Springing Cow: Common Signs and Expectations

A springing cow is also known as a pregnant cow who is about to give birth. Common signs include rapid udder growth and unusual behavior. Cows that are going through the parturition process should be monitored throughout calving for the safety and health of both calf and cow.

This article will cover everything you need to know about springing cows including what to expect before, during, and after the calving process. It will also give you a guideline for when you need to call a veterinarian to lend a hand.

What Is A Springing Cow?

Springing cows or springing heifers are bovines that are showing signs that they are approaching calving. Springing cows may be advertised as cow-calf pairs, and are usually cheaper to purchase than mature cows.

If you are a first-time cattle owner, it may be best to pass on springing cows unless you are prepared to offer birthing assistance, or have someone with experience on hand to help out in the event that it is necessary.

Common Signs

There are 5 main signs that a cow is approaching calving which are detailed below. Some signs may be seen weeks before birth, while others will become more pronounced in the days or hours leading up to the main event!

It is important that you monitor cows that are approaching the end of their gestation, and watch closely for the signs of impending calving.

While many cows are able to calve unassisted, there is no way to know for sure that a cow will have an easy birth, especially for heifers who are going through this process for the first time. As calving season comes to a close, maintain a close watch on your cows and monitor them for these signs.

1. Rapid Udder Growth

Udder development is common in cows as pregnancy progresses, it is not unusual to see them become larger with pending lactation. People often compare the udders that are slowly being filled up and distending further with the passing weeks as “bagging”.

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In the days and hours leading up to the birthing of a calf, the udders will rapidly swell and become voluminous in size, looking two to three times as large as they were before. Wrinkles will disappear as the skin stretches to accommodate the colostrum and milk.

The strutting of the teats attached to the udder is another tell-tale sign of impending birth. This is characterized by the teats shifting into an angled position rather than pointing straight down.

It is also possible to see some milk dripping sporadically from the teats (particularly in milking cows) at this time. It is not recommended to express milk – it is best to allow it to leak until the birth of the calf.

2. Springing of the Vulva

One of the most important things to pay attention to is your cow’s vulva. As calving approaches, the vulva will begin to swell, and may “spring” or bounce back and forth as your cow walks.

This swelling is rather pronounced and may double or triple in size in the days prior to calving. In the hours before birth, the vulva will appear swollen to capacity, with rounded edges.

3. Pelvic Ligaments Disappearing

Before giving birth, the pelvic ligaments will soften and will slowly seem to disappear. The tail head will begin to seem more pronounced as the ligaments on either side lower which is completely normal and should not be cause for alarm.

While some changes in these areas can be seen months prior to birth, in the 12 hours leading up to calving, the changes are pronounced. It is much easier to see these changes in dairy cows like Holstein than in beef cattle.

This sign is difficult to see with beef cows because they have more meat and fat on their rump area, and their pelvic bones are usually not pronounced.

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It may also be challenging to see this change with fat cows. If you weren’t able to see their pelvic bones before pregnancy and if they have a high body condition score of 4 or more, you likely will not see when they soften.

4. Discharge and Mucous

A slimy discharge or mucus may be present on your cow’s rear beneath the tail up to two weeks prior to calving. It is not necessarily something that happens to every cow, but it is something that is relatively common.

Cows have a mucous plug that protects the cervix from infectious material when a cow is pregnant. A few weeks prior to giving birth, the cervix begins to dilate, which causes the plug to fall out (which is something you may or may not see happen).

This is different than the clear discharge which may only be present in the hours leading up to birth, and lubricates the birth canal, preparing it for calving.

5. Changes in Disposition

It may go without saying that animals who are about to give birth are feeling the effects of pregnancy hormones. This can lead to unusual behaviors which may seem uncharacteristic.

If your cow is suddenly acting weird and appearing to be restless or uncomfortable, this is normal calving behavior. Your cow may lay down only to get back up again or ignore you when she normally welcomes your advances.

She may also begin to paw at the ground or stretch out her back legs. These mood and behavioral changes get more pronounced in the hours leading up to birth and are a definite sign that a calf is on the way!

Expectations

There are several things that should be expected and are typical of spring calving.

The gestation period for cows varies between 279 and 287 days, with the average being 283 days for most breeds. If you know when your cow became pregnant, it is fairly easy to know the due date that you can expect her to birth her calf.

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In the hours before calving, it is common for a cow to lose interest in food and separate herself from the herd. If a pregnant cow nearing calving prefers solitude and is displaying disposition changes, it is likely that a calf is on the way.

a pregnant cow facing backwards and standing on grass
A springing cow will prefer to be by herself on the day of birth

The act of calving takes place in three parts and can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours.

  • Stage I: Changes in disposition, mucous discharge, and other signs of impending calving become evident. This stage lasts anywhere from 2 to 6 hours.
  • Stage II: The water bag breaks which signals delivery is imminent and the calf should be delivered. Delivery should last a half hour for an experienced cow or an hour for first-time heifers. If a cow is still in labor after an hour, or a heifer after two hours, a veterinarian needs to be called.
  • Stage III: The placenta should be expelled roughly 12 hours after the birth of the calf. If the placenta is retained, this is a medical emergency and will require a call to the vet.

In the event that birthing complications arise, you may need to lend a hand because 6 to 10 percent of calves die during calving or in the hours following their birth. Many of these deaths are preventable, which is why it is important to monitor springing cows and to be present during calving to call a vet if one is needed.

Post-calving is a critical time for the calf when they need to suckle and take in the nutrient-dense dense colostrum that their mother has produced for them. Calves that don’t suckle within an hour or so of birth often don’t make it, particularly if the cow doesn’t have good mothering instincts.

A cow should begin to clean off her calf immediately and be willing to allow the calf to nurse.

Nursing calves will grow rapidly in size due to the rich milk that the cow provides. It will take 8 to 10 months for weaning, and the calf should weigh at least half the weight of the cow at this point.

After a drying-off period, a cow will then be ready to breed and start the cycle again.

Christina Pichler

A longtime resident of Southern California, Christina spent her childhood summers on a farm, raising and caring for cows owned by her grandparents, which prompted a lifelong love of cows, and other farm animals. Christina is passionate about writing, having written hundreds of articles for well-known websites, and uses her English degree in service of her love for animal welfare, most recently taking on a writing position at Cow Care Taker in 2022.

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