Livestock Birth 101

Experience a successful livestock birth on your homestead with this expert advice.

  • A brown mare with her foal gallops over the pasture.
    Photo by
  • Mum stands ready to give a helping nudge as her newly-born calf attempts to stand up.
    Photo by
  • It is vital that the newborn consumes the mother's colostrum, or first milk, within a couple hours of being born to receive important nutrients.
    Photo by
  • Newborn Dutch black with white calf on hay in a farmhouse.
    Photo by Fotolia/DutchScenery
  • Provide a clean area with plenty of bedding so the mother-to-be is comfortable while in the final stages of labor and right after giving birth.
    Photo by Ron Salmon
  • A brown mare shortly after birth with her foal in a horse box.
    Photo by
  • Mare with foal after birth.
    Photo by

Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, romance ensues, and there’s nothing else to worry about until birthing time, right? Yes and no.

The majority of livestock pregnancies and deliveries are problem-free. It’s a common event to go to sleep one night and wake up to a new lamb, foal, or calf already up nursing and trailing after mama. Or after patiently watching for hours, to go to the house for a cup of coffee and 40 winks, only to find the delivery over with and your mare or cow with an innocent expression of “what?” on her face.

Even so, there are several things you can do at certain times throughout the gestation to give your animal the best possible chance at a trouble-free pregnancy and uneventful birth. You may be surprised to find out that several of these things can occur early on in gestation.

Perfect conditions

One of the most valuable things livestock owners can do for their animals is make sure their females are in the ideal body condition at breeding and birthing. Being in good body condition gives the female an advantage in responding to the physiological stresses she will undergo during the next few months, and it gives her offspring a good healthy start.

An animal that is under-conditioned or thin can have problems lactating. Thin animals may not be able to produce enough milk for their baby, and the caloric requirements of lactation can further reduce their condition. This can make the next breeding difficult, and she may not conceive again until her condition is markedly improved.

On the other hand, an animal that is over-conditioned or fat can have problems, too. Overweight animals can be difficult to breed and settle into a pregnancy. If they should become pregnant, excessive fat deposits may restrict the birth canal and cause difficulty during delivery. Overweight animals may not produce as much milk as those in more moderate condition, but restricting the animal’s diet before they give birth in an attempt to reduce their weight can backfire. If a female is unable to take in enough calories to meet the demands of the growing fetus, she can suffer from a condition known as pregnancy toxemia, which can be fatal.

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