Sort & Cull

Cattle Producers Sharpen Their Skills

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Dr. Tyler Dohlman (red shirt) of the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine used a fake cow and calf to advise a volunteer on best methods to pull a calf, including proper chain placement. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn)

Among my earliest memories growing up on our eastern Nebraska family farm was being in the barn as our veterinarian came out to pull a calf. I don't remember all the details, since it was probably about 40 years ago, but I do know Dr. Galloway pulled a calf that day.

Unfortunately, the calf did not make it.

Despite the negative result that day, I discovered I really liked being around and working with cattle. That continues to this day, as my dad and I have a cow-calf herd and I write about the subject quite often.

Recently I attended the Southwest Iowa Cow-Calf Short Course in Atlantic, Iowa. Perhaps you have attended similar local meetings like this, but it was a day dedicated to ways cattle producers can improve their operations -- from why you should keep better records to how to improve your nutrition for your herd.

Among the topics covered at the day-long meeting was managing difficult calving (dystocia). Dr. Tyler Dohlman, from the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, had both a presentation about the subject as well as a hands-on demonstration.

And I do mean hands-on.

In the afternoon, the group of roughly 75 producers in attendance broke into three groups and had breakout sessions, including one on dystocia demonstration.

In one of the rooms of the Cass County Community Center, we had a cart with a very lifelike back end of a red cow, complete with full-sized rubber calf. While the entire cow was not present, enough was there to practice pulling a calf.

Dohlman made everyone in attendance (including myself) take the obstetrical (OB) chains and administer the proper chain placement on the rubber calf's front legs. Two spots, one just above the fetlock joint and the other just under the dewclaw, are needed to avoid injury to the calf's leg during the pulling process.

"Wrong chain placement is a pet-peeve of mine," Dohlman told our group.

Now, we have pulled many calves on our farm over the years, but I can't say we ever used this two-spot chain placement. After attaching the first part of the chain on the leg, you take the chain and fold it over your outstretched hand to create a second loop.

I guess this why you go to these types of meetings, just to learn new things you didn't know before.

This proper chain placement is something I will use now the next time we have to pull a calf, which is hopefully not anytime soon. We had 10 first-calf heifers calve this past spring and none of these heifers needed any assistance, which I still cannot believe.

Dohlman then asked for a volunteer and loaded the calf into the cow on the cart. Since no one stepped up, the ISU vet picked the youngest person in the group -- a young man maybe still in high school or college.

The lucky young man was given a couple plastic sleeves and a pair of chains. He correctly hooked the chains to the calf's exposed legs and slowly pulled the calf out of the cow onto a waiting towel on the carpeted floor.

Then the calf was loaded again in the cow, this time in the breach position, which is also called posterior presentation. This time, someone out of the group volunteered to push the calf around inside of the "cow" to get it into the correct position to calve.

I am someone who is a visual learner and this was a pretty interesting way to do proper calving assistance training. I look forward to future meetings and learning new things about the cow-calf business.

Hopefully what I have learned will help make sure future calves make it out healthy on our farm, even when our local veterinarian can't be there.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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