Advice on resuscitating newborn calves

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Editor's Note: The following article is from the Vita Plus Calf Care E-Newsletter, April 27, 2012

Once you have successfully helped deliver a newborn calf, the most important thing is to identify if the calf is breathing and behaving normally. Initially, you may be concerned about an unresponsive calf, but it can be resuscitated through several different methods according to Sheila McGuirk from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

What’s normal?

A normal calf seems alert and has its head up within minutes, is sitting up within five minutes, is trying to stand after 15 minutes, and is standing one hour after birth. In addition, the calf should shiver and its body temperature should decline from a higher temperature at birth to a normal temperature of 101 to 102 degrees F one hour after birth. A regular respiratory rate of 50 to 75 breaths per minute and heart rate of 100 to 150 beats per minute also indicate a healthy calf.

When to become concerned

It becomes crucial to resuscitate the calf if it is not displaying the characteristics described above, is generally unresponsive, has blue membrane color, and is not breathing regularly. In this situation, consider several effective techniques to resuscitate the animal:

  • To drain fluid from the mouth and nose, place the calf’s head over the edge of a raised platform for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Try to move the calf to a sitting position. Then use a clean dry towel and vigorously rub the topline from the tail to the head, paying special attention to the head near the ears and eyes.
  • Pour ice water onto the calf’s head or pour a small amount into the ear to shock the calf into breathing.
  • Push and then shake the wind pipe high in the neck to stimulate a cough reflex and facilitate breathing.
  • Place pressure in the center of the muzzle or across the nasal septum to encourage breathing.
  • Use straw to tickle the nose in the center or to the outside center of the nose.

These steps mimic the same things a cow does for a newborn calf. Contact the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine for further resources on this and other animal well-being topics.



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