For starters, experience is something that is acquired over a period of time. General knowledge of cattle and their anatomical make up is helpful, but that too will come with time. If you can find a book on birthing cattle, this would be a wise choice of information to add to your library. Read & reread the chapters on the correct position of the calf prior to delivery so you know what to expect & can detect any deviance from that. In the case of any abnormal position, call your vet & let him know what the situation is. If you can find a video tape of calving, that too could be helpful, you will want to watch it several times and again each year prior to calving just so you remember when to do what.
A list of supplies to have on hand (even for the most experienced or inexperienced) includes:
Your Vet’s phone # and your mobile phone – The MOST important thing to have on hand, especially for breeders with little or no experience. Do not hesitate, call your vet if you have a question or it appears the cow is having trouble. It is better to have a vet bill to pay than not have a live calf, or lose your cow.
Patience – This is the second most important thing to have on hand. Cows will calve when THEY are ready, often times at times most inconvenient for the cowman. Be patient, especially with the laboring cow, and all will work much better.
Latex gloves/vet sleeves – Always put gloves on before working inside the cow (putting straps or chains on the calf’s feet). Use them only once & dispose of them, reuse can cause contamination & infection.
KY or Lubricating jelly – Clean the back end of the cow with a mild soap and warm water before assisting with a delivery. Use a generous amount of lubricating jelly on latex glove/vet sleeve prior to entering the birthing canal of the cow.
OB calving straps or chains – Used to assist in the delivery of calves. Hooked to the front legs above the joint for best results.
Gentle iodine – In a spray bottle, to spray the navel cord after birth to reduce the possibility of infection & speed the drying of the cord.
Towels – Old bath towels, clean & dry (no fabric softener) to wipe off calves or hands after helping with the delivery if needed.
Powdered colostrum – A dry powder form of colostrum to give to the calf if the mom won’t let it nurse or if the calf is not strong enough to get up & nurse. Mix as directed, but remember your calf is probably 1/2 the size of standard calves at birth, so they will not require a large amount (about a pint will usually be enough for the first time). The old timers recommend the calf have colostrum within the first 2 hours of life for best immunity against possible disease.
Bottle & nipple – For miniature cattle, a pop bottle and a sheep nipple work really well. A regular calf nipple is good to have also & a bottle it will fit. I have improvised & used small juice bottles and calf nipples for calves.
Blanket/quilt – During early calving (Feb/Mar) sometimes calves need a little extra warmth, if not the calf, the cowman sometimes needs the blanket /quilt to keep warm while waiting for the calf to arrive. Coffee and/or hot chocolate are good too @ 2 a.m. when the thermometer is reading about +20 and the water bag is visible, or possibly even the feet, but no rapid progress is being made.
Clean Straw – To bed the calving area (Kansas straw is especially good), a few bales to sit on are handy too.
Help – If by chance your spouse, child or significant other can be convinced to sit with you & wait, a helping hand is often welcome at critical moments, but remember the patience here too. Especially if you have more than one calf expected during your calving season, loss of patience could leave you alone in the calving barn for the next time.
Calving is a major part of the cow business, and being as well prepared for it as you can will make it much more pleasant and successful. Read, study, ask questions, call the vet, do what ever you have to do to make yourself comfortable with the process. Each birth is a new experience, here’s wishing each of you a successful calving season!