Calving difficulty, sometimes called dystocia, affects between 13% to 15% of Holstein calves. Dystocia is defined as delayed or difficult parturition. General causes are fetal-maternal size mis-match, fetal malpresentation and maternal-related causes. A 2007 Journal of Dairy Science paper found over 35% of calves required assistance during birthing.

A 2008 Bovine Veterinarian article discussed caring for the dystocia calf. The basic recommendations for dealing with this issue include the following. Click here for more detail on how to accomplish these management tasks.

  • Minimize dystocia
  • Use appropriate delivery methods
  • Identify compromised calves
  • Administer fluids and oxygen to calves with acidosis
  • Warm chilled calves
  • Deliver high-quality colostrum immediately after birth
  • Treat every dystocia calf as a compromised calf

This week’s Calving Ease newsletter from calf expert Sam Leadley, PhD, Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, N.Y., also contains information on caring for dystocia calves. Read the full article here.

Some bullet points from Leadley on dystocia are:

  • 48-hour survival rates drop drastically for calves when deliveries require two or more persons, mechanical or surgical intervention compared to unassisted births.
  • There is a 120-day survival rate for calves when deliveries require two or more persons.
  • Mechanical or surgical interventions are 70% less than unassisted births.
  • Treatment rates are higher for dystocia calves (scours 17%, pneumonia 70%) compared to calves experiencing unassisted births.
  • Providing special care, both in the first few hours and first two weeks, can cut both death losses and treatments for scours and/or pneumonia.