What to Expect When Your Cow is Expecting

Cow is Expecting

I finally caught it on camera, a LIVE birth!  On average, we have two calves born every day on our farm.  Sometimes more, sometimes less; it is dependent on the season.  A cow giving birth is pretty exciting and we will get to the video, but let’s start this story from the beginning. What can you expect when your cow is expecting?

We breed all our cows via artificial insemination with purchased semen.  This eliminates having dangerous bulls on the farm and the risk of inbreeding.  Twenty-eight days after a cow has been bred, our vet will ultra sound the cow and(hopefully) confirm a pregnancy.  Want to learn more about pregnancy checks and herd health day, read Your Egg-o is Prego. The gestation period of cows is the same as humans, nine months.

The pregnant cows remain in the milking herd until they reach their dry period. The dry period occurs 45-50 days before the cow’s due date, similar to maternity leave in humans.  As the cow gets closer to her dry period, milk production decreases.  During the dry period, the cow is moved to a different pen and is not milked. Basically, all she has to do is eat, poop, and relax.  Every pregnant gal’s dream, right? This period of relaxation prepares the cow’s body for motherhood and produces colostrum in the udder.  Colostrum is the first few milkings from a cow after giving birth and provides the necessary antibodies the newborn calf requires.

Two weeks prior to the cow’s due date, she will be moved to our close-up pen or “maternity ward” in the hospital barn and near the calving pens.  The close-up pen is frequently checked, at least once per hour, and provides comfort and attention for the expectant mothers.  When the cow begins showing signs of labor, she will be moved to a calving pen.  Common signs of labor include restlessness, mucus discharge, enlarged and floppy vulva, and milk secretions from the udder.  Cows can be in labor for up to 3 hours, sometimes more and sometimes less.  We allow our cows to give birth unassisted for up to two hours.  If there seems to be no progress or a possible abnormality, we will step in to help, but it is easier on the cow if she is able to go at her own pace.

The cow in my video is giving birth to her second calf and began going into labor around seven that morning.  We moved her into a calving pen and closely watched her.  I happened to be near just as the cow was really givin’ er and the calf was well on its way.   Check out the video, but be warned: This is a live birth.  There is goo, blood, mucus, and stretching of the lady parts.  I’m sure you can handle it though, it is minimally gross and majorly cool.

Immediately after the calf is out, we enter the pen to check the calf.  We will stick our fingers or a piece of straw in the calf’s nostrils to make him/her sneeze and cough out any mucus.  Then, we will check the sex of the calf, this one was a boy!  We allow the mother to lick off the calf a bit before moving it out of the calving pen and into its own hutch.  It is important to the calf’s health that we separate it from its mother.  Want to read more about why dairy farmers separate cows and their calves? Check out this blog post from Heim Dairy.

Cow is Expecting
Cow is Expecting

We do not keep any bulls on the farm, so this little fella will be sold around one week old.  Are you wondering what would have happened if the calf was a girl?  Read my post, All About Those Babies.

The momma cow is expecting will enter the hospital pen to be monitored and examined daily.  She will also begin milking again at this time.  If the cow is in good health after 10-14 days, she will leave the hospital pen and join the rest of the herd in the big barn.  Back to the daily grind! So far, both momma and baby are doing well and enjoying the spring weather.