Spring is generally equated to calving time on most beef farms and ranches. While this is a time of hopeful anticipation, it can also be a time of distress if you are calving out many heifers.

In our February “Vets' Opinion” column in BEEF (page 22), Mike Apley and I outlined when to assist a heifer or cow at calving time. One technique extremely helpful to me in assisting delivery is to lay the cow down before delivery is attempted.

The first thing to do on every dystocia is to perform a through vaginal examination to determine if we can deliver the calf vaginally. If the calf is not in correct position for delivery, the malpresentation should be resolved while the cow is standing. If at this point you are unsure if the calf can be delivered or if any malpresentation cannot be resolved, your herd health veterinarian should be called for assistance.

For the majority of cases, however, the owner is quite capable of assisting in delivery. This is when we use a lariat or long rope and perform the “half-hitch” method — also known as the Utrecht method — to lay the cow down (see Figure 1).

The half-hitch method is best accomplished with two people, as it is safer when passing the rope beneath the cow. The maneuver can be done by just one person, however, by using a stick to retrieve the rope from under the cow.

To start the procedure, tie the haltered cow low in a safe calving area. A chute where both sides and the headgate open fully is ideal. Place a loop around the cow's neck and take the end over her shoulders.

Continue with the end and place it behind her front legs. As the rope comes up toward her shoulders, make a half-hitch with the rope that is at the top of her shoulder. Now, take the end down her back to the area of her hook bones.

Take the end of the rope and pass it under her abdomen just in front of her back legs and udder (at the level of flank). Bring the rope up and make another half-hitch on top of her back. Pull with slow, steady pressure on the rope and pull slightly to the right so she gently falls on her right side.

This technique is quite easy and works nearly every time.

So, why go to all this work (it generally takes about three to four minutes)?

  • The cow is now in her natural position for delivery.

  • The cow pushes much harder so you don't have to pull so hard.

  • The pelvis is able to tilt slightly to “open up” and aid in delivery.

  • The cow can't fall down and break your jack or jump to the side and rip your finger open on the jack (not that these have ever happened to me).

When I switched to this method after hearing a talk by Robert Mortimer, DVM, from Colorado State University, my clients were uniformly pleased with the improvement in dystocia cases.

It allows me much more control over the situation, and the stress level for all involved is greatly reduced. I can pull on one leg at a time to aid in delivery, and I found out that going much slower was also better for all involved.

If you've never tried this method, try it next time you have a dystocia.

W. Mark Hilton, DVM is a clinical assistant professor in beef production medicine at Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette, IN.