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Things NOT to do when the animal is giving birth

There are things not to do when the animal is giving birth in your farm regardless of the animal involved, this is what we will be discussing about below today. Meanwhile, many people interfere with birth too early or when it is unnecessary causing more harm than good. Allow the cow, sheep or goat sufficient time and quietness to deliver her calf, lamb or kid.

Things NOT to do when the animal is giving birth

Do not chase or cause stress to the animal before and during birth, making the dam nervous can disrupt labor and delay birth by many hours.

Do not interfere before the water has broken; as long as the water has not broken the calf/lamb/kid will stay alive inside the mother for a long time (up to 12 hours). If there seems to be no progress at all after the waterbag has become visible (= the waterbag does not move through the vulva and the water does not break) you must wait at least one hour before checking the position of the calf.

If birth progresses normally do not attempt to pull. Unnecessary pulling can easily cause injury to the newborn and the mother.

When the animal relaxes, do not try to pull out the calf/lamb/kid by force, labour happens at intervals and you are not supposed to pull when the mother rests; hard pulling on the calf/lamb/kid can easily cause prolapse of the uterus which frequently causes death of both, the mother and the young.

If the afterbirth does not come out normally do not try to put your hands in and don’t try to pull it out, you will cause damage and bleeding to the uterus and may easily infect yourself with Brucellosis by touching the placenta.

When you see milk drops on the teats, do not start to milk the cow before calving, this will make her colostrums useless for the calf.

Things NOT to do when the animal is giving birth

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Birth in livestock is a natural process and normally does not need any human interference. But sometimes there can be birth problems where the dam needs assistance from the farmer/pastoralist. 

Pregnancy in cattle lasts on average 280 days. It can be one week less or up to two and a half weeks more. If the cow has twins she will normally give birth before the 280 days are over. In goat and sheep pregnancy lasts 144 – 155 days, in pigs 110 – 118 days, in horses it lasts 336 days, in donkeys 365 days and in camels 330 – 410 days.    

Signs of approaching birth

  1. One to two weeks before birth the udder swells up, there is an increasing soft swelling of the skin (edema) on the udder and in front of the udder, thick colostrum appears in the teats.
  2. A few hours before birth the pregnant animal becomes restless, the animal stops to feed or drink, it may lie down and stand up again frequently, there may be the first discharge of mucous from the vagina.
  3. The preparation stage takes normally 2 to 6 hours but can vary between 1 and 24 hours (occasionally up to 72 hours in heifers!)
  4. The ligaments at both sides of the base of the tail sink in.
  5. The vulva swells up to several times its’ normal size and becomes flabby
  6. A lot of thick white mucous is discharged from the vulva

Make sure the animal has a clean and quiet place where she can give birth. Don’t put animals into stress because of removing it from familiar surroundings: when possible leave it in the herd when there is space to find a quiet place.

Prepare yourself: have clean water, soap and two clean smooth ropes ready (ropes should be boiled in water before), it is also good to have a bit of iodine ready to dip the calf’s navel in after birth.

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Monitoring birth progress

  1. Labour starts, normally while the animal is lying down, the contractions of the uterus occur about every 15 minutes
    – Labour in cattle normally takes around 3 to 4 hours, but can take much longer with first-calving heifers; After about 3 to 4 hours of labour the waterbag (= the membrane sack which contains the calf) becomes visible in the vulva
    – Labour in sheep/goat is much shorter (about 30 minutes)
  2. It is important to observe when the waterbag bursts (or ‘the water breaks’), from this moment on the delivery of the calf / lamb / kid begins, the uterus contractions now occur every 2 minutes
  3. Labour comes in repeated intervals until the second membrane bursts and the two feet of the calf / lamb / kid appear
  4. In most cases calf / lamb / kid are born with the head between the two front feet coming first, but they can also be born with hind-legs and tail coming first
  5. The normal position of the calf / lamb / kid inside the mother is with the back facing up and the belly facing down (if it is not so see below under difficult birth) 
  6. Now observe until the calf/lamb/kid has been fully delivered, sometimes the mother takes a short break before expelling the calf completely, expulsion of the calf normally takes between 30 minutes (adult cows) and three hours (first-calving heifers)

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