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Archive for May 11th, 2011

A few years ago John and I found ourselves pulling a calf. It was pitch black night and we tied the cow to the bumper of the truck and worked in its headlights. We had a couple of ropes and our own brute strength.

The calf was big. We had its front feet and head out and we could see it’s tongue lolled to one side. We ended up each with a boot on the cow’s backside as we strained for leverage. I was sure we were pulling a dead calf, but dead or alive, it had to come out. There was no other option. We got rope burns on our hands, but in the end we had a live calf, and momma and baby went on to do just fine.

The next day John ordered Dr. Frank’s Fetal Extractor. Its medieval looks live up to its medieval name. You would think that somewhere in the Dr. Frank’s Fetal Extractor company is a woman who has suggested a more marketable name. As an English teacher, I’m a big fan of alliteration, but even I would prefer the more mundane, Dr. Frank’s Calf Puller.

The extractor has a metal bar that makes a U-shape around the cow’s butt and a strap that goes over her rump to hold it in place. In the middle of the U is a place to screw in a long, ratcheting handle. Included with the fetal extractor are two small chains that go around the calf’s feet, and the accompanying hooks with handles for ease of gripping.

It sounds horrible, but it works.

I was reminded of how well it works tonight when we pulled one of the last of the heifers’ calves.

John had checked on her when he got home and saw she was off by herself. Thirty minutes later he saw toes. An hour later toes and ankles. Then nothing. Once you see toes, you should have a calf on the ground in about 45 minutes. As it was getting dark and it was her first calf, we decided it was time to intervene.

We set up the corral and head catch. John toted Dr. Frank’s Fetal Extractor out to our work area, along with a plastic Macy’s bag filled with long plastic gloves and paper towels. We got the cow up into the head catch and then got to work. It was now dark and we worked by the light of John’s headlamp.

A trying-to-be-born calf is as slippery as a fish, so it took both of us. John donned the gloves and reached in for a foot. I hooked the chain and handle to the first foot and held on. Then John found the second foot and we repeated the process. With a steady pull, the head emerged, again the tongue lolling to one side.

On went the extractor, its handle, and then we hooked it to the chains and John began to ratchet. Slowly. And we gently pulled downward, as the calves come out in an arc – like a diver, front feet together, head down. John unhooked the handle of the extractor just in time to ease the fall of the 80-pound calf as it slid to the ground.

The calf took a few raspy breaths as John wiped the afterbirth from its head and nostrils. The calf let out his first moo and then his mother got antsy and started in with her desperate, but soft, “moo, moo, moo.” We dragged the calf to the front of the head catch and let the cow out. She immediately started nudging him and within minutes he was trying to get to his feet.

We left the two, figuring we’d interrupted enough for one evening. When John checked on them later he found the calf up and nursing.

Dr. Frank’s Fetal Extractor has been carefully cleaned and all its parts are back in its box. A red bungee cord keeps the kit together. The last heifer calved over the weekend, so its tour of duty is done for the spring.

I’m glad.

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