Most calves are born head first, front feet extended. But a few are positioned backward and may not survive the birth process unless you are there to help. The number of backward calves in a herd during a calving season can vary from year to year, and all the factors influencing this presentation are not yet fully understood. While the fetus is growing in the uterus it is quite active and can change positions, especially while still relatively small. The position of a fetus when a cow is pregnancy-checked is not necessarily the position it will be in at the end of gestation when the birth process begins.
Most cows progress normally through the stages of labor; uterine contractions in early labor get the calf aimed toward the birth canal, the cervix dilates and the calf starts through. The calf entering the birth canal stimulates abdominal straining and second stage (active) labor begins – to push him on out. Sometimes, however, the calf does not start into the birth canal and the cow does not begin hard straining. If you don’t intervene, you’ve lost the calf (and the cow, if you don’t get the dead calf out of her). Knowing when to check a cow is crucial – and you have to be watching her to know how long she’s been in early labor.
After a cow is bred, she should calve about 9 months plus 1 week later (283 days, on average). But sometimes accidents of gestation terminate pregnancy early, or other factors (disease or toxins) kill the developing calf. Immediately after conception, when the tiny embryo is traveling down the fallopian tube into the uterus, it is safe from harmful influences. After it reaches the uterus a few days later, it becomes more vulnerable to problems. The conceptus is called an embryo during the first 45 days of pregnancy; after that, all major organs and body systems have been formed and it becomes a fetus. If loss occurs before 45 days of gestation, it is termed early embryonic death.
I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the frozen swamp. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground.
Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!