Calving season is rapidly approaching and for some of us it may have already begun. And for many in the business we know that not every calf born will do so easily. There are a percentage of calves that will either not be in a traditional front limb first position or experience other forms of dystocia (difficulty during birth).
Therefore, knowledge of the anatomy of both mother and calf are paramount for improving the outcomes of dystocia. In particularly when dealing with a backwards calf. I would say having the ability to recognize the difference between a front limb and hind limb is most helpful. When recognizing the difference each limb front or back will bend in a different direction at the knee/hock. The hind limbs will bend with the tip of the hoof moving forward while the front will bend with the tip of the hoof moving backwards. Likewise, the visible sign of the tailhead is indicative of backward facing calf. If the tailhead is visible it is paramount that action be taken to minimize the risk of asphyxiation. When a calf is born this way the umbilical cord is pressed up against the pelvic bone of its mother thus greatly reducing the transfer of oxygen to the calf. Thus if a producer is confident in their ability to pull the calf assistance can be rendered and if not your local veterinarian should be called. The timing of assistance varies with how far the calf has moved past the maternal pelvic bones, you have time to locate assistance. If rendering assistance yourself, be sure to work with the natural pushing of the cow to minimize injury to her. However, try to keep the process to under 4 minutes to reduce the risk of calf death due to asphyxiation.