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Know your limits, and when to quit

Although calf pullers are not used today near as much as in past years they still have an important place in the calving barn if used properly. To me every cow-calf producer and some feedlot owners need one, especially if they are often alone when calving. By following common guidelines when pulling a calf the puller can be a very valuable piece of equipment and save calves’ lives.

There are several makes on the market each with their own unique features. The most important features are some method of easily releasing pressure and allowing the operator to work close to the back end of the cow when first jacking. The older block and tackle types necessitated having two people, one by the cow and one running the pulling mechanism. These are archaic and should be discarded or used for wire stretching and replaced with a new or newer type used puller.

The puller should be well cleaned and disinfected each time it is used so infectious organisms are not transmitted between calvings. A lot of the pullers I see are rather grungy from fetal fluids, placenta or manure that has been allowed to freeze or dry on the puller. Keep them like you would a kitchen utensil, in other words clean them often. That includes the breech (the part that goes over the cow) and the strap. Often they are hung up in the calving shed and collect dust between calving seasons. Before they are used hose them down and always know where they are in case you need them suddenly. Take a few minutes and go over them at the start of every calving season. There is no time to do a calf jack overhaul when the calf is stuck at the pelvis and bellowing for his life.

Anytime I am going to use the pullers I ensure I have two wraps of the chains on each leg (above and below the fetlock joint). You will spread out the force, minimize damage to the legs and avoid the disastrous broken leg if the pull gets tighter than you would like.

It is easy for me being the veterinarian as I have the farmer to help pull. In this circumstance I will not put the pullers on unless two people can pull the front shoulders through in a front presentation. That is the rule of thumb that the rest of the calf should follow even with the help of pullers. By yourself you may put a puller on sooner to avoid fatigue from trying to pull by hand. Be wary the good pullers can put on forces approaching 2,000 pounds so in inexperienced hands or when farmers’ adrenaline kicks in they can do considerable damage to calf and mother cow when care is not taken. I will periodically check the tension on the chains and always be patient trying to time my pulling with the cow’s contractions. Pulling too fast does damage and I believe results in the odd prolapsed uterus as the suction seems to have the uterus directly follow the calf.

About the author


Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.



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