Newborn calf care: Get past a rough start

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This Tip of the Week is brought to you by the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association (DCHA) 

 

The breeding and calving process may be challenging for some dairy calf and heifer growers. Once breeding is successful, the bred female has to carry the unborn to term and calve with minimum stress to the cow and the calf. Although this seems like a straight-forward process, there are major risk factors for stillbirth and infectious disease.

 

Problematic calvings may result in calves developing respiratory acidosis. Left uncorrected, it may lead to the development of metabolic acidosis. This causes the calf's blood pH to rise, which may lower the calf's ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum.

 

The following steps can help calves get past a rough start, ensure survival and thrive.

  • Clear the airway - Remove mucous from around the mouth and nose, assisting the calf to breathe. Inserting a piece of straw into the nasal cavity or pouring some cold water on the calf's head should initiate a gasping reflex to promote respiration.

  • Dry off the calf - Dry the calf with a clean, dry towel. This should be done if the dam is unable to dry her calf, or if the calf is removed immediately. Vigorous drying around the shoulders and neck encourages respiration and helps the calf to regulate its body temperature. As water evaporates, heat is removed, which can leave the calf vulnerable to chilling.

  • Feed colostrum - Once the calf is breathing well, colostrum should be administered. According to DCHA Gold Standards, colostrum equaling 10% of body weight should be fed in the first four hours of life.

    • Colostrum has several positive effects on a calf. Not only does it provide the calf with disease-fighting antibodies, but it also increases the calf's blood volume and improves blood circulation.

  • Calves from a difficult calving may need to be moved and handled with extra care.

For more information, you can read Ensuring Survival with Newborn Care.



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