Veterinarian Perspectives from the Birthing Barn: Part 2

5 common signs of trouble to watch for

 By Tony Hawkins, DVM, Valley Vet Supply Technical Service Veterinarian

Is ‘this’ normal?

Ideally, labor goes off without a hitch, and you have a healthy foal, calf, kid or lamb on the ground within about an hour of the labor process starting. If you read Part 1 when we discussed readiness prep and what to have on hand, you already have a relationship established with your veterinarian and their contact information handy. Now, here are five signs of trouble to watch for; remember to phone your veterinarian right away should you need immediate assistance that you’re uncomfortable performing yourself.

5 Common Signs of Trouble 

1: You don’t see what you should see coming. The way any of these species should come into the world is kind of like how a diver dives into the water. Normal presentation would be that they have their front legs forward and kind of together, with the head propped down in between their front legs. You should see two hooves coming, and the hooves should be pointed down towards the ground. If you’re seeing progress but only one foot is coming out, that probably means that the elbow or the shoulder is getting caught and it’s not going to be able to come out on its own. If this is the case, you’ll have to try to help provide some traction to get that second leg out. Trouble is on the horizon if at first, you see hooves that are pointed upward or even a tail – anything that doesn’t resemble normal presentation. In this scenario, that animal needs to be examined right away.

2: It’s not progressing like it should. If you see what you should but the progress that you expect is not being made, then you need to examine that animal. A general guideline for most species is 30 minutes. If you’re not seeing any noticeable improvement or advancement within that 30-minute timeframe, then you need to have a veterinarian examine them, see what’s going on and maybe even help deliver that animal. About 45 minutes to an hour is usually the average time for a delivery. The main thing here is making sure they continue to make noticeable progress.

 3: The baby will not nurse. Depending on if the animal nurses or not within four hours of being born, we might have to tube them to get colostrum into their system. When tubing, keep in mind that the windpipe and esophagus are next to each other; the esophagus is on the left side of the throat. To make sure it’s going into the esophagus, slowly pass the tube to avoid any damage – never force it – and reach along the outside of the neck and feel for it to pass before administering the colostrum replacer. Keep in mind, there are colostrum supplements and colostrum replacers. There is a difference, and it’s a good idea to have both on hand in case of circumstances like this. Colostrum replacers have roughly double the level of antibodies in them, compared with colostrum supplements. As you may remember from Part 1, colostrum products come from hyper-immunized animals, and they don’t immunize goats, cattle and horses against the same disease risks. Therefore, it’s important to choose a species-specific colostrum replacer or serum replacement.

4: The momma rejects the baby. There is a slim likelihood that she will reject the baby. And if she does, do your best to keep working with her and helping them to nurse. It may take a couple weeks helping to facilitate that nursing, which can certainly be frustrating and is not fun for anybody, but as long as you keep working with her and helping them to nurse, it’s pretty likely that she will end up accepting them.

 5: An umbilical cord infection occurs. Umbilical cord infections occur when bacteria are picked up in the environment. It’s important to use iodine for disinfecting the umbilical stump, and the easiest way I have found to do this is to use a spray bottle instead of using a cup and dipping it. It is not recommended to cut the cord, because those vessels have to pull apart and stretch to contract down. If we cut it, then we can have some bleeding issues. Typically, the cord falls off on its own. Now, there’s some debate on whether to clamp or tie off that cord. My opinion on it is, if you see the animal born and you can immediately disinfect it, I think it’s a good idea to tie off that umbilical stump. This said, if you’re unable to do that within the first three to four hours of life, then don’t do it. This is because if there’s any contamination up there, you’re going to trap it in, which increases infection risk.

I hope that time in the birthing barn is uneventful and if not, that this information helps you and your animals, should trouble ever present itself.

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About the author: Valley Vet Supply Technical Service Veterinarian, Tony Hawkins, DVM, attended Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to his role on the Technical Service team at Valley Vet Supply, Dr. Hawkins owns a mixed-practice veterinary clinic in Northeast Kansas and is treasured by the community for his care across species. He is greatly involved in cattle health, including processing and obstetrical work, as well as providing hands-on care for horses and pets through wellness appointments and surgery.  

 About Valley Vet Supply
Valley Vet Supply was founded in 1985 by veterinarians to provide customers with the very best animal health solutions. Building on over half a century of experience in veterinary medicine, Valley Vet Supply serves equine, pet and livestock owners with thousands of products and medications. With an in-house pharmacy that is licensed in all 50 states, and verified through the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), Valley Vet Supply is the dedicated source for all things horse, livestock and pet. For more information, please visit

Media contact: Aimee Robinson / 785-337-9035