Dystocia: The Challenge

Alright, today I started to write this long, informative post about dystocia in livestock and how much livestock producers dread these problems during birthing seasons. Instead, I will spare you the details and share with you why I find calving season such a challenge.

Every morning I walk out the door, not knowing what the day has in store. I make my rounds to each pasture, tagging and castrating new calves, and making sure no cattle show signs of struggles. When I do find a problem, I try my best to solve the situation and save both the cow and the newborn. Most of the time I am successful, but other times I am unable to save both. This is a challenge for me as a relatively young producer, trying to keep up with the pace, and learn from those who have trod before me. My goal is to save every animal, but reality is I may lose some.

This year I am presented with 500 mother cows that I know little about. I know they are bred to sires with a good lineage, chosen to be high performance, and low maintenance. So far, I have been presented with a few challenges.

Five percent of all births in beef cattle will experience problems due to fetal rotation. A normal presentation for calving is front feet first with the head to follow on top. Over the years of helping my dad with our cowherd, I have encountered problems with a head turned back, or one or both feet turned back. These are easy enough to correct by a slight push to the fetus and a pull on the limb or head to get things back in line. Last week I described a birth where I encountered a fetal breech position. The calf was in the opposite position, tail first and head last. Even though you are literally working in the dark, fetal rotations can be fixed easily if you take time to understand what you are facing and how to correct it.

Another dystocia problem I have encountered is excessive fetal size. We do all we can to plan matings that best compliment the breed make-up and size of the cattle at the time of the cattle at parturition. Sometimes, despite all of the information and EPD (estimated progeny difference) data we have, nature is not 100%. Both genetics and environment influence the size of the fetus, and on occasion, the fetus is larger than expected. In these cases, pelvic area of the mother comes into consideration, and if too small, can result in a hip-lock. A rotation of the hips can often overcome this obstacle. Measuring the pelvic area of yearling heifers and culling for small measurements can help avoid this problem as well.

Improving my weaning rates is more than just increasing monetary return at the end of the season. I do not like to lose calves or cows any more than the next person does and this is something I strive to avoid. Both of these cases have been cause for a loss of a calf this season, but this only makes me work harder to learn from my mistakes and do better next time. With the mentoring of experienced cattlemen and an eagerness to learn, I can catch calving problems earlier and correct the problems quicker.

Later in the week, I will look at a few more causes of dystocia and what we do to prevent these problems. Let me know if you have any more questions about calving season around my place.

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