Shirtless: Calf pulling the Dr. Pol way

Dr. Pol stands in front of his veterinary clinic in central Michigan. Photo courtesy of Dr. Pol's Facebook page.

By Kim Lemmon

“The Incredible Dr. Pol” — A television show about a veterinarian in rural Michigan that also promotes and educates viewers about livestock farmers.

I’m not really a fan of reality TV shows but I do make a couple of exceptions. One of my favorite shows is “The Incredible Dr. Pol.” This series about a 70-something veterinarian in central Michigan is not your normal reality series. From what I’ve seen, it proves to be more realistic and often educational.
Dr. Pol and his wife own a veterinary practice that services both large and small animals. They have about 19,000 clients. Their days are long and extremely busy so Dr. Pol doesn’t have time to mess around.
From what I’ve seen, he treats his clients well and cares a great deal about the animals he treats, but he doesn’t sugar coat anything. Dr. Pol sticks to the facts whether or not the outcome is promising or grave. His series shows everything from castrations to births in detail. From what I know about livestock, his show seems pretty realistic and accurate.
My favorite episodes include calf deliveries. When I owned pygmy goats, I often had to go elbow deep into the does to pull kids so I have a special interest in the mechanics and methods of assisting with livestock births.
I love it when Dr. Pol travels to dairy farms and helps cows deliver their calves. I told my husband, Mark, that I’m pretty sure I could follow Dr. Pol’s advice and assist with deliveries myself. Of course, I know it is harder in real life than on television but I’d still like to give it a try.
Here are some calving tips from “The Incredible Dr. Pol.”
Step 1: If you are going to assist with a delivery, remove your shirt. Yes, that’s right. No matter what the

Dr. Pol always removes his shirt before assisting with a calf birth. This photo is courtesy of Dr. Pol's Facebook page.

temperature is, Dr. Pol strips his coveralls down to his waist and literally dives right in. When he was in vet school in the Netherlands in the 1960s there were no women in his class and the students were taught to remove their shirts before assisting a cow with a birth. Not only does this save the vets from having ruined or hard to clean clothing but it also insures they have dry clothes to put back on after the delivery is over. This can be very important in cold climates. By the way, his much younger employee, Dr. Brenda skips step one for obvious reasons.
Step 2: Go in and see what is happening. Stick your arm inside the cow and check to see what the trouble is. Then start working to realign the calf so it is in the correct position for its birth.
Step 3: Grab some chains and a burly assistant. Once Dr. Pol starts lining the calf up inside the cow’s uterus, he attaches chain to certain parts of its body. Then he has a burly assistant or two help pull on the chains from time to time.
Step 4: Step 3 can take a long time and often requires a lot of work but Step 4 is my favorite part of the process. Once the calf is outside of the cow, Dr. Pol dumps a bucket of cold water on its head. This shocks it and gets it breathing again. The stress of a long labor can often make it difficult to get a calf breathing and moving. The bucket of cold water rarely fails.
Dr. Brenda doesn’t use the bucket of water and I spend a large amount of time screaming at the TV when she assists with a cow’s delivery and the calf is presumed dead. I’m sure she is thorough and she does, after all, have a degree in veterinary medicine, but I always want her to go back and double check the dead calves to make sure they are really dead.
A couple of years ago, I helped a pygmy goat doe deliver a huge buckling. It was a long and difficult delivery for both of us. No vets were available that day, so we just had to keep working together.
Once the baby buck was outside of his mom’s uterus, he was floppy and non-responsive. Mark quietly offered to take him and dispose of him for me. At the time, I was recovering from the flu and overtired from the delivery, but I perked up pretty quickly and let him know — fairly violently — that he couldn’t have MY baby. I kept working on the baby and stimulating him. Mark kept trying to grab him from my arms and was ready to order a straight jacket for me when the little guy started breathing!
Don’t give up! If I had known about the cold-water trick that day, I’m sure I would have tried it.

Dr. Pol treats a large variety of animals. Photo courtesy of Dr. Pol's Facebook page.

Step 5: Clean up your instruments and then yourself. You never know when another animal will need assistance with a birth so it is very important to clean all your birthing tools immediately.
Of course, I’m not a vet, but since large animal vets are pretty scarce around here, livestock owners are often forced to fend for themselves when the vets are having an unusually busy day. I think before I let the cow and calf die during labor, I’d try Dr. Pol’s step-by-step plan. Sometimes doing something is better then just watching the cow suffer.
Watch “The Incredible Dr. Pol” on Saturday’s at 9 a.m. on Nat Geo Wild. To learn more about the series or to watch episodes online, visit

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  1. Clearly you failed to do any research into Dr. Pol before writing this puff piece. He is under a great deal of criticism from his profession and under suspension by the Michigan veterinary assoc. Try Google occasionally.

  2. I think Dr Pol is a down to earth, very experienced, old time vet, who really tells it like it is and most certainly does not sugar coat anything.
    Think about it folks. In light of the fact that he has over 19000 patients, if he was as incompetent as some of you would have us believe, he would most certainly not have a license to practice. He undoubtedly made a few errors along the way, haven’t we all? If they had been serious enough infractions, he would not have a license to practice. Making a few mistakes in life is part and parcel of being human. I bet his greatest critics have some little secrets of their own that they hope will never surface for all to criticize and condemn.

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