Forwards, Backwards and Sideways

Calving usually is a easy job for a person, since 95%+ of the time the cow has the calf on her own (Obviously for the cow it is a bit more challenging, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles). However, that <5% of the time when the cow is having trouble, a person has to intervene to help the deliver the calf. That’s when things can get interesting.


Not as interesting as this novel, which is an intense critique of the political system of Renaissance northern Europe, but interesting in its own right. Four stars.

There are many issues that hinder the delivery of a calf. In this post, I want to focus on a series of issues known as “malpresentations”. Malpresentations are where the calf is not coming out of the cow in a normal direction. Normally, a calf is born with the front legs coming out first and the head between the front legs. A calf pointed any other way is a malpresentation, which can make the delivery more difficult or even impossible unless the direction of the calf is corrected.

Normal presentation

Calves are supposed to be born like they are “diving” into the world. No cannonballs or belly-flops allowed. 

There are quite a few ways a calf can be presented incorrectly, but all of them can only be corrected by a person inserting their arm vaginally to reorient the calf in the correct direction. A common malpresentation for a calf is having the head turned backwards, as if it was turning around to lick its tail. This can be corrected by putting a loop behind the calf’s ears and into its mouth to help guide the head through the birth canal.

Another one that I deal with a lot is called a “breech”. A breech calf is essentially coming tail first, with both legs flexed at the hip and pointed towards the cow’s head. Correcting this one is accomplished by pushing the calf forward, pulling the rear legs up so they are pointed out the birth canal, and then pulling the calf out backwards.

A calf being born back feet first is not usually a problem; they fit through just fine. The issue come in that a calf born backwards will break the umbilical cord before the head is out, cutting off the calf’s oxygen supply. If a backwards delivery is done in a timely manner, it is no issue. It is natural for a calf to be delivered backwards without any human assistance, although if one is seen being born backwards it is advised to help it along.

Infrequently, a calf can be sideways in the uterus. There is no way a calf can be born through this presentation. With this and any other malpresentation, if the calf cannot be reoriented in a normal direction, a C-section can be preformed to get the calf out.

As I said at the start, cows are hardy animals that usually have their calves without human assistance and seem to prefer it that way. However, with a malpresentation sometimes people need to be involved to deliver the calf alive. This is why ranchers check their cows frequently during calving season, so they can help bring those babies into the world in a safe and timely manner.


Photo credit:—off-0cdl–00-0—-0-10-0—0—0direct-10—4——-0-1l–11-en-50—20-about—00-0-1-00-0–4—-0-0-11-10-0utfZz-8-00&cl=CL2.1&d=HASH01bec46b280c7bb01b4a17c6&gt=1


2 responses to “Forwards, Backwards and Sideways

    • Thanks Cheri! Those are also challenging for me. My wife and I actually try to work out to get ready for calving season, although the working out doesn’t always happen.

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