Article Summary:

Calving is a challenging process. Understanding the signs and phases of labour, as well as the calving process and post-calving care, will ensure the best possible outcome for you, the cow, and her calf. This article will dive into the bare basics of what you need to know.

  1. Springer Care
  2. Stages of Labour
  3. Assessing Calf Presentation
  4. Post-Calving

The birth of a calf is known as calving. Calves are born after nine months. They usually stand up and suckle within a few minutes of calving. There can be many complications associated with calving that can affect the health of the calf after birth. However, many of these can be avoided with the right knowledge and tools.

Understanding the signs and phases of labour, as well as the process of calving itself along with the care required after calving, will ensure the best possible overall result for you, the cow, and her calf.

Springer Care:

Springers are pregnant cows that are close to calving. They must be regularly inspected. Most farms have them checked at least every 6 hours, and sometimes more frequently, especially in bad weather.

Special care and attention is required when checking for the symptoms of labour.

There are following things that you need to keep in mind:

  • Inspect cows every 6 hours or even more frequently. Three or four inspections a day is common practice.
  • Move quietly. Better do it when cows are feedingWhen cows are hungry and waiting to be moved to fresh fodder, don't walk through the herd. Look for cows that appear to be in labour and avoid disturbing them.
  • Sometimes calves are born without the knowledge of the farmer and are hidden by the cow. Check all areas of the paddock and, depending on the quality of the fencing, the paddocks next door as well. Examine drains, hollows, long grass, and hedges for any signs of a calf.
  • Finally, it goes without saying, keep a record of every cow and heifer.

Always keep an eye out for any signs of labour. Some of the early signs include:

  • Restlessness
  • Isolated from herd
  • Reduced appetite
  • Udder swelling
  • Mucus from vulva
  • Milk dripping from teats
  • Mothering other calves
  • Water bag will be protruding
  • Dip between tailhead and pin-bones
  • Tummy less full as calf moves into birth canal

If you encounter these signs it means that your cow is going into labor.

Stages of Labour:

Calving will take place at varying rates for various cows. Some may exhibit numerous symptoms, while others may display only a few.

The vast majority of animals will give birth without additional help if the calf is normally present and the pelvic area is large enough. Recognizing a normal calving is just as important as recognizing an abnormal calving. This way, you will not provide assistance when it is not required.

Labor is generally divided into three stages. A brief description of each of these is given below:

  1. Dilation of the Cervix
  2. Delivery
  3. Placental Expulsion

Dilation of the Cervix:

The first stage of labor is cervix dilation. The normal cervix closes tightly until the cervical plug dissolves completely. Cervical dilation begins four to twenty-four hours before the actual birth.

The progesterone block is no longer present during this time, and the uterine muscles become more sensitive to any factor that increases the rate and strength of contractions.

Initially, contractile forces primarily influence cervix relaxation, but uterine muscular activity remains relatively quiet. This stage  is likely to go unnoticed, but some behavioral differences, such as isolation or discomfort, may occur. Farmers may notice tail elevation, tail switching, and increased mucous discharge near the end of this stage.


Cows should calve in 30 minutes to an hour, but not more than two hours. Heifers should calve in two to three hours, and no more than four hours.

The delivery of the newborn is the second stage of parturition. It starts with the membranes and fetus entering the pelvic canal and ends with the calf being born. 

The second stage is the one that producers are most interested in because it is where all the action takes place. The appearance of membranes or a water bag at the vulva marks the clinical onset of delivery.

In heifers, not only is the pelvic opening smaller, but the soft tissue has never been expanded. Older cows have had previous deliveries, and birth should be relatively quick unless there is an abnormality such as a very large calf, a backwards calf, a leg back, or twins.

Placental expulsion:

The shedding of the placenta or fetal membranes is the third stage of parturition. This usually happens in less than eight to twelve hours in cattle. If the membranes have not been shed after 12 hours, they are considered retained.

It was once thought necessary to remove the membranes by manually unbuttoning the attachments. Manual removal has been shown in studies to be harmful to uterine health and future conception rates.

Antibiotics will usually protect against infection, and the placenta will slough in four to seven days. Contact your veterinarian for advice on how to handle a retained placenta.

Assessing calf presentation:

Examine how the joints move.

The fetlock and knee of the front leg bend in the same direction. The fetlock and hock of the back leg bend in opposite directions.

This can be used to determine whether the calf is presented head first (normal presentation) or backwards (abnormal presentation).

  1. Normal Presentation
  2. Abnormal Presentation

Normal Presentation:

The two front feet and head move through the pelvis first in normal presentation. The calf's feet and head form a wedge that aids in the opening of the birth canal.

Even if a calf is in the proper position, help may be required if the calf is too large for the cow. To fit through the pelvis, the calf may need to be rotated.

Abnormal Presentation:

A calf that is abnormally presented is likely to require calving assistance. If you are uncertain how to resolve an abnormal presentation, seek assistance from your manager or veterinarian.

Watch and learn from anyone with calving experience, and take advantage of opportunities to feel for abnormal presentation and assist with difficult calvings.

If calving is not going normally, corrective action must be taken. Wear gloves when assisting with calving to avoid spreading bugs between you and the cow and vice versa. Use plenty of lube to protect the cow and make the calving process easier for both you and her.

Make sure to cup your hand around the calf's hooves or teeth. This will help to protect the uterine wall of the cow. Gently traction the cow for 10 minutes to help her calve. Work with the cow's contractions.

It is important to ensure that the cow receives the appropriate intervention and care to minimize pain and distress when assisting cows to calve. If you haven't made any progress, seek assistance.


Recently calved cows are fragile and need close monitoring. If you assisted the birth, check for a twin. Keep a close eye on the colostrum cows and report any that are showing signs of being unwell.

This brings us to the end of the article. As you have read, calving is a significant period in both the dam and calves life and sets the animals up for healthy outcomes.

Until we meet again, Happy Calving!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2022-07-27