MARSHFIELD, Wis. – When it comes to cows calving on a dairy farm, the list of potential problems is long and varied. While more often than not, things go right, there is always the possibility that abnormal presentations or other problems could arise, requiring a dairy farmer to make decisions about when and how to assist the cow, or call in a veterinarian.
    With the assistance of a life-like, life-size Holstein cow and calf, Mid-State Technical College in Marshfield, Wis., is helping students, and eventually others in their community, be prepared to handle a variety of circumstances they might face in the maternity pen.
    “We learned from the dairy and livestock producers in our area that there is a shortage of large animal veterinarians in our area,” said Ron Zillmer, Mid-State Technical College Dean of Transportation, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Construction. “That is forcing the producers to do more in terms of herd health and in particular, in birthing calves. We also have a number of operations in the area that have multiple births per day. We saw an opportunity with this cow simulator.”
    Alex Lendved, dean of Mid-State Technical College-Marshfield, likened the addition of the calving simulator to the use of simulators in programs such as paramedic, nursing and respiratory therapy.
    “They all have simulators that they work with to save lives,” Lendved said. “We aren’t saving human lives with this simulator, but we are saving lives in terms of ensuring a healthy cow and a healthy calf. That is saving a livelihood. It’s important.”
    The faculty visited schools in Wisconsin that had purchased a simulator to learn more about what the cow simulator could add to their dairy program.
    “The cow gives us the opportunity for the students to get many different replications of the different birthing positions,” said Mike Sabel, agricultural instructor. “We can use her to teach about the different items involved in milk quality as well as using her for the unit on artificial insemination. Each of those is difficult to simulate in real animals.”
    Zillmer cited the importance of providing students the ability to become proficient at identifying the 12 birthing positions that are common or being able to identify when it is not one of those positions and knowing what to do with each of those scenarios to get the calf in position for a successful birth.
     “When you look at the number of dairy and beef cattle in our region, herd health is largely impacted by the mother coming through the birthing process in a healthy way, as well as the calf,” Zillmer said.
    While building their students’ proficiency in birthing procedures is their primary purpose, the faculty is looking to share that experience.
    “Secondarily is the ability to work with our high school partners,” Zillmer said. “A piece of equipment like this would be out of reach for most high schools. We plan to make it mobile at some point and train our high school faculty that would like to utilize this unit. We also plan to do some continuing education-type training for existing people in the industry.”
    Plans for the simulator, which is modeled after a large, mature Holstein cow, include the purchase and outfitting of a trailer to create a mobile learning station where the cow and calf will be housed along with all the equipment necessary to use the simulator as a teaching tool.
    The simulator arrived at Mid-State in March, and Sabel has been busy spending time working with the cow, familiarizing himself with it and learning how he can best utilize it in teaching situations as formal training on use of the simulator in classrooms is not provided by the manufacturer.
    “We’ve been working with it, learning all the intricacies involved with it,” Sabel said. “We have students reaching inside the cow, and I am able to watch them from the other side, asking them questions about what they are feeling, like which hoof is this? Do you feel the nostrils or mouth of the calf? Does it feel like it’s in the normal birthing position?”
    Sabel utilizes a photo of the how the calf is positioned inside the cow to give the students a visual to help them understand what they are feeling through palpation. While that method helps students, the school is preparing to invest in a second calf that Sabel will be able to position outside of the cow, allowing the students a better visual to help them assess what is happening inside the simulator. The second calf will also allow students to learn how twins might present.
    “You can just see a light bulb come on,” Sabel said of how the visual aids help the students understand what is happening inside the simulator. “It helps them with the learning.”
    Mid-State utilizes block scheduling for their classes with courses lasting about five and a half weeks and running from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., allowing for focus to be placed on a class.
    “We are accelerating the learning process with this schedule,” Lendved said. “Students are getting the lecture; they’re getting the theory work in the classroom. They are getting the practice and repetition with hands-on learning to build that muscle-memory using the simulator. They are getting the hands-on experience prior to that stressful situation that might present itself. They are getting the best training in that field so that they are prepared right away when they face that situation.”
    Zillmer feels the simulator will help the students learn real-world skills that will make them more confident in the workplace.
    “Imagine being a producer having a person the first day on the job [be] a graduate of our program,” Zillmer said. “You’ve got a difficult birthing situation and have that student identify the position and immediately know what actions to take. That’s valuable.”