Assisted births

Assisted births

What is ‘dystocia’?
Sometimes hinds experience difficulties during birthing which can lead to an inability to expel the calf…this is termed ‘dystocia’. Such severe cases of dystocia are not as common now as they were at the start of deer farming in the 70’s and early 80’s.

How do I detect problem calvings?
Calving should be observed discretely from a distance, but preferably from a vehicle and position that the hinds are comfortable with.  There are often signs that animals are in distress around calving, including constant fence-pacing (e.g. beyond two hours) and in many cases, the prolonged appearance of part of the calf (e.g. head or legs) sticking out without delivery progressing.   

When do I intervene?
The sight of a distressed hind experiencing a difficult birth can be quite disturbing but it is difficult to know when to intervene and assist with the removal of the stuck calf. Firstly, in most cases of a difficult birth the hind will actually eventually expel the calf naturally, but often with the loss of the calf. Secondly, in removing the hind from the herd for yarding there is a risk of disturbing other calving hinds. Thirdly, once assistance has been performed the hind is unlikely to bond with the calf if it is still alive…leaving you with a calf to hand-rear.

In most cases where assistance needs to be given, the prime motivation is to save the hind and the survival of the calf is secondary (in many cases the calf will already be dead). Fortunately, distressed hinds will often separate from the rest of the herd, and it is usually possible to direct her out of the calving paddock simply by opening a gate to let her out on her own accord…this avoids disturbing the rest of the herd. Once yarded the hind should be settled into a darkened room and left to rest for a few minutes. At this stage a decision needs to be made as to whether the calf extraction can be done easily by simply applying gentle torsion to the calf (as can be the case in many backwards, rear feet presentations) or veterinary assistance is required due to a difficult calf presentation (e.g.mal-presentation of front feet) or a decomposing dead calf.  Preferably discuss with your vet before you intervene on your own, and you should not intervene for much longer than twenty minutes.  

  • In the case of the presentation of a live calf after a difficult delivery it may occasionally be possible to get the hind to accept it by leaving them together in a quiet pen for a few hours. However, highly stressed hinds seldom accept their calves.
  • Following calf extraction the hind may need antibiotic treatment, and then returned to pasture.
  • The question then remains as to her fate. Will she be prone to further difficult calvings? Most farmers today would mark such a hind for eventual culling.