Excessive or prolonged traction
applied to the calf during delivery can lead to nerve damage in
both the cow and her calf. In the cow, pressure on the nerves to
the hind legs which pass along the inside of the pelvis may lead to
the cow being unable to rise and consequently being culled.
Diseases such as mastitis are common in recumbent cattle as well as
the development of pressure sores. Loss of the cow is great
financial and welfare concern. Similarly, nerve damage to calf can
lead to many problems not least because calves are unable to suck
sufficient colostrum and are therefore more likely to develop joint
ill and meningitis as well as localised navel infections. The
nerves most commonly damaged are listed below:
Obturator nerve injury
Hip-lock during anterior
presentation of the calf is the most common cause of adductor
paresis (obturator nerve and sciatic nerve injuries) in the cow.
Specific diagnosis proves very difficult in recumbent cattle
unwilling to make any attempt to rise. Diagnosis relies upon the
history, elimination of hind leg injuries, and mastitis, uterine
and other infections.
Predicting the duration of
recumbency proves very difficult and the cow could regain her feet
after two weeks or may never rise. This interval is acceptable
provided that cattle are on an appropriate lying surface (deep
straw/pasture), move around frequently (every few hours), develop
no pressure sores, and have a normal appetite.
Prevention of obturator nerve
paralysis is simple - avoid prolonged second stage labour and/or
excessive traction during calf delivery.
Fig 1: Avoid prolonged
second stage labour and/or excessive traction during calf
Severe abduction "doing the splits"
can also occur when the cow loses her footing on wet slippery
surfaces often when attempting to regain her feet after treatment
Fig 2: Severe
abduction "doing the splits" after falling on wet slippery surfaces
often occurs when cows attempt to regain her feet after treatment
The clinical presentation varies,
depending upon underfoot conditions whereby the cow shows only
slight incoordination of the hind quarters on sound footing but
severe abduction occurs when exposed to wet slippery surfaces and
cattle may be unable to regain their footing.
Fig 3: Hobbles should
be applied above the fetlock joints, not below as in this
Hobble the cow's pelvic limbs just
above the fetlock joints but check regularly for skin abrasions.
Wide webbing should be used and the legs should not be allowed to
move more than 45 cms apart.
Fig 4: Rope is not
appropriate for hobbles.
Inflatable cushions, webbing nets
and swim tanks can all be used but the amount of time on busy
commercial dairy farms is rarely adequate and cows are usually
culled after a week or so if they do no stand unaided themselves.
Avoid sharp corners and wet slippery surfaces especially for
Peroneal nerve paraylsis
Peroneal nerve paraylsis results in
flexion of the hock and the dorsal surface of the hoof may contact
the ground, and is typically seen affecting one hind foot after a
period of recumbency.
Tibial nerve injury results in
flexion of the hock and slight knuckling of the fetlock joint and
typically involves both hind legs. Recovery takes 2-3 months. There
is no effective treatment.
Fig 5: Tibial nerve
injury in a beef cow following an assisted
Brachial plexus injury in the
foreleg (radial, ulnar and musculocutaneous nerves) occurs very
occasionally in the neonate during excessive traction of a large
calf in anterior presentation. This injury is more common when
attempting to deliver the calf with the cow standing and she then
lies down when the calf is halfway out.
This injury results in the
inability to extend the elbow, carpus and fetlock and bear weight
on the affected limb in severe cases. There is a loss of muscle
over the shoulder with resultant prominent spine of the shoulder
blade. There is a dropped elbow, flexion of the distal limb joints
and scuffing of the hooves as the leg is moved forward. The foot is
knuckled over at rest.
Fig 6: Brachial plexus
injury in this calf as a consequence to excessive
Splinting the distal limb to
prevent contracted flexor tendons in these neonatal calves is
problematic and may lead to pressure sores under the splint unless
undertaken carefully. This task should be undertaken by a
Fig 7: Splinting the
distal limb to prevent contracted flexor tendons in a calf with
brachial plexus injury.
Avoid excessive traction during
Do not calve cows in a crush
Femoral nerve injury is most common
after a calf in anterior presentation becomes hip-locked when
excessive traction is used to aid delivery. Injury results in the
inability to extend the stifle joint, bear weight and extend the
affected leg(s). There is rapid atrophy of the Quadriceps
femoris muscle group within seven to 10 days. Calves with
bilateral femoral paralysis are unable to stand and adopt a
dog-sitting posture. Calves with a unilateral lesion have
difficulty rising to their feet and are unable to fix the stifle
joint and the pelvis is markedly tilted toward the affected
Fig 8: Calf with
unilateral femoral nerve paralysis following excess during
Fig 9: Calves with
bilateral femoral paralysis are unable to stand and adopt a
When the calf presents in anterior
longitudinal presentation, two people pulling should be able to
extend both foreleg fetlock joints one hand's breadth beyond the
cow's vulva (indicates extension of the elbows into the pelvis)
within 10 minutes. Any greater traction to achieve such progress
forewarns of potential hip-lock and its consequences.
Excessive traction can also cause
rib fractures in the calf and obturator nerve injury, vaginal tears
and haemorrahage in the cow. Septicaemia and infections such as
meningitis, polyarthritis, hypopyon, and omphlophlebitis may result
if there is a delay/failure of passive antibody transfer due to
recumbency in the neonatal calf.
Severe lameness with a palpable
fracture typically of the distal third metacarpal growth plate is
not uncommon following delivery of a calf in anterior presentation.
There is often a report that "the cow was standing at the start but
fell down whilst the calf was being jacked out".
Fig 10: Foreleg
fracture in a calf caused when the cow sat down in the
If the leg is plastered disruption
of blood supply at the fracture site leading to the distal limb may
result in avascular necrosis. This is manifest as return of severe
lameness and putrid smell after 5-10 days. During further
investigation the limb distal to the fracture is removed with the
cast. There is always the risk of infection of the fracture site in
cattle, even in closed fractures, and it is prudent to administer
antibiotics such as procaine penicillin for 14-21 days but such
compliance is often problematic with farmers.
Hip dislocation can occur during
excess traction of an oversized calf in posterior presentation.
Mid-shaft femoral fracture and
fracture through the proximal femoral growth plate can occur during
excess traction of an oversized calf in posterior presentation. Hip
dislocation (cranio-dorsally) and fracture through the proximal
femoral growth plate result in relative shortening of the upper
Mid-shaft femoral and tibial
fractures/fractures through the proximal femoral growth plate can
occur during delivery of the calf. These fractures carry a hopeless
prognosis and these calves should be euthanased for welfare
Fig 11: Fracture of
the tibia following excessive traction of this Simmental bull calf
in posterior presentation (this calf has already been
Fig 12: Radiograph of
the fracture featured above.