Spring calving season here, and even though the majority of cattle give birth without assistance, it's always wise to be prepared for those that will need help. When observing pregnant cows for signs of calving, you can divide the process of labor into three general stages. These include the preparatory stage (Stage 1), the fetal expulsion stage (Stage 2) and the cleaning stage (Stage 3). Time intervals and events that occur will vary between each stage as well as vary between individuals.
Stage 1 occurs when cervical dilation and early uterine contractions begin. Cows will begin to show behavioral changes like moving away from the herd, restlessness and off feed. Physical signs include relaxation of the pelvic ligaments indicated by a sunken croup and a raised tail and the udder will also be enlarged and tight. The presentation of the water bag usually indicates the end of Stage 1 and the beginning of Stage 2.
The second stage of labor can be characterized as the stage in which birth of the calf will occur. During this stage, uterine contractions are intense. The cow would normally lie down and actively be pushing to expel the calf.
Stage 3 occurs with the expulsion of the placenta and fetal membranes. This is generally referred to as the cow "cleaning." This stage should normally take less than eight hours. If the cow retains the placenta for longer than two days, then contact your veterinarian to get assistance for "cleaning" the cow.
It is important to take proper action during each successive stage of labor to ensure a live calf.
A couple of weeks before the calving season, cows and heifers due to calve should be moved to a smaller pasture where they can be easily observed. Always try to avoid extensive movement after labor has begun. Moving the animal during labor will slow down the labor process because a cow or heifer will stop to examine her new surroundings. It is a good idea to always have proper facilities and equipment close at hand and in working order for use during the calving season. Movement to a maternity stall may be necessary if assistance is required.
Source: Arkansas Ag Extension