Calving with Confidence

Whether you have one cow or a thousand, calving season is one of the most anticipated times of the year. Watching your cows round out, developing huge bellies as the time gets closer, is exciting. Like that proverbial watched pot, it seems the event itself will never actually happen.

But what exactly goes on when a cow has a calf? The visible part is what most people think of when they think of calving, but there are several stages to the entire calving process.

Stages of Labor

There are three stages of labor, each characterized by different parts of the birthing process, including preparation, delivery, and afterbirth. There are a lot of things going on all at once, some easily seen, and some more subtle. But careful observation and knowing the events of each stage can help you understand what’s happening, and know when to step in during the unlikely event of a problem.

FIRST STAGE LABOR consists of the early events and processes that prepare the cow’s body for the strain involved during the second stage of labor. The length of the first stage varies, ranging from an hour or two up to several hours.

During the first stage, contractions will start, and the calf will begin moving into position in the birth canal. Its legs, which have been folded up in utero, will extend into the birth canal, and it will assume the “diving” position of a normal birth (front hooves and face first). The cow’s cervix will relax and begin to soften as it dilates in preparation for birthing.

At this stage, sometimes you won’t see much. The cow may be restless, getting up and lying down frequently, and she may seek seclusion away from the

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