4 Best Practices for Assisting Cows During Calving (Includes Video)

Dr. Erika Nagorske

Dec 12, 2023

With calving season approaching, there are a number of best practices you should consider when assisting your cows during calving

Dr. Erika Nagorske, a practicing veterinarian with Southwest Veterinary Services, FBN®’s official veterinary partner, discusses four best practices to implement when helping a mother cow deliver her calf.

In this post, you’ll discover:

  • The supplies and equipment you’ll need for the birthing process 

  • When to help mama cow during the calving  

  • If you should call the veterinarian

  • 3 ways to provide postpartum care to your cow

You’ll also learn how to protect yourself from unexpected loss. At the end, there’s a handy checklist and additional resources. 

Watch Now: Expert Shares 4 Ways to Assist Cows During Calving

Watch Dr. Nagorske in the video “Best Practices for Assisting Cows During Calving” or continue reading below to gain key insights.

1. Have the Right Supplies and Equipment for Calving

A broad spectrum of supplies and equipment are helpful during calving. Facilities vary, but having somewhere safe to handle your cows is important. Chutes are ideal because some cows get nervous during calving and need extra restraint for safety. 

Obstetrical sleeves can help protect against infection if you need to reach in a cow to assist with a calf birth.

You may also want a head snare to help redirect calves and ensure their head is coming in the right direction and not turning back on itself. OB chains (30” or 60”) and handles will help assist in pulling the calf. A calf jack is also good to have on hand just in case.

It’s important to have lots of lube when pulling a calf. A great tip is to have an equine stomach pump and hose because it allows you to pump a warm water and lube mixture from a bucket into the cow’s birth canal and around the calf. This will lubricate the birth canal and create buoyancy for the calf, which will help you get the calf out more easily. 

[Many of these calving supplies can be purchased directly through the Animal Health section of FBN Direct® and shipped directly to your farm.]

2. Know When to Help a Cow Give Birth

While you may have some anxiety about how the cow is dealing with birthing, you should pay attention to how she behaves. If she stops actively pushing, grab a sleeve and see what’s going on. Determine if she’s too tired or if there’s a reason why the calf isn’t coming out.

If she’s been actively lying down to calve for 1–2 hours, use a sleeve to inspect the situation. If you see no progression in 1–2 hours, such as not seeing the “water bag” or placenta come through and break or you don’t see the calf’s feet, this could mean the cow is not dilated enough or the calf is positioned the wrong way in the birth canal.

If you are assisting the cow, try to pull when she pushes. Work with her, not against her. If the cow lets up, give her a break and then continue the cycle of pulling and pushing. This is a good collaborative way to get the calf out of the cow with minimal stress to both cow and calf.

3. Don’t Wait Too Long to Call a Veterinarian During Calving

If you’ve been physically working and assisting the cow for more than 45 minutes, it’s a good time to call a veterinarian. Depending on how far away your vet is, you may want to call sooner. 

One of the biggest mistakes producers make is not calling a vet when their help could make a difference. In the end, you can do more damage than good, which could result in a cow that’s exhausted or, in a worst case scenario, a calf that’s passed away. 

The faster you’re able to get a professional to help, the more likely the calf will live. This is especially true if the cow has to undergo a c-section. 

4. Provide Postpartum Care to Your Cow

If the cow had a tough calving, here are three treatments to consider: 

1. Uterine Boluses

Uterine boluses, an antiseptic and proteolytic aid, will help with retained placenta or help with any uterine infections. You can find uterine boluses on FBN Direct.

2. Pain Medications and Antibiotics

Discuss available options with your veterinarian if the cow is not recovering as you’d expect. Antibiotics, among many other pharmaceuticals, are available on FBN Direct’s online animal health store

3. Oral Rehydration

Oral rehydration is particularly important if the cow calves during extremely hot or cold weather. Calving is a stressful event for the cow and oral rehydration could help produce more colostrum, which will enable the cow to better attend to her calf. 

Gain Peace of Mind with FBN Livestock Protection

As producers themselves, our FBN insurance agents are intimately familiar with the ups and downs of managing livestock and are here to make sure you're protected from unexpected loss.

By leveraging FBN precision data and information shared by farmers like you, our team custom tailors coverage to fit your operation's unique needs. Connect with one of our agents today by calling (877) 576-4468 or clicking here for more information.

Calving Checklist

Prepare for calving season in advance by gathering all the supplies and equipment you need to help the mama cow and her calf as well as ensuring you have veterinary telephone numbers and livestock insurance, should you need them. 

  • Cow chute, halter, or rope

  • Head snares

  • OB chains 

  • OB handle

  • Calf jack

  • Equine stomach pump and hose

  • OB sleeves

  • Lube

  • Uterine boluses

  • Oral rehydration

  • Veterinarian office phone number

  • Livestock insurance


Related Resources


The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your animals. 

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Dr. Erika Nagorske

Dec 12, 2023

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