when is it needed? Advantages and disadvantages of the procedure

Caesarean section is often the only method that saves the life of the cow and calf. In what situations is this necessary? Can the procedure lead to infertility? How to avoid the complications of the procedure and prepare for its eventuality?

The solution of the most serious cases

One of the most common problems encountered in modern dairy and beef cattle farming is severe labor (obstructed labor) and associated complications. They lead to the loss of calves, endanger the health of the cow and contribute to reducing its productivity and fertility. As a result, they generate huge financial losses. It is better to prevent cases of dystocia, including good selection of individuals for breeding, good feeding of cows during the dry period and prevent them from developing mineral deficiencies. We wrote more about it here: Which cows are most at risk of heavy labor and calf loss?

Sometimes, however, it is too late for prevention, or heavy labor occurs despite good herd management. Then, an intervention of a veterinarian may be necessary. When a cow cannot be calved with the help of pharmacological agents and manual assistance, the solution is a caesarean section, commonly called cesarean section. It involves the removal of the fetus or fetuses by surgical incision of the abdominal wall and the uterus. A caesarean section is intended to save the life of the cow and, ideally, the life of the calf. As an alternative to caesarean section, a fetotomy can be performed if the calf is already dead, in which the fetus is sliced ​​and extracted through the birth canal.

Caesarean section surgery can be performed using several different techniques. Depending on the indications and preferences of the veterinarian, cesarean section is performed in a standing or lying cow, with an incision on the left or right side of the abdominal cavity.in line between the crease of the knee and the udder, or in the midline of the abdomen. Each method has its pros and cons – most often, due to the less problematic technique, a lateral incision is made in the left weak point. The incision at this stage provides ample space for manipulation and movement of the uterine horn with the fetus, and the rumen on the left side of the abdominal cavity prevents the intestines from falling out.

When to perform a caesarean?

Indications for caesarean may be due to problems with the cow or the fetus. Relatively most often, caesarean sections are performed in young heiferswhose birth canal is not mature enough to give birth without intervention, and in the case of twin pregnancies. “Regular customers” of the imperial calf also include cows of high-yielding beef breeds, including Charolais, Limousin and Bleu Belgewho have double muscles and the calves are very big.

More risks the need for a caesarean section Cows after a long dry period, prolonged pregnancy or those that required a cesarean at a previous calving are also burdened.

The most common indications for caesarean section surgery include:

  • insufficient dilation of the cervix
  • cervical twist
  • abnormal shape of the cow’s pelvic bones (pelvic deformity)
  • incorrect position of the uterus
  • absence of uterine contractions (with prolonged labor or paralysis due to calcium deficiency)
  • various types of uterine or vaginal pathologies
  • rupture of the abdominal muscles of the cow
  • abnormal position, position and posture of the fetus that cannot be manually corrected through the vagina
  • Twins
  • fetus too large compared to the cow
  • a fetus with birth defects that make calving difficult
  • the presence of a dead fetus

Source: The original uploader was Barbarossa at Dutch Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Does cesarean section decrease the fertility of cows?

Caesarean section surgery, like any medical intervention in animals, carries the risk of complications. Possible postoperative problems include:

  • peritonitiswhich threatens the life of the cow, can lead to adhesions in the uterus and infertility
  • adhesions in the birth canal (when heavy labor was caused by incomplete dilation)
  • postpartum hemorrhage
  • wound dehiscence and abscess
  • retention of membranes (placenta)
  • decreased fertility or infertility
  • The success of caesarean section can be influenced by many factors, such as the breed and general condition of the cow, the viability of the calf, the structure and condition of the uterus, as well as the surgical technique, the asepsis during the procedure and the experience of the veterinarian.

Clinical case reviews show that the key is to react quickly in worrying cases – when caesarean section is performed early enough, its survival rate is very high and is rarely associated with complications. You can read how to recognize calving problems here: Birth in a cow: when do you need help?

It should be remembered that a caesarean section is a procedure that saves the life of the cow and/or also gives a chance to save the calf. Resignation from a caesarean section with visible indications for her will only lead to the loss of both. It should also be noted that many cows after caesarean section calve normally in subsequent deliveries.

How to prepare for the possibility of a caesarean section?

If you notice alarming symptoms (Cow Birth: When is Help Needed?) that the birth won’t resolve without intervention, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. While waiting for his arrival, care should be taken to prepare the surroundings in case a caesarean section is necessary.

First, you will need good lighting. The treatment site should also be clean and dry – if you want to use straw for its preparation, it must be done as soon as possible so that the dust has fallen from it before the start of the treatment. This will reduce the risk of contamination of the surgical field. To minimize the risk of injury to animal and people, the cow must be properly tied up before treatment. The perfect solution is a restraint, especially if it is suitable for calving.

It is also worth preparing clean, warm water in clean buckets and, if possible, having someone help the doctor. – preferably the assistant must have clean and rubbed hands and arms.

Caring for a cow and a calf

The cow should be monitored after surgery for any signs of deterioration – especially haemorrhage and milk fever. Retained placenta is also quite common after a caesarean – how to deal with this situation can be read here: Retained placenta in a cow: removing or relying on the forces of nature?

After the procedure, the cow should eat, drink and excrete feces normally. After natural calving, cows have a strong watering reflex, which lasts up to 20 minutes, allowing them to refuel quickly. It doesn’t happen in post caesarean cows – that’s why how it must be supplied with fresh water as soon as possible and it has access to it at all times. The cow should also be given plenty of fresh feed. It is also worth putting a lot of straw for her and the calf – after the treatment, the cow can lie down more often than usual at first. If your doctor has told you to give your caesarean animal antibiotics or other medications, this must be strictly followed.

Also, don’t forget to check the calf’s condition and give it the right amount of colostrum promptly. More on this topic: Calves: postpartum support and colostrum rejuvenation.


Scottish Agricultural Advisory Service

Newman, Kenneth D., and David E. Anderson. “Caesarean section in cows.” Veterinary clinics: Food Animal Practice 21.1 (2005): 73-100.

Martyna Fratczak

Author: Martyna Fratczak

Veterinarian Martyna Frątczak, graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences of Poznań University of Life Sciences. Interested in a number of issues related to animal medicine, ecology and epidemiology, which she deals with on a daily basis also in her own research work.

This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Latest articles by the author:

Leave a Comment