Signs of labour

If you’re expecting little calves, lambs, or any baby animals this year it is key to know what the early signs of labour are. This will help you to know when to keep a closer eye on the animals for any signs of trouble.

Most species will show similar signs, many of which are intrinsic due to them being prey animals.

Up to about 10 days pre-birthing, if you are able to get close enough to the animal you may notice physical changes and signs such as:

  • Udder fills with colostrum (first milk) and becomes quite firm
  • Teats become more visible (in ewes)
  • Swelling around the vulva (vaginal opening)
  • Vulval lips may slacken and turn a dark pink/red colour


Behavioural signs may also be seen close to birthing time such as:

  • Abnormal behaviour
  • Eating less / uninterested in eating
  • Separating themselves from the mob
  • Hiding away under trees or in long grass
  • Looking around at their tummy a lot
  • Sitting down and standing up constantly


Reminders of things that are abnormal / when to call the vet for help:

Call the vets at any stage if you are ever unsure if what is happening is normal.

If the vet is coming out it will be handy if you can have a bucket or two of warm water ready for them.

Signs of when to call the vet (cattle or sheep):

  • If the water bag has been broken for two hours or more with no progress
  • Abnormal presentation such as legs with no head, upside down feet, head with no legs, or if the calf or lamb seems to be coming out backwards
  • If the cow or ewe has stopped having contractions (pushing) and no calf/lamb has come out
  • If the ewe or cow seems to be in a lot of distress with no progress


Signs of when to call the vet immediately (horses):

  • “Red bag” (chorioallantois) appears instead of “white bag” (amnion)
  • “White bag” present with no appearance of head or legs
  • Prolonged rest periods during active labour
  • Straining with no progress
  • “White bag” doesn’t appear after waters break
  • No foetal membrane expelled after three to five hours
  • Foal does not pass meconium (first faeces) within first three hours of life


Signs of when to call the vet (alpaca):

  • If unpacking occurs late in the afternoon (unpacking should always occur between 9am and 2pm)