Engormix/Dairy Cattle/Technical articles

Supplies for the baby calf: Are you ready?

Published on: 11/20/2013
Author/s : Russ Daly, DVM, DACVPM, Extension Veterinarian at South Dakota State University
In the last column we discussed supplies a cattle producer should have around in case they need to help a mother cow deliver her calf. What about after that calf is on the ground? Do you have the right supplies on hand to help that calf get up and running?
Immediately after delivery of a calf, it's oftentimes necessary to help the calf start breathing. The “straw in the nose” trick works well for this, but using old towels from the house to rub the calf on its sides will work to both stimulate breathing and to dry the calf off. Even if it sounds like there's a lot of fluid in the calf's respiratory tract and his breathing is very raspy, it's usually OK just to let the calf breathe this fluid off. What one does not want to do is hang the calf upside down. This just serves to compress all the abdominal organs against the diaphragm and actually makes it more difficult for the calf to take a breath.
Another item to add to our list is navel disinfectant, to help guard against navel infections. You will want to choose this product with advice from your vet. Using chemicals that are too harsh can irritate the navel and cause more problems than they prevent. No matter what product is used, if it's applied after the navel has already been contaminated, it probably won't work.
Now that the calf is out and breathing, then what? We have to prepare for the possibility that some calves may not get enough colostrum on their own, due to their mother not producing milk, or a calf that's too weak. You'll want to have a dose or two of colostrum replacer on hand. Colostrum replacer is different than colostrum supplement. Colostrum replacers have a full dose of antibodies for a baby calf, while supplements have a lower level. The level of immunoglobulins on the package (100 to 125 grams for replacers) and the price (replacers cost more than supplements) are ways you can tell the difference.
These products, like milk replacers, are powdered products to be mixed with warm (close to calf body temperature) water. Procure a smaller plastic bucket and a wire whisk to use in mixing these products. Use exactly the amount of water that's spelled out on the product label.
Then there is the issue of how to get colostrum or milk into the calf. There are a variety of bottles, bags and feeders available to use for this task. Your veterinarian is a great source of advice to help you choose this equipment. Personally I prefer to use bags with long tubes, but there are other choices. Have a few of these on hand. Don't forget a funnel to help you fill these bottles or bags.
A critical point about the use of feeding equipment is cleanliness. Anything used in feeding or mixing these products should exhibit “kitchen counter cleanliness” before it's used on a calf. Any traces of milk or colostrum left in a bucket or a feeder are very good sources of nutrients for bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli. Dirty equipment like this has actually made calves sick, and germs can be passed from animal to animal if equipment is not cleaned between uses.
To properly clean these items, traces of milk or other organic matter should first be removed by employing a good antibacterial detergent. Then, and only then, can a disinfectant be used to kill any bacteria or viruses that remain. These items should be thoroughly dry before their use on another calf, since water is another essential item germs need to persist on a piece of equipment. So add antibacterial soap and disinfectant to your list. Cleaning and disinfecting equipment is a procedure that is often hurried or skipped. But if you don't have the time to do a good job, you certainly don't have time to doctor a sick calf back to health that became ill due to this type of contamination.
Taking time to get the right equipment in place to help you help your new baby calves will pay dividends in health of the calf and in peace of mind for yourself!
This article first appeared in Aberdeen News. May 08, 2013. http://articles.aberdeennews.com. 
Author/s :
Russ Daly received his DVM from Iowa State University and is a South Dakota State University animal science graduate. He serves SDSU as an assistant professor and South Dakota Extension as the extension veterinarian. He is also a State Public Health Veterinarian. Through his 15 years of experience in mixed animal veterinary practice in Southeast South Dakota, he has become most interested in infectious disease epidemiology of food, animal diseases, pubic health and veterinary continuing education. In 2010, he was named the South Dakota Veterinarian of the Year by the SDVMA.
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