Getting ready to calve. There is nothing more anticipated and exciting than the arrival of a new calf. Especially if its the first one, either first born on your farm, or first one for your heifer or from your new cow. Calving always makes all the work sweat and expense worthwhile. In a way, its really your "return" on investment; investment of your time and money, the countless hours spent tending to the everyday details (some rather mundane and repiticious), the chores that never seem to end. But when you stand there leaning on the gate, watching that new calf struggle to it's feet for the very first time and search out its first drink from its momma, you kinda put all that behind you, and bask in the moment. There is just nothing better, regardless of the size of your operation.
Thankfully, we have never lost a calf up to this point. I understand that in itself is quite unusual, but call it good luck, good fortune, or just plain a blessing (which we prefer to call it), we are diligent to a fault on keeping tabs on our livestock. Just ask my family, "where is Mom? Guess." or "there she is, looking at the cows again" (they are visible from my kitchen window....very convieniant.) I keep binoculars next to the sink, just so I can see who's doing what, who is up, who's still eating, etc. Drives my family NUTS.
Which brings me to my thoughts about calving success. Granted, somethings one cannot control, and the miracle of giving birth after 9 months is just that; a miracle, both with humans and cattle. Not much we can do with that process, except, heres the key I believe; keep things as healthy and natural as we possibly can. For both humans and our cattle. This is how I have always approached cattle health (and it mirrors our health as well). Check the animals daily, twice if you at all can. Move around your livestock, run your hands over them in passing so they don't freak out at a human touch. Talk quietly as you go, so they get used to your voice, which comes in handy if you ever have to move them at night and they can't see you. They will recognise your voice, and stay calm. When a heifer gets close to her due date, I check her udder, getting her used to the feeling that soon there will be some "action down there" in her world. I handle her all over, so she's not afraid of us when we get in the pen or out in the pasture to assist (or just gawk) if neccessary. I stand with hand on side, feeling the calf moving around, is that the head, butt, a leg? Things getting a little tight in there? Towards the end, the calf will begin to move in a feet forward position to be born. The wide-slung belly will appear slightly flatter, due to the position of the calf at this point. The best way I know how to prepare for the correct presentation and birth is to allow the heifer and or cow to walk around, alot. Like out in the pastures. Walk to water, walk for food, get moving. This is a great aid to getting things moving in the right direction. Most calves will turn themselves the right way, and providing the animals with room to roam around freely before and during the calving process is critical.
There are many great articles written by vets about the actual calving process, which I will gladly leave to their expertise. Aside from the basics of correct presentation (feet first, nose to follow), I wont go into details. We do expect a cow to deliver within 30 minutes after we see the hooves, shorter if its an experienced cow. We will give her a hand if we can, just to the speed up the process for her and the calf, BUT this is a learned art, and I do not reccommend everyone start pulling their calves by any means. It is, after all, a natural process that has been going on for a long time without any help from us. But if you do decide to give your girls a little help, please make sure you are aware of what is happening, and, when, otherwise you could do serious harm to the momma.(and the calf!)?
As soon as that calf is out, we wipe out its little snotty nose, and let momma get to work cleaning it off, which will stimulate, bond and dry the baby all in one step. We have a squirt bottle, or clean cup of iodine for the navel when we can get a clean shot at it, as long as its clean (yes, clean) where she calves, we may wait till the calf stands up to dip the navel. We do like to get our animals in a prepared pen, which ours is 10' by 12', freshly bedded with bright oat or wheat straw (not old moldy hay, or sawdust, which will stick to everything that is wet and sticky... i.e. calf). The animal is free to wander around until it is obvious she is ready to drop that calf before we move her into the pen. We bring her closer and closer to the barn as the days to delivery draw nearer. She stays in the pen a day or so so we can keep an eye on momma and baby, did she clean, is baby nursung well, everybody up, eating and drinking normally. If there are any problems or need for a vet, everybody is easily accessable in a pen. We like to check on them every so often as well. After a day or so, they are let out to explore a safe, penned in paddock for a few days until baby has it legs well under him, after that, they go out to join the other herd members.
Works for us. We hope it works for you as well!