Be ready to help during

He only called when there were problems, and as I guessed, he had a heifer trying to calve on pasture, and “things just aren’t going well, doc.” When I arrived I followed a set of truck tire tracks in my pickup for about a mile in the pasture. I saw him perched on the tailgate at the edge of a row of trees. I gathered my things and we walked another 50 yards towards a flashlight beam. As we approached, it was obvious that they were doing their best to help him and pull the calf.

Today I am going to give you instructions on how to pull a calf.

Remember that a calf can only be delivered once it comes the right way. If you missed it, refer to my previous article, Be Prepared to Help During Calving: Part 1, in which I discuss the correction of a common malpresentation of the calf to enable safe childbirth.

When you are ready to deliver the calf, the first thing to do is attach the OB chains. If you put only one loop around each leg, there is a high risk of breaking the leg of a calf. To minimize this risk, place the first loop above the fetlock, then place a second loop (a half hitch) between the fetlock and the hoof.

Next, you’ll want to engage the elbows in the birth canal. To do this, pull firmly on one leg with an OB handle attached to the chain. You will often feel a “snap” sensation as the elbow enters the cow’s pelvis; then you will want to do it with the other leg. If you are able to extend both fetlocks at least a hand’s width and the head remains engaged in the birth canal, the calf can be delivered. If the head keeps wanting to turn to the side or won’t move forward when you start pulling, the calf is too big and will need to be delivered by C-section.

Pulling a calf: 6 best practices

  1. Use help; you might need it. Two strong, able-bodied people can physically pull a calf by hand. If you have the help and the physical ability, I recommend doing it this way. However, there are many cases in which this may not be possible. In good hands, mechanical calf pullers can make a wonderful tool. Personally, I use a calf puller for 95% of my calving assistance because it’s easier on my back. I don’t always have the option of having another person available to help me, and I find that a calf brace gives me better control.
  1. Avoid trouble for safe delivery. What can cause problems for both cow and calf is when the calf puller is used as a lever, pressing down on it. This causes enormous force. I recommend that growers use only the puller’s ratchet mechanism whenever possible. If it gets tight and you can’t click anymore, you need to use it as leverage. To do this safely, as the cow stretches, pull the calf puller rod down (towards the floor if standing, towards her feet if lying on her side) firmly but not tightly. full strength. When the cow stops to rest, pull up the calf puller rod and rattle as many times as you can. Continue this process until the calf is delivered.
  1. Don’t pull forward-facing calves too quickly. I often see people trying to pull the calf in as fast as they can, but if the calves are delivered forward, it’s not necessary and can actually be detrimental to the calf.
  1. Give yourself some respite. It is advisable to release the tension on the chains once you pull out the ribs to allow the calf to breathe.
  1. Do your best to avoid hip lock. Rotate the calf 90 degrees before trying to release the hips. This helps align the calf’s hips in an orientation that gives them the most room across the cow’s pelvis. Hip lock is a horrible experience, and I pray you never encounter one. If you do, you should try to push the calf back slightly and rotate it a quarter turn, then change the direction of your pull either angled towards the cow’s flank or directly towards her hocks. Lots of lubrication will be your friend. It may take time. Be sure to release the tension on the calf and allow it to rest and breathe. After 20-30 seconds of pulling, release the tension for about 60 seconds.
  1. Act fast to deliver calves back. Backward calves are high risk due to the likelihood of asphyxiation or fluid aspiration. There is no good test to know if the calf will pass through the birth canal, so it requires judgment. You have to pull your calves back quickly! The calf will start breathing shortly after the umbilical cord pinch (maybe 60 seconds), so you can see why speed is so important. I use a mechanical calf puller for all rear calves to ensure as fast a delivery as possible.

From obstetrical exam to delivery, it takes practice to feel comfortable, so it would be helpful to have an experienced mentor available to help coach you through your first calving aids. Never hesitate to contact your vet if you don’t feel comfortable and remember that if something is wrong, it probably isn’t!

Stay tuned for our next article in this calving series to learn more about newborn calf care. Keep learning about ValleyVet.com.

About the Author: Valley Veterinary Supply Technical Service Veterinarian Tony Hawkins, DVM, attended Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where he focused on mixed practice. Prior to joining Valley Vet Supply’s team of technical service veterinarians, Dr. Hawkins practiced veterinary medicine in Marysville, Kansas where he was extensively involved in livestock health including processing, midwifery and maintenance of the local sales barn. He is also cherished by the community for his care of horses and pets, through wellness appointments and surgery.

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