Make the most of the first 24 hours of life

Most calves that die within the first 24-hours of life are alive at birth and simple strategies that do not rely on drugs or oxygen delivery may prevent death.

Of foremost importance to improved survival in the first 24 hours is unassisted vaginal delivery of calves. With a normal presentation on and sustained progress, observe calving from a distance and provide no assistance.

For calving cows that are moved during second stage labor, expect labor to stop temporarily and allow time for labor to resume before providing assistance. In a recent study (Schuenemann et. al.), 65 minutes was suggested as the time from the appearance of feet outside the vulva to intervention on for cows that need calving assistance.

After delivery, calving attendants should watch closely for behavior indicative of normal adaptation to life outside the uterus.

• Head righting begins within minutes.

• The calf is sitting in a sternal position within 5 minutes.

• The calf makes standing attempts within 15 minutes.

• Shivering begins within 30 minutes of delivery.

• The calf is standing by 1 hour.

• The calf is suckling within 2 hours of delivery.

Without appropriate movement and reflex activity, the newborn calf's body temperature declines from an elevated level at birth to 101-102°F within an hour. It will continue to decline if the calf is not active and shivering. Death due to hypothermia can occur within 1 to 2 hours, especially when the environmental temperature is below 58°F, which is the low end of a calf's thermal neutral zone.

For calves that have flaccid muscles, are unresponsive to stimulation, have blue membrane color or are breathing irregularly, simple techniques may be used to revive the calf and stimulate regular breathing. Place the calf on a low platform, cart or table to facilitate the following procedures:

• Place the calf's head over the edge of the raised platform for 10 to 15 seconds to get postural fluid drainage from the mouth and nose.

• Place the calf in a sitting position on if possible. Take a clean, dry towel and rub the topline of the calf from the tailhead to the poll.

• Use the towel to stimulate the ears, eyelids and nose of the calf.

• Ice water can be poured onto the head or into the ear of the calf to stimulate breathing.

• Compress and then shake the trachea (wind pipe) high up in the neck to stimulate a cough reflex.

• Place pinpoint pressure right in the center of the muzzle between the nostrils or place finger pressure across the nasal septum where nose tongs would be placed to further stimulate breathing.

Additional advice from McGuirk on improving calf health and performance in the first 60 days of life can be found here.