should be on hand. As soon as the tail head passes the vulval lips of the cow the calf needs to be extracted fairly rapidly at that point, before the calf tries to take its first breath and inhales amniotic fluid.
You might also want to buy yourself a good calving suit for Christmas. It will keep you dry, protect the cow and is easy to clean and disinfect. Use good clean water to clean up the cow and be sure to clean your calving suit after each use. We used to order in the calving suit the veterinarians used for producers as there are many different styles from one-piece to two-piece but all serve the purpose. It only takes a few minutes to wash them down but it is worth it. Keep the sleeves up with elastics, clamps, hemotats or wear them under the cuffed arms of the calving suit.
Choosing the proper obstetrical sleeves, believe it or not, is also worthy of some careful consideration. You can get great feel with the very thin one-time-use obstetrical sleeves one often gets from the AI companies but they are not strong enough for most calvings. You need sleeves that give the maximum feel, fit snugly around your hand and are long enough. Vet clinics often carry several types.
There are now good pink OB sleeves that fit a woman’s smaller hands. We used light brown OB sleeves that were strong, fit well and had an extra-long arm length. You may need to try several but avoid the poor sleeves that are no better for examining a fetus than a bread bag or silage-bag plastic.
Pay the extra money. They will make your job easier and, with lots of lubricant, be easier on the cow.
Remember to be gentle when examining these calving mothers as we are already, by what we are doing, setting them up for next year.
Never examine a cow with your bare arm. Being unclean, not using enough lube, pulling too quickly and being rough during the vaginal exam can all lead to a late or open cow next year. Be careful, work with the cow, and try to bring that calf into as stress free an environment as possible.