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Hoof Size Predicts Calving Difficulty
"After witnessing several thousand calf births in the last 25 years and assisting with several hundred, my husband and I have come to have a pretty good gut feeling about whether a cow or heifer will need assistance," says Heather Thomas, Salmon, Idaho.
"We've always felt there was a definite correlation between the size of a calf's feet and his total size and birthweight. When-ever we see a heifer calving and calf's feet have come into view and they are really big, we figure we'll probably have to help her. Now that we are using some part-Simmental bulls that throw really big calves, even occasionally with an older cow, if the feet are really huge we often give her just a little help to make the birth easier and quicker.
"And now we've learned that the scientists have proved what we suspected all along: Iowa State University researchers used a "hoofometer" (a measuring tape designed to fit snugly around a calf's hoof) and after testing the hoof size on calves from 174 heifers, found that foot circuference increased proportionately with birth-weight.
"During the study, all cows and first-calf heifers were checked after one hour of labor to measure the calf's hoof size. The calves with larger feet generally needed more assistance during birth, compared to those with smaller feet.
"To get an idea of hoof sizes, the average hoof circumference of the 103 bull calves born in the study was 18.8 centimeters, and the average birthweight 90.8 lbs. The 72 heifer calves had an average hoof circumference of 17.9 centimeters and an average birthweight of 83.3 lbs. The average hoof circumference of British-breed sired calves (both sexes) was 17.9 centimeters and average birth weight, 81.8 lbs., while the exotic-sired calves' hoofs measured 19 centimeters and had an average birthweight of 92.9 lbs.
"You don't have to measure the hooves, however, to know whether or not you're going to have a big calf. A good look at the feet - or even a feel, if you are checking inside the heifer - will give you a good enough clue as to their size. If they are big, you might as well be prepared to help the heifer, unless she has an unusually large pelvic area, or the calf is sired by a bull that throws exceptionaly streamlined calves. Birthweight alone is not the only factor involved in calving ease or difficulty: The shape of the calf (whether he is long and streamlined, or thick and wide), can make a great deal of difference as well."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Heather Smith Thomas, Box 215, Salmon, Idaho 83467 (ph 208 756-2841).
(Reprinted from California Farmer)

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1991 - Volume #15, Issue #3