Dystocia: Everything you need to know about difficult birth (part 1)

Taruvinga Magwiroto

Dystocia is difficulty in giving birth. It is a stressful situation both to the animal and the owner. It induces a sense of powerlessness as you watch your animal struggling, and sometimes failing completely to deliver a live young one.

So, what causes dystocia? We can classify the causes of dystocia under 3 headings: failure of expulsive forces; mal-disposition; and feto-pelvic disproportion.

Failure of expulsive forces:-Birth is accomplished when the mother pushes the young one out through a combination of muscles of the uterus and muscles of the abdomen. Anything which affects the normal functioning of either can result in dystocia.

What can go wrong? Old age is a prime cause of dystocia. The abdominal muscles weaken with age, and the animal is just not strong enough to push the young one out. Poor nutrition resulting in poor condition results in muscular weakness. Also, deficiency of Vitamin A and E and the mineral selenium cause muscle weakness and predispose an animal to dystocia. Muscles of the uterus are under the influence of oxytocin hormone, so if for some reason there is failure of oxycitocin release into the blood stream, there is likely to be dystocia.


1 Do not breed old animals. In cattle, muscle strength start to decline after 7/8/9 calvings. It varies though: I visited one farm in the UK where a cow was said to be having its 14th calf, calving every year without problems.

2. Supplement proteins, multi-vitamins and minerals to pregnant animals where necessary.

3. Keep a bottle of oxytocin ready, in case you need to give an injection to boost uterine expulsive forces.

4. Manual traction using calving ropes.

NB: You need to be sure that the calf is well disposed and of a reasonable size before injecting oxcytocin or attempting to manually extract/pull it out

We will discuss about other causes of dystocia in the next 2 instalments. Happy farming! Give us some feedback please.

2 thoughts on “Dystocia: Everything you need to know about difficult birth (part 1)

  1. This is good staff. Selection of animals with a known history of easy calving as an important heritable characteristic is very vital. I salute your stuff. Keep it up.

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