The navel is the gateway to a calf’s organ system in-utero. Before they are born, it is the only pathway for nutrients to pass into the calf’s bloodstream and liver.

After birth, the navel can serve as a wick to transport bacteria through the same pathway. That’s why it’s so important to treat the navel to promote drying and disinfection, said Steve Hays, DVM, a veterinarian specializing in calf care from Winona, Minn.

In this video, Hayes demonstrates an effective method for dipping navels, and explains why the practice is so important.

Hayes notes that his preferred solution for navel dipping is 7% iodine, but notes there are other solutions available. Recently, Iowa State University researchers conducted a study evaluating four products for navel treatment. They compared:

  1. 7% iodine solution;
  2. A dry dip made up of an antibacterial peptide (nicin) mixed with talc;
  3. Liquid nicin (64 µg/mL); and
  4. Chlorhexidine mixed with alcohol in a 50:50 solution.

Umbilical cords of newborn Holstein and Jersey calves were dipped 30 minutes after birth. Before initial dipping, diameter of the umbilical cord was measured using digital calipers to evaluate drying. To monitor potential infection, surface temperature of the umbilical stump also was measured using a dual laser infrared thermometer.

Evaluation of diameter and surface temperature were repeated at 24, 48 and 72 hours of age, and diameter measures were continued until the cord detached.

The researchers found:

  • Age of umbilical detachment was about 5 days longer for the chlorhexidine-alchohol solution compared to the other three treatments (20 days versus 15 days)
  • There was no significant difference among any of the treatments in cord drying rate.
  • There also was no significant difference in navel infection rates among the four treatments.

Conclusion: all four dips were effective in preventing umbilical infections and permitting healing of the umbilical cord when used within 30 minutes of birth.