Make sure the calving pen provides a safe working environment for both the animal and farmer. Cows can be quiet animals for 51 out of 52 weeks during the year.

But this can quickly change at calving time, particularly in the days after the cow has calved down.

When it comes to making the calving pen safe, outlined are five things to consider.

1. Have an escape point from the calving pen

Ideally, a cow should always be restrained before you enter the calving pen. But not all pens have a head-locking gate and there will be occasions when a cow calves in a loose pen or on slats.

In these instances, an unrestrained cow can pose a greater safety risk. Therefore, always think about your safety before entering the pen.

Think about how you can quickly exit the pen if the cow becomes aggressive.

Enter pens slowly and in a calm manner to sound out the cow.

Never get between the cow and her calf and never turn your back on the cow.

2. Head-locking gate

A good head-locking gate in working order is a must in any calving shed and greatly improves safety.

Make sure there is a rope attached to the locking mechanism that allows you to keep your distance from the cow, but still be able to engage the headlock.

The locking bars that restrain the cow should both be vertical. This means that if a cow goes down during calving, the cow will not choke.

When a cow has been restrained in the headlock, it is safer to release the animal after you exit the calving pen.

3. Securing the calving gate with a rope

In most cases, when the calving gate is in use, it is secured to the side wall or side gate using a chain.

However, when the cow goes down during calving, her weight puts pressure on the gate and the chain comes under tension. This makes the chain hard to release in a hurry.

As an alternative, use a rope to secure the calving gate to the side wall. The rope can be cut if the cow goes down and the gate needs to be opened in a hurry.

4. Don’t stand between the calving jack and side wall

When using the calving jack, always stand to the left of the ratchet bar. Never stand between the ratchet bar and side wall.

If a cow goes down during labour, the person using the jack could be injured in this position, as the jack tends to move towards the wall.

By standing to the left if a cow goes down, the person working the jack can take a step back and avoid injury.

5. Getting the calf to suck and tagging

If you need to work with a calf that is struggling to suck, treat navals or tag the animal, make sure these tasks can be carried out safely.

Ideally, restrain the cow. If this is not an option, can the calf be temporarily moved to the outside of the pen while carrying out such tasks?

Offering the cow some concentrate can distract the animal, allowing the farmer to work with the calf in the pen. But make sure you can see the cow at all times.

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