Jim Zeller, of Klamath Falls, got some hands-on experience learning how to assist a calf during birth at the Oregon State University Extension Service calving school during the Ag Expo last Friday.

Zeller pulled on elbow-length OB gloves, looped a calving chain around his hand, and reached into a metal mechanism that imitates the birth canal of a cow.

Inside was a dead calf, which Reinaldo Cooke, beef cattle specialist with OSU extension, had put in a position with its head and one foot turned the wrong way.

Zeller had to push and pull to get the calf in the proper position — head and forelegs heading out first — and with the help of others attending the calving school, pulled the calf out.

Zeller said he came to Friday’s event to learn more about calving. He wanted to learn what to do in less than ideal situations. He agreed the seminar had helped.

OSU hosts five calving schools each year. This year, they are focused in Southern and Central Oregon. Calving schools will also take place in Lakeview, Fossil, Medford and Myrtle Point.

Charles Estill, an OSU extension veterinarian, said he and Cooke work to keep the calving school full of practical lessons and situations ranchers may face in their fields.

Getting started

The normal way a calf is born is with its head and forefeet coming first. As Estill put it, it is like diving into a swimming pool.

Estill advised some general rules for calving. First, he said, don’t be in a hurry.

“It is not cool to hook up the John Deere 4020 to the back of the cow and pull the calf out while the cow’s head is tied to a fence post,” Estill said. “Not even with a four-wheeler. That is not cool at all. It’s inhumane.”

He said strategies like that can break a calf’s leg, or even rip its leg off. He said it can also injure the cow.

He advised ranchers to be patient and, especially in difficult situations, take the time to make sure the calf is born properly and the cow is uninjured.


Things should also be clean. Estill said a rancher can clean off the back of a cow with simple soap.

“You heard your mothers say ‘cleanliness is next to godliness,’ ” he said.

He also advised having a clean bucket, warm water, plastic OB sleeves and plenty of lubricant. The lubricant doesn’t need to be professional grade. In a pinch it can be something as simple as dish soap, Crisco or cooking oil.

If a rancher needs to use a chain to help pull a calf out — chains can be attached to the feet or head of a calf — Estill advised using stainless steel.

Dealing with problems

Estill gave advice on how to make sure a calf is alive before it is born. He also helped people learn to tell by feel if a front leg or back leg is coming first.

He went over specific steps on how to manipulate the position of a calf if one or both of its legs are bent backward, if its head is bent at the wrong angle or if it is turned around.