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How Do Cows Give Birth? (Calving Process Explained)

Cows give birth to live young after a gestation period of around nine months. Cows can give birth standing up or lying down and the whole process lasts between three and nine hours on average.

In this article we’re going to look at the different stages of cows’ pregnancy and calving processes to learn how cows give birth.

How Do Cows Give Birth

How do Cows Give Birth?

Like most mammals, cows give birth to live young after a long gestation period. Cows are pregnant for around nine and a half months before they give birth.

The birthing process for cows is split into three distinctive stages, and takes between three and nine hours in total.

Let’s take a look the stages of the calving process and what each entails:

1. Isolation and Start of Labor

When a cow feels her first contraction, her natural instincts kick in and she isolates herself from the rest of the herd to find a safe place to give birth.

Cows begin to isolate themselves from the herd around 24 hours before they give birth. You might see a mother cow wander to the corner of her field, or into a corner of the barn around this time.

Around six hours before birth, cows begin to feel abdominal cramps and a slackening of the uterus.

2. Expulsion of Calf

The actual “Birth” of the calf takes around five minutes, and if everything goes well requires minimal farmer intervention.

Cows usually give birth head first, although the front legs are typically extended and come out just before the head. Usually, they will only have one calf, but they can occasionally have twins.

3. Afterbirth

In the third stage of birth for cows, the placenta is expelled. The placenta is the organ which connects the calf to the mother, so is no longer required once the calf has been delivered.

Expulsion of the placenta usually occurs between one and three hours after the birth of the calf, although in some cases this can take up to 24 hours.

Some cows consume their placenta. This is called placentophagia and is common in many mammals, including in domestic cattle. 

Placentophagia provides some analgesic effects and a much needed protein boost for new mother cows, although it can also contribute to the spread of disease, so some farmers prevent this practice.

Do Cows Give Birth Standing Up?

Yes, cows usually give birth standing up assuming everything is normal.

When a cow lies down during or immediately before or after birth, it’s usually a sign that something is wrong and the cow needs help.

Do Cows Moo When Giving Birth?

Cows moo when they are distressed or when they are in pain, especially at night.

Although pregnancy and giving birth can be painful and distressing for cows, it’s not always the case. 

Some cows can give birth completely silently, and some will bellow at the top of their lungs. It just depends on the cow and how easy the birth is.

When farmers select a bull, the ease of calving is actually pretty high on their list of important genetic factors to select for. 

Read More: How Cows Were Domesticated

Farmers use a standardized set of statistics known as EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values) to measure the percentage of successful, unassisted births from each bull.

How Long Are Cows Pregnant For?

Cows are pregnant for approximately 285 days, or nine and a half months. This number can vary by a few weeks depending on the breed, the diet of the mother, and even the climate.

How Long Does it Take for a Cow to Give Birth?

In total, from the first contractions to the expulsion of the placenta, it can take as long as two days in rare circumstances for a cow to go through labor and to give birth.

Usually, it takes a few hours for labor and the actual birth only takes a few minutes.

Stage of LaborDescriptionEstimated Duration
First StageFrom initial contractions until the start of the birth.The first contractions usually start around six hours before birth.
Second StageExpulsion of the Calf. The birth itself.Usually no longer than a few minutes assuming there are no complications.
Third StageFrom the moment of birth until the expulsion of the placenta.Usually within three hours following the birth, but in rare cases up to 24 hours.

Can Cows Give Birth to Twins?

Yes, cows can give birth to twins, but it’s rare.

Read More: How Many Times Can a Cow Give Birth?

Research published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2007 conducted an analysis of statistics reported by dairy farmers in Minnesota and calculated the rate of twinning in dairy cattle was around 4.2%.

Giving birth to twins is generally undesirable because it increases the risk for both the mother and calves.

Do Cows Give Birth at Night?

Cows can give birth during the day or at night. 

Some studies suggest that the most effective way of ensuring a cow gives birth during the day is by feeding them at night during pregnancy.

This method of late evening feeding is called the Konefal method, named after Canadian cattle ranger Gus Konefal who first discovered it in the 1970s.

Do Cows Give Birth Head First?

Cows should give birth head first, although occasionally calves are born backwards. This is called a breach birth and can cause problems for the calf.

Usually if a cow is giving birth feet first, the farmer will pull the calf out quickly instead of letting the mother do it naturally, in order to prevent the calf from suffocating.


Cows give birth to their calves head first, in a similar way to other large mammals. They can give birth either standing up or lying down, but a standing birth is preferable for the safety of the calf.

Cows are pregnant for just over nine months, similar to humans and the entire birthing process including labor lasts for roughly six to nine hours.

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