Cow Calving Stages – What to Expect When Your Cows Expecting

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What are some of the signs to watch for when your cow is expecting? Sharing some of the cow calving stages.

There are several stages we go through on the homestead. There’s the hustle and bustle of the summer time with putting up new fencing in the pastures and repairing old fences.

Garden season and harvest, then preserving the harvest. There’s kidding season, followed shortly after by calving season. And it’s currently time for us to prepare for the cow calving stages.

For our family, we have a small cow/calf operation and will be picking up a dairy cow in the spring.

My husband has a lifetime of cattle experience. He was raised on his family’s cattle ranch where he’s had tons of calving seasons under his belt.

cattle grazing on a pasture

What are the Cow Calving Stages

During calving season, my husband says that he operates under the authority of Murphy’s Law. “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”.

And despite the previous year’s experience or being prepared, things don’t always go according to plan.

He’s sharing his best tips for what to expect when your cow begins calving.

One of the signs of a cow that is close to calving are when a cow will go off by herself. They often wander off so that they will have the privacy to begin calving.

Just the other day, my husband was off checking cattle and found this pair (pictured below) had wandered off.

mama cow and new baby calf in pasture

A few of the other signs to watch for are when a cow is not chewing her cud, an enlarged bag, and a raised tail head.

Oh, by the way, watch out for cold fronts. They tend to send a cow into labor. Same is true for humans! My wise rancher of a husband has always predicted my labors by the fronts that have come through!

Calves should come out with front feet, toes pointed up. If  the toes are pointing down, more than likely it will need to be pulled. Giant giant feet, indicating a large calf, and awkward birth positions are also indicators for a calf needing to be pulled.

After the Cow Calving

When questioning if a calf has has gotten up and had its first milk, check the mouth and udders. Warm mouth on the calf means it has and a cool mouth means it hasn’t.

The cow’s udders should look glossy and hair around the bag can be curly.

after the cow calving stages, mama leads the baby calf

When you’re ready for tagging your new calf, it’s best to have a partner. Cattle are unpredictable and having a partner nearby is always a good idea.

And according to my husband, you never ever want to look a mama cow in the eye. (I’m afraid to ask.) Ha.

It’s a good idea to pair out when the babies are a couple days old and can travel well. It will help with cows claiming other calves and help prevent sickness.

Helpful Tools for Calving

We put together this list of the must haves for on hand during calving season. These are the tools my husband has used over the years and the ones that have truly simplified things for him.

horse and new baby cow

For assistance with difficult births/pulling a calf:

Pulling Straps

Calf Puller

For checking cattle at night: 

Light Bar

Portable Spotlight

A few more helpful calving tips: 

Select a reliable, quiet 4×4 vehicle, for checking cattle with. A spotlight that can plug in to your vehicle’s charging port is absolutely necessary. LED light bars are highly recommended as they’ve been a major help to night time cattle checks. And the LED is incredibly bright.

newly born baby calf with mom cow

An old chemical or IBC tote will make a convenient calf transport. Just add a rubber mat and some hay for flooring.

Lastly, always have your local veterinarian’s phone number on speed dial. Because you never know when you may need their assistance to save your cow’s life!

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  1. some good common sense information without a bunch of extra info. A cow despite how gentle will answer nature and defend . even without horns the head will knock you down and they will step on you. it will be the calf that will send the message. if it recognizes you the mother will allow you near. sometimes you just dont have time to fool around making friends. having a yard that can separate them but remain in close proximity takes planning. it is something you dont want to test with an exited mother cow safety must be set for all three of you. a hurt calf will remember and cause problems later.

  2. excellent article. i am small farmer with 5 cows given birth in less than a month and this a very through and helpful article.