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Lexie Cart (right) demonstrates to OSU-CVM classmates Courtney Knox (left), Taylor Gilbert, Braden Foley and Morgan Dunker how to use the calving simulator during their bovine theriogenology lab. (Photo by Kaylie Wehr)

Abnormal Education

Friday, May 27, 2022

Media Contact: Jami Mattox | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-8061 |

When a cow has trouble calving, she needs help to bring a live calf into the world.

Someone needs to provide that help, especially in abnormal deliveries, but often the expertise is unavailable, said Dr. Barry Whitworth, DVM and Oklahoma State University Extension area food and animal quality health specialist for eastern Oklahoma.

Whitworth now offers a program to prepare producers, future veterinarians and youth to be the experts before labor begins.

“I’ve taught the calving time management chapter for the Master Cattleman Program,” Whitworth said. “I would tell people how to properly put on obstetric chains and how to use a calf puller, but then there was no hands-on practice, which got me to build the calving simulator because I wanted people to be able to have hands-on experience.”

After 25 years as a practicing veterinarian, Whitworth said he decided to design his own simulator from 55-gallon plastic barrels.

“I took the pelvis of a cow and put it in the barrel, and I used rubber tubing to make the simulator as realistic as possible,” Whitworth said.

Whitworth traveled around Oklahoma with his homemade simulator, presenting his heifer calving management program to teach producers the basics of calving and to give participants the opportunity to practice pulling calves.

However, this homemade simulator required him to obtain a calf cadaver for the hands-on activity, which had several limitations, Whitworth said. This led him to search for an alternative, he added.

“I got online and started researching calving simulators,” Whitworth said. “I found the Hereford Dystocia Simulator made by Veterinary Simulator Industries, but we didn’t have the money to buy it because it’s $30,000-plus.”

Instead of letting the daunting price tag hinder the development of his program, Whitworth began searching for grants, he said.

The simulator was purchased with supplemental funds for OSU Agriculture appropriated through the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, said Randy Taylor, OSU Extension assistant director.

“These funds are to allow OSU Extension and OSU Ag Research to work in new and innovative ways,” Taylor said. “The calving simulator fits that definition by allowing Dr. Whitworth to demonstrate real-life situations in an educational setting.”

The Oklahoma Master Cattleman program and the annual OSU Extension Cow/Calf Boot Camp both offer places to showcase the simulator, Whitworth said. He also uses it for 4-H programs and at the birthing centers during the two Oklahoma state fairs.

In addition, the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine uses the simulator for two weeks to let students practice pulling calves. Fall 2021 was the first time the veterinary students had the opportunity to use the calving simulator.

“I offered this elective for about 26 third-year veterinary students who were interested in cattle reproduction to get hands-on experience,” said Lionel Dawson, OSU-CVM professor. “A calf coming forward and upright with two feet and a head between them is considered normal. Since a full-size calf fits inside the simulator, we showed the students a normal presentation.”

The student can put a hand in the simulator to feel if the calf is coming normally, and if not, they can develop a plan to safely deliver the calf, Dawson said. He uses the simulator to teach his students how to best deliver the calf to protect it and the cow, he added.

“During the calving season, producers need to recognize calving difficulties or dystocia in cattle," Dawson said. “Early recognition of difficulty or abnormal presentation of the calf can save the life of the calf and the mother.”

Students determine how far into labor a cow is and if the calf is alive before they consider pulling the calf, Dawson said.

A benefit to the simulator is students can wear their regular clothes to class and then put on an OB sleeve and not get dirty, rather than wearing coveralls to avoid getting soiled, he said.

“I can’t simulate the cow kicking and the compression she’s going to put on an arm when you’re going into her vaginally, examining her and pulling a calf,” Whitworth said. “But, it’s still pretty realistic.”

The majority of participants in Whitworth’s programs are new to the cattle industry and can experience for the first time what pulling a calf is like, he said.

However, some people, like Stacey Dawson, attend the program to expand their knowledge.

Stacey Dawson’s family always had cattle, and as they moved to Oklahoma and grew their ranch, she began thinking about the future, she said.

“I started to come to the realization I’m going to take over the ranch someday, and I need to start learning the ins and outs of the cattle industry other than the basic feeding and care,” said Stacey Dawson, a cattle producer and Osage County Extension 4-H educator. “I’ve seen dad pull calves before, but I’ve never actually done it.

“When I saw the simulator, I thought ‘first of all, this looks really cool, and I want to use it. Second of all, this is something I need to learn how to do.’”

Since pulling calves is not something Stacey Dawson does often, she is open to attending Whitworth’s program again to hone her skills, she said.

In the future, with enough practice, Stacey Dawson can see herself showing someone else how to deliver a calf, she said.

“When I was in the class, there were guys who have been helping cows calve for years who were absolutely fascinated with the calving simulator because it brings a whole new approach,” Stacey Dawson said. “Not only did Whitworth simulate a natural birth, but also he could walk you through different abnormal presentations.”

Whitworth talks about most of the different positions a calf could get in during his presentation, he said. When he puts the calf in a true breech position, participants begin to swarm around to watch.

It depends on how much fun the participants want to have as far as how challenging he makes the simulator, Whitworth added.

Whitworth estimates he has taught more than 500 people with the calving simulator. He said 15 participants is the “golden” number of people per class to get everyone excited to participate in the hands-on activities.

“The calving simulator is a really valuable tool that can be used beyond regular, everyday farmers, producers and ranchers,” Stacey Dawson said. “I work with 4-H kids, and this would be something great for them because it helps solidify the calving process.

“There are many misconceptions about the cattle industry, but going through this program helps people start to understand the idea of when cattle producers help a cow deliver her calf they are doing it in the best interest of the cow. They are doing everything they can to protect and take care of her.”

Story By: Sydney Trainor | Cowboy Journal

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