Reviewing calf puller best practices before spring calving

Most cattle producers in the U.S. follow a spring calving calendar, which means they’re gearing up for a busy season as we speak. University of Tennessee Extension says that spring calving is often preferred because of the availability of cool-season forage immediately after the calves are born, and because it allows producers to wean and market calves before winter — meaning lower winter feeding costs.

If you’re one of the majority who is preparing for the pitter patter of tiny hooves coming soon (or have already begun), here are some things to keep in mind:

Be prepared. Do your homework — review any calving plans you’ve mapped out from years past, and do some reading on what you’ll need to keep in mind. A document from Oklahoma State University Extension, “Calving Time Management for Beef Cows and Heifers,” is one of the most oft-recommended texts out there for all things cow birth-related.

Understand potential problems. Injury, stress, infectious disease and nutritional deficiency are some of the most common birthing problems that can arise. Dystocia is another common reason for pregnancy difficulties, and it’s the main reason you would need to break out the calf puller. It’s what happens if calves are either too large, or improperly situated in the birth canal, resulting in difficulties such as stress and lack of oxygen. This is more likely in cows that are overly conditioned, or too thin.

Keep it clean. Make sure your calf puller is sanitized. “Keep them like you would a kitchen utensil and clean often,” writes Grainnews’s Roy Lewis. This means not letting fluids, placenta or manure cake onto the tool.

Know when to use it. Hopefully you won’t need to use your calf puller too often, but be sure you know how to identify situations that require it. “If you can get the calf’s head and front legs into the pelvis without traction and get your hand between the calf’s forehead and the cow, the calf can probably be pulled,” writes Heather Smith Thomas in Angus Beef Bulletin. “If the calf’s head is hitting the cow’s pelvis, it should be delivered by C-section.”

Positioning is key. When using a calf puller, pay attention to the calf’s legs and the position of its head in relation to the cow’s pelvis. Be sure the two feet you’re seeing belong to one calf, and not a pair of twins. Consider maximizing the help gravity can offer you by laying the cow down before situating the calf puller.

Slow, not steady. Pull slowly and gradually when the cow strains, and rest when she rests. Use plenty of lubrication. Working too quickly can lead to lacerations in the cow and spinal or rib injuries to the calf. Be careful, as some pullers can apply more than twice the strength of two grown individuals — more than 2,000 pounds of force. If not carefully controlled, this force can cause harm to the animals.

“As soon as I get the head out, I start pushing down a little with the end of the calf jack, toward where the cow’s feet are,” veterinarian Mark Alley told Beef Magazine. “I try to deliver the calf in an arc, as it would come during a natural birth. If you continue to pull straight out, you put an unnatural pressure on the calf’s spine because of the way the cow’s pelvis tilts. This can paralyze a calf.”

Neogen offers industry-leading products for caring for calves from birth to weaning, including calf pullers, OB sleeves, weaning instruments and more. See our website for more information.

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