It’s a century-old motto for millions of Boy and Girl Scouts, but “be prepared” is a cardinal rule for calving time as well.

At calving, you want everything on hand that might be needed, and all facilities and equipment functional and ready for use, says W. Mark Hilton, DVM, who’s also a Purdue University professor of beef production medicine.

If you have short breeding and calving seasons, it’s probably been at least 10 months since last year’s calving, and your focus has been on other tasks. But some calves can arrive early, and that’s no time to be searching for that box of obstetrical (OB) gloves you bought last year, or scrambling to move machinery you stored in the calving barn last fall. Act early to make sure you have what you need and that it’s in good working order.

A checklist for the cow

Among the important things to have easily accessible, Hilton says, are OB chains and any medications you might need.

“Keep oxytocin and epinephrine on hand. If you’re dealing with a malpresentation — the calf’s head or foot is back, or it’s breech — and you think you can fix it, giving the cow 10cc of epinephrine in the neck will relax her uterus, allowing you to push the calf back in for straightening,” he says. He advises checking with your veterinarian about epinephrine and its proper use.

Robert Callan, associate professor at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, says disinfectant for cleaning up a cow before you check her or assist with a birth is a must, as well as for dipping the newborn’s navel. He says Povidone iodine (Betadine®) or chlorhexadine (Nolvasan®) both work, though the latter is more expensive.

Callan prefers using both the Betadine scrub and solution. The scrub contains a detergent and can be used to clean the cow’s perineal area; apply with a squirt bottle.

“The disinfectant solution is something you’d use diluted with water as a rinse,” he says. Have a bucket for wash water (water mixed with disinfectant solution), a scoop for pouring water/disinfectant over the back end of the cow to clean her up, or squeeze bottles (like empty dish soap bottles) for squirting warm water/disinfectant solution onto the cow.

“Roll cotton works well for scrubbing and cleaning. It holds a lot of fluid and works better than paper towels or rags,” Callan says.

In assisting a dystocia, good lubricant is a must. Callan explains there are two kinds. One is carboxy methylcellulose, an OB lube that comes in a 1-gal. container and costs about $15. He says it works best if a half-gallon of hot water is added to the gallon of lube.

“You can use a stomach pump and stomach tube to put it directly into the vaginal canal and uterus. Diluting the carboxy methylcellulose with hot water makes it easier to pump in, and warms it to body temperature,” Callan says.

The other type of lube (polyethylene polymer), J-Lube, is inexpensive, comes as a powder, and is convenient — you just add warm water. “One of the lesser-known things about J-Lube is that it can be fatal if it gets into the cow’s abdomen. If there’s any chance the cow will need a C-section, don’t use J-Lube,” Callan says.