Calving Schools Provide Hands-On Experience for Kansas Producers

BCI’s Dr. Dave Rethorst teams up with K-State Research & Extenstion to host producer education workshops across the state. 

By Audrey Hambright

Calving Schools

Audience members at the calving school in Inman watch as Dr. Rethorst (far right) directs a producer attempting to manipulate the calf within the dystocia simulator.

Prior to the ongoing calving season, Dr. Dave Rethorst, outreach director of the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) joined together with K-State Research and Extension to present five calving schools for beef producers across the state of Kansas in January. Sandy Johnson, northwest area extension livestock specialist and Justin Waggoner, southwest area beef cattle specialist teamed up with Dr. Rethorst to facilitate the workshops.

Dr. Rethorst, Johnson and Waggoner came together after the debut of the dystocia simulator cow at the 2014 Kansas State Fair, in hopes to provide a hands-on experience to even more people. From Jan. 6 through Jan. 8, the team covered five locations in Kansas including Inman, Protection, Johnson, Atwood and Wakeeney and made presentations to more than 300 producers.

Dr. Rethorst spoke on a range of topics in calving management starting with pregnancy management.

“We discussed why we need to make sure the cow has adequate protein and trace minerals during pregnancy and how that affects the health and lifetime performance of the calf,” Dr. Rethorst said.

Each presentation lead to the discussion of the stages of parturition where he visited about recognizing when the cow needs assistance and how to correct an abnormal presentation. He also demonstrated, using the dystocia simulator, how to correctly use a calf puller as well as other equipment associated with calving.

Dr. Rethorst closed each session with postpartum considerations, practices acceptable by Beef Quality Assurance standards and a question-and-answer session. Overall, he said that the positive feedback exceeded his expectations.

“I hoped to use it as a platform to reach out to producers and help them increase their percentage of calf crop by managing calving and the calf’s immune system better,” he said. “We had really good feedback from people who had learned a lot and were planning to change their methods.”

According to Waggoner, the dystocia cow simulator enhanced the calving schools for producers who attended.

The team used a webcam during the demonstrations to show how the calf was positioned in the calving simulator. The audience was able to see how to address a situation and watch Dr. Rethorst perform the manipulation. Audience members also had the opportunity to tell about a specific struggle they had in a calving situation, which led to discussions on how to address such situations.

“I think they responded very well to that type of resource,” Waggoner said. “It was hands-on and a lot more real.”

In facilitating locations, Johnson wanted to make sure the calving schools addressed issues that affected producers locally.

“We always try to customize the best we can for each location,” she said. “Our goal is to deliver local, relevant programs that meet the needs of the producers that will help them be more profitable and sustainable.”

Reno County Extension Agent Darren Busick particularly noted the variety of attendees at the Inman calving school location.

“The group ranged from older adults to young kids and big operations to small operations,” Busick said.

This was the case especially for the Engelland Family. Elizabeth Engelland, 21, along with her father Mark, and her younger brothers who are 17 and 13, went to gain knowledge to bring back to their family farm.

“I appreciated what he [Dr. Rethorst] brought to our attention. For instance, the use of straps instead of chains to pull the calf,” she said. “I think some of it will change how we do things, even if it was just a good reminder.”

Busick believed a lot of people had seen the simulator cow at the state fair and brought their colleagues along to the calving schools so they could see it in action, too.

With the positive response from the calving schools, the team expects to coordinate similar educational seminars next year to reach even more producers.