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Partuition or birthing is a time for great care to be taken with your livestock. Pregnancy lasts 280-285 days in beef cattle, 140-158 days in sheep,145-155 days in goats, and 320-340 days in horses.

Partuition is divided into three stages. Top of page


Dystocia means difficult birth. If you think that you have a breach birth you need to act quickly t save the calf and the mother. The supplies you need are:

  • Lubricant, such as mineral oil or soapy water. (Never use dirty water, motor oil, or your dry hands.)
  • Chains or bailing twine or rope.
  • A warm dry place to work. If you try to pull a calf in the middle of a field during a blizzard you will get cold and wet and then may work too fast or roughly and could kill the calf and cow.

Some differant kinds of dystocia are:

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Pulling Calves

Try to wash off the birth canal and use a lubricant such as mineral oil or soapy water. Attach your chains or ropes. Tie chains or baling twine twice around the limbs-over the fetlock and pastern to avoid putting too much pressure on one joint. Don’t pull just one leg. The other leg will get bound up and you will just get the calf stuck. NEVER use more strength to pull a calf or foal then 2 adults can supply for a cow or horse or more than 1 adult for sheep and goats. DO NOT USE COME-ALONGS OR PULL WITH A TRUCK. If the fetus does not pull within 15-20 minutes one should seek veterinary attention. This is a medical emergency and you should not pull breach calves unless you are sure of what you intend to do. When you begin to pull the calf, pull it out and downwards (towards the cows feet). This is the direction of the birthcanal and is the easiest way to pull without getting stuck. The most common breaches for cows are backwards ( hind end first) with both hind legs bent, forwards with one leg or the head bent back, and back first with all four legs facing forward. The first two can usually be turned to a pullable position but the last is very difficult and usually requires a veterinarian to help.

After Birthing dry the calf and clean out its mouth with a towel to make sure it can breath. Tie the umbilical cord in a knot about 3 inches from the calf and dip it in strong (7%) iodine, red oil, or wound spray. Make sure the calf gets up to nurse the cow. Give the cow plenty of hay and water. She is probably very tired.

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Many animals will be giving birth during this winter and early spring. Newborns are more at risk of freezing than at any other time in their life. If an animal is born and is at risk for hypothermia because of weather conditions or because it was born in a puddle or weak or orphaned, it should be immediately dried and placed in a shelter or barn with warm towels or a heat lamp. If the mother is alive and has not rejected the neonate she should be placed in the area with the baby. A temporary shelter can consist of the warm cab of a pick-up truck or a trailer with fresh straw/hay/wood chips/blankets. Hot water bottles can be made with any water tight container and filled with bath temperature water. Do not leave the bottles in direct contact with the skin as they may cause burning. Instead wrap the bottle in a towel to lessen the heat. Also never leave a small animal unattended on a water bottle, heating blanket, or under a heatlamp. They may then over-heat! If you must leave an animal alone make sure that it can move out from under or away from the source of the heat.In addition, lambs and kids can be dressed in “sweaters” made from the arms of old sweatshirts. Foals can benefit from blankets.

It is important that each newborn gets a drink of the first milk “Colostrum” from its mother. This first milk imparts the mothers passive immunity (strength to resist disease) to her baby. Animals that do not receive this colostrum are small, weak, and usually die early from infection that they could have fought off if they had their mothers strength. If an animal is born and its mother dies or rejects it before it receives the colostrum, the newborn should immediately (within 3-12 hours) be adopted to another animal of the same species which has just given birth. This can often be accomplished by placing the placenta or skin of another dead newborn over the back of the orphan thereby fooling the surrogate mother. Careful supervision of the adoption must be made and the two should not be left alone until they have accepted each other fully. An orphan should receive 10% of its body weight in colostrum during the first day. In many parts of the world, people save a portion of the colostrum from animals who have either lost their own young or make a lot of milk in the freezer to use on these ‘orphans’. Since most people don’t have large herds of horses, owners of orphaned foals need to either borrow colostrum from another horse owner or bring the foal to a veterinarian for plasma transfusions (injection of immunity from another horse directly into the vein).

Newborns who have lost their mother or been rejected and cannot be permanently adopted need to be hand fed until weaning.

Foals may be fed artificial Mare’s milk, goat milk, or equine milk replacer with a bottle and nipple. They require 0.5-1 liters per feeding at 1-2 hour intervals for the first 2 days then 2-3 hour intervals for the next 2 weeks. The amount fed should slowly increase until the foal is consuming 8-10% of their body weight /day. Foals can often then be switched over to pail drinking by having the foal suckle the fingers or nipple and lowering it into a bucket of milk. After this is accomplished one can usually begin to add grain/alfalfa pellets/foal pellets until the foal can be weaned as soon as it will accept grain and hay without milk. Usually around 6-8 weeks. Fresh water must be available throughout this time.

Neonatal calves require 6-8 liters (or 5-6% of their body weight)/day of calf replacer or whole milk to gain weight, with no more than 2 liters being fed at any one time to avoid bloat. Calves do not begin to have a functional rumen until 3-4 weeks of age and must have milk for that time period.However the earlier the calf begins to accept dry feed, the sooner the transition will occur so it is best to have good quality feed available from the start.

Sheep and goats are similar to calves as far as neonatal nutrition is concerned and require the same percentage of body weight fed per day. However the composition of cow milk is different from sheep and goats and they should be fed sheep or goat milk or replacer. Sheep and goats should have access to starter rations after about 2 weeks. Early weaning of normal sheep and goats is about 8-12 weeks of age but orphans may be weaned sooner. However early weaning or low nutrition in any young stock may lead to stunted growth.


Cow Calf Corner

State Import Regs

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