Backwards Calf

The weather has turned cold on us once again (come on spring!). We were putting in anything that calved today and onwards into tonight because the wind is moist and from the south and east (we don’t have as good of protection from that direction). My father in law put in a cow he knew was going to calve, she was agreeable to go into the spare shed by the arena.

Subsequent checks were not helpful. She increasingly got more and more upset and wouldn’t let you see what was going on as she would turn to face you from whichever direction you went to look at her. My husband finally got a look and saw what we don’t like to see…

Two feet, palms UP (I guess it’s better than one foot palm up).

The calf was coming backwards. Occasionally, if the calf is small and the cow is experienced, they can have a backwards calf with no assistance. Although this cow was 8 years old, the calf was not going to come without assistance.


We moved her from the shed by the arena to the cow barn to pull the calf. By this time she was extremely upset and difficult to get into the calving chute. Our head catch is supported by a couple posts. There have been a few times this year where I have questioned the structural integrity of said posts as an angry cow is thrashing back and forth in them. That’s just what we need, a cow with a backwards calf, running rogue with a head-catch stuck on her….. maybe they should get some attention this spring. I’m sure they’ll be fine till then.

We finally got her in and my husband located the tail of the calf and assured that he had both the hind legs (you can tell this by feeling the hocks and seeing which way they bend). At this time careful attention should be to make sure it’s not twins as one usually comes backwards.

When pulling a calf that is backwards, preventing hiplock (see post When Bad Turns to Worse) is a little different as the calf needs to be turned at the beginning (usually it’s turned right after the shoulders). In the first part of pulling the calf we go slower and work with the cow. The hips are the more complicated part of the birth.


After the hips are through, we pull faster as the umbilical cord is most likely detached and the calf will be trying to breath while it’s head isn’t out yet. The second part of a backwards calf comes out rather easily and quick anyways.

The calf was lively and healthy. The cow was angry and mad at the world (namely us).

We walked her out of the chute into a stall with her calf. While she was sniffing it for the first time, we made every effort to shut the gate while she was distracted. It was one of those times where milliseconds count. I got the gate shut and my husband latched the chain right as she turned and rammed her head into it in a fit of rage.

Whoa! Scary cow. I went to walk back down the isle to put some things away when she did it again! I just left though the far door as to not disturb her any more. She was still mad when we put two more cows in the cow barn to calve tonight. One of them has calved, the other hasn’t. We will see how the rest of the night goes!

I’ll leave you with this drawing I found in an article that shows the calf in the uterine horn. The little “star” looking things are the “buttons” I was talking about in my post on the Third Stage of Parturition.


The image is from a real neat site I found that is an online e-book:

Special Report on Diseases of Cattle by the USDA, J.R. Mohler (it’s a free e-book, and about 530 pages of great information)

To see more post on calving difficulties, please visit the Post Index under “Calving Difficulties”.


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