Calves are born with their defense system against diseases inactive, which means that this newborn is totally defenseless and its life depends on the care that we give it during the first few hours of life.

If you work in the maternity barn, you have lots of responsibility. Here’s how to get newborn calves off to a good start.

1. Cleanliness.

The calving area should always be as clean as possible. If the calf is born in a dirty place, there is a good chance it will get sick and its development affected. 

2. Breathing.

The most important job immediately after birth is to make sure the calf begins to breathe, no matter if calving was normal or not.  Putting the newborn in a sitting position will help the lungs to work freely. If it’s lying on its side, turn it on the other side so that the lung that was compressed can begin to work. Clean the mucous around the nose and mouth and stimulate the sneezing reflex by introducing a piece of straw in the nostrils — this will help expel fluids in the respiratory tract.

3. Disinfect the navel.

The navel of the calf must be treated two times with 7 percent iodine:

  • Immediately after being born.
  • When arriving at the waiting pen, or previous to transportation

The iodine must not be diluted. And, it needs to be placed in a clean container that’s just been prepared (not more than a day old).  Submerge the navel in iodine all the way.

4. Record the calf.

Record the time the calf was born, its sex, number, times at which colostrum was given, difficulty at calving, and any other general observation.

5. Separate the calf from the cow. 

Immediately separate the calf from its mother after calving, or at least during the first 30 minutes of life.  This is important to avoid certain infections like salmonella, cryptosporidiosis and Johne’s disease.

6. Provide adequate colostrum

Immunoglobulins are special proteins that are the main components of colostrum. These proteins protect the newborn from infection and disease until the calf’s own immune system can reach the necessary experience to produce its own defenses.

Remember! It is your responsibility to care for the future mothers of the dairy. Do it well and you will have healthy and efficient cows as a result.


Importance of first colostrum

   Colostrum has special proteins, known as immunoglobulins, that protect the newborn calf from infection and disease.

  • The first colostrum from a cow has 17.57 percent of these special proteins. The level of these special proteins drops to 0.19 percent in the second colostrum (milked six to eight hours after the first one), and 0.12 percent 48 hours later. This shows the importance of first colostrum.
  • These immunoglobulins or special proteins can only be absorbed in the intestine of the newborn, and the biggest benefit is obtained during the first four to six hours after the calf is born.

Manage colostrum well

  • Only collect colostrum from the first milking.
  • Discard colostrum from infected cows (mycoplasma, Johne’s ).
  • Collect each batch of colostrum individually and test it with the colostrometer, a tool that helps you determine quality of the colostrum.
  • Disinfect all equipment used to collect and give colostrum – this will protect the calf from getting sick.

Colostrum storage

  • Store colostrum in individual bottles or in plastic ZipLoc bags. Store colostrum up to three days if refrigerated; up to six months if frozen.

Colostrum feeding

  • All newborn calves should receive 1 gallon of colostrum of the best quality during the first two to four hours of life.

Thaw and warm up the colostrum very carefully and with lots of patience. Thaw it in a warm-water bath (90 and 105 degrees F). If you place it in water that is too hot, the special proteins in the colotrum will be damaged or “burnt,” and the calves won’t receive the proper protection.

Carlos M. Simmonds is a dairy consultant serving the dairy industry out of Idaho.  He can be reached at