Can Cows Give Birth On Their Own?

Cows Give Birth On Their Own

Since the beginning of time cows have been known to birth unassisted. This has not changed over the years; till date cows can give birth on their own. As a matter of fact, it is not advisable to assist healthy cows in the birthing process as they are expected to maintain the natural order. However, although cows can give birth on their own, it is sometimes necessary to offer a hand, particularly when they experience some complications. That being said, farmers need to be aware of the entire birthing process so as to provide timely assistance whenever needed.

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The Process of Calving

The birthing procedure, or as commonly known, calving process  remains unchanged from when cows were still considered as wild animals or aurochs. Similar to all animal species, cows can give birth on their own. Their gestation period varies according to a variety of factors including the breed and sex of the calf. However, on average the gestation period of cows is approximately 279 to 287 days. 283 is popular for most breeds. Cows carrying bull calves often take a slightly longer timeframe to give birth. Despite the fact that cows can give birth on their own, farmers should make sure to check pregnant cows twice or thrice daily. Heifers should be monitored more frequently, up to 4 times a day.  This is meant to ensure that there are no complications that can affect the overall wellbeing of livestock. An important aspect to be aware of is the calving time because it helps to determine if cows can give birth on their own or require assistance. Cows should ideally deliver within 8 hours. A delayed birthing process may be a sign of complications. According to experts, it is essential for farmers to understand the stages of labour as it allows for sound decision making during delivery.

Stages of Labour

Similar to all ruminants including sheep and goats, the birthing process of cows is divided into 3 distinctive stages. Basically cows can deliver on their own, provided all three stages run smoothly. It may be necessary to assist or even contact an experienced veterinarian if complications are severe. The following are the basic stages of calving:

Preparation Stage

This is the first stage of calving. The preparation stage is characterised by the beginning of contractions. Note that in this stage, contractions are mild and spaced fairly apart. As the stage processes, they become much stronger and coordinated. Contractions are aimed at forcing the calf and foetal membranes towards the birth canal and dilate the cervix. By the end of this stage, the water bag should emerge or break. Cows can give birth on their own if this process runs smoothly.


The preparation stage is closely followed by delivery. The foetal membranes and the calf are forced into the cervix or birth canal. Note that signs of straining during this stage do not necessarily mean the cow needs assistance as this is regarded as completely normal. Calves can be produced with the dam lying or standing. The presentation of calves also help to determine whether cows can give birth on their own or assistance in needed. The normal presentation is one with front feet first, the head between the knees and shoulders. Studies reveal that any other presentation is a sign that cows need assistance. Normal delivery should take somewhere between 1 to 2 hours in heifers and ½ to 1 ½ in cows. The delivery stage taking longer than 2 hours is also a sign that assistance is needed.

The Third and Final Stage

This stage is easily identifiable by cleaning or passing of the afterbirth. It is achieved through the continued contractions of the uterus. The last stage should be approximately 1 to 8 hours. If this event does not occur within the first 12 hour, it basically means that the placenta is retained. Although cows can give birth on their own, assistance becomes necessary in such a case. A veterinarian should be contacted or alternatively antibiotics can be used as treatment.

Why Do Cows Have So Much Trouble Giving Birth?

Cows can give birth on their own without experiencing any difficulties. However, in some cases, cows have trouble giving birth which is termed dystocia. Research studies indicate that complications during the birthing process can negatively impact on productivity as well as the success of the entire agricultural venture. For this reason, farmers ought to acquire relevant knowledge about the underlying causes of difficult births. This allows for proper management practises thereby preventing the occurrence of dystocia. The common causes on why cows have so much trouble giving birth includes sire selection, temperature and feeding. These aspects can be controlled to make calving easier for the herd. To add on, cows have trouble giving birth due to abortion, disproportionate size of ewe and the lamb, failure of the cervix to dilate, vaginal prolapse, abnormal presentation as well as deformed calves. Although cows can give birth on their own, those suffering from any of the mentioned issues require assistance, preferably from an experienced veterinarian.

Can Cows Survive On Their Own?

Cows can give birth on their own and survive quite well unassisted. Studies indicate that while dairy cows may find it difficult to survive on their cows, beef cows can thrive alone.  In fact, there are numerous recorded cases whereby beef cows have been lost for days and found to be in good health. While shelter is of the essence to humans and animals alike, some farmers keep beef cattle in an open area. This is an indication that cows can survive on the own. They seek for shelter under trees and keep together when it is cold. Furthermore, cows survive on forage which is basically their primary feedstuff and so can do quite well own their own. A common concern in cattle rearing is attack of the herd by predators. It is therefore important for farmers to know that cows are protective and tend to protect their young against predators.