The vitality of the bovine fetus during parturition depends on an intact umbilical circulation to supply adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. The goal of the present study was to measure the blood flow in the umbilical vessels during stage II of labor and to determine when blood flow ceases in the umbilical cord. In 20 cows, ultrasonographic transducers were placed on one umbilical vein and one umbilical artery after rupture of the allantochorionic sac, and the blood flow volume per unit time was measured. At the same time, a pressure transducer was placed into the uterus to measure uterine pressure. Parturition was spontaneous in all 20 cows. In 20 live calves born, pH, base excess and lactate concentration were measured in the blood immediately after birth. During the last 90 min before birth the mean total umbilical blood flow (artery and vein combined) was 1.186+/-0.028 L/min. Calves with a blood pH> or =7.2 (n=13) had a higher mean total blood flow than calves with a pH<7.2 (n=7; 1.243+/-0.038 versus 1.095+/-0.038 L/min). In calves with a blood pH<7.2, the mean total blood flow decreased from 1.178+/-0.134 at 20 min before birth to 0.959+/-0.126 L/min at the end of stage II of labor. During this time period, the arterial blood flow did not differ between calves with a blood pH> or =7.2 and<7.2, but venous blood flow decreased significantly in calves with a blood pH<7.2. During uterine contractions, the total umbilical blood flow decreased significantly by 0.22 L/min. The blood flow in the umbilical artery and vein ceased before the calves were completely born.