Last week I mentioned that a cow and calf died in labor, and I told you I’d talk more about labor issues on a beef farm. So, here we go…
Every farm has a no man’s land – a place where no one wants to have to go because it can involve a lot of worry, heartache, stress and unknown results…but somebody has to go there and conquer it…
…or experience the defeat it sometimes dishes out.
This harrowing place in my farm life is called Dystocia.
Dystocia is obstructed labor.
And dystocia is what caused the death of the cow and unborn calf last week.
Across the board in the US, statistically, 3-5% of cows in your herd will experience dystocia.
Thankfully, we are below the statistics on our farm because we take preventative measures to keep birth weights low and, subsequently, labor easier. We do this by choosing “calving ease bulls” for breeding. If you start at conception trying to avoid dystocia, you can definitely avoid an unnecessary lot of it.
Dystocia – it’s the main reason we check the herd each day during calving season. When we drive out on the pasture to check the herd we are looking at each cow to see if she’s in any sort of distress.
Does she look pregnant? Is she in labor? Are there any cows hiding away from the majority of the herd – hiding while they have their baby?
Day after day. Week after week. For two months or so twice each year this is what we do all because of dystocia.
Sketches of dystocia:
Now, allow me to clarify that when I look at a cow in labor out on the pasture, I don’t see these sketches. Instead she tells you she’s having calving trouble with body language, the presentation of the calf (if you can see it coming), length of labor from the time you find her, etc.
What? Cow body language, you say?
When facing dozens of cows it seems overwhelming at first to distinguish between them, but over time, you can become quite fluent in bovine body language and know when one of 100 is ailing. I think dystocia is much more obvious to spot than sickness. The cow is in pain, not just ailing with a fever. Something inside you knows that expression, and with practice, you can spot it quite efficiently.
Believe me, it’s nothing like the bull with his head down charging, but it’s every bit as communicative. Once you learn a few expressions of this language (the calving process + dystocia), then you can put it together into sentences and call your farmer.
Farmhand to Farmer – we have a breech…of sorts. The back legs are coming first and the points of the hooves are down. Praise be. (I’ve had best success with this breech. – we can do this back legs first, baby!)
I like to think female intuition makes me a better farmhand, but our A#1 male farmhand could be a nurse holding hooves through delivery everyday. He’s that good at spotting them and acting efficiently on their behalf with a heap of sympathy.
And the more efficient we are, the better chances our mamas and babies have of beating dystocia! Go team!
The thing with farming of any kind is that you’re trying to function and earn a living and feed the world with an entire group of uncontrollable variables. Not the least of which is dystocia. Even with the best laid breeding plans, you still cannot know when dystocia is going to show up.
Can I get an “amen” from some of you ladies who have had surprising labor and delivery stories a mile and a half long?! Yeah, that whole “women have been having babies for centuries” line may tick you off – because a century ago, you probably wouldn’t have survived childbirth.
We get it. So we work and pray hard against dystocia here on the farm.
Dear Jehovah – may the presentation be front hooves first, facing the ground like the calf is just going to jump out of the mama…
In fact, if parturition (havin’ a baby) is coming up for you, we’ll pray for you, too – by the time we’re almost done praying you’ll probably have record
calving ease labor mercy.
If I were God, I’d make it fast, just so the cattleman would hush it. Just sayin’ – if the unjust judge moved for the widow who pestered him, I’m knowing the cattleman who manages dystocia for a whole herd of females will bend His ear nicely.
Point being – dystocia will bring you to your knees. We prepare as best we can and we pray.
So far this year we had only one case of dystocia out of dozens of healthy births.
We are so, so thankful when dystocia passes us by. BUT, when we have to wade out into our no man’s land braced for an unknown inevitable challenge, we still find reasons to be thankful while we help our mamas because…
Every no man’s land needs the cup to be half full at the end of the day. It’s the only way to keep going year after year.
Do you have a personal or livestock dystocia saga? Do you or your furry friends have babies like it’s a walk in the park? Have you never had a baby and are happy to have brushed up on your Canadian geography?
Would love to hear from ya…just, you know, keep the details…unscary. I still have to live through calving season biannually and my nerves can only take so much.
A little extra detail if you’re interested:
This has been a short and lighter introduction to a very serious possibility on cattle farms that have calving seasons – we call them cow/calf operations. I remember my first case of dystocia – it was overwhelming. My farmer told me about dystocia, but we didn’t look at diagrams together and research it online. He’d been dealing with this sort of thing at the graduate school level right before he moved to our farm, so I don’t think it occurred to him to hold my hand through it via the Internet before we hit the pasture that first autumn.
Dystocia hospitality? It seems that is my department. 🙂
So, this is me gently introducing a problem that usually ends well enough, but doesn’t always – and either way, it can be scary.
Just remember that our main hope every season is to implement good plans at conception in order to keep our cows in the 95% without dystocia. For those who experience dystocia, we are out there everyday with the entire herd, making sure we can intervene if they need us.
This every day vigilance is typical for Southern farms because our average herd size is about 30 mama cows. Due to difficult terrain and other considerations, large ranches don’t always have this luxury of checking so meticulously. But, this post gives you a decent peek into this topic at one type of cattle operation in the U.S.
* Thank you Wikipedia for helping me gather my thoughts on no man’s land.
This post is linked up at the Country Fair Blog Party!