Long ago, someone asked me about the reason newborn calves die. What do you think it is? I believe there are many factors involved, and the best way to avoid newborn calf deaths lies in preventing those factors. The following are a few practical tips to help avoid the unnecessary loss of calves.
Before being born
Do you have a dry cow vaccination protocol? You probably followed your farm’s protocol. It is very important to help maintain the future mother’s health – providing her with good feed and an environment free of pests and diseases. This is the foundation for a healthy life for the newborn.
Prepare calving area
To ensure the well-being of the calf, make sure that the place where it will be born is clean, dry and disinfected and that the place where it will be raised is ready. This will depend on your farm’s protocol.
On some, calves are taken from the farm within 24 hours after birth. However, on smaller farms they may stay there for the rest of their lives. Regardless of the situation, you should always house them in a clean, dry and fresh environment.
After being born
Surely you already have a protocol in place for newborn calf care. Do you follow your farm’s protocol? If not, here are a few tips to consider:
• Handling or moving: To ensure the well-being of the calf at birth, the way you handle the calf during the calving process will be very important.
Any sudden movement or change in the way you move the calf can hurt it or even break a part of its fragile body. The newborn calf is just as vulnerable as a newborn human.
• Breathing: You should clean the nostrils and mouth, getting rid of any amniotic fluid or mucus residues. This will help the calf breathe better and help prevent future breathing problems.
• Cleaning and drying: Normally, the cow cleans the calf by licking the calf after calving; however, some farms separate the newborn from the mother within the first minutes of life. In this case, it is important to dry them with a towel or cloth. Doing this promotes circulation within the calf’s body and prepares it to start standing up and walking. Also, having a clean coat helps the calf maintain an optimum body temperature, especially in cold climates.
• Care of the navel: Apply iodine to the navel and cut according to the rules of your farm. Remember that a poorly maintained navel is the gateway to various diseases.
• Colostrum management: One of the most important points to ensuring optimal health is to provide the newborn colostrum during the first hours of life. Some farms feed colostrum with a bottle and others administer colostrum with an esophageal tube. The person administering colostrum should be well-trained and should follow all hygiene rules.
The consequences of an inadequate first feeding can cause negative health consequences immediately or in the future, which may lead to death. Remember that colostrum provides newborns their only line of defense against diseases during the first days of life.
• Visually inspect the newborn: Look for any physical problems or abnormalities (deformities, broken bones, anal atresia, etc.). Many of these problems are fixable if detected and treated early.
• Identification and recording of weight: This will help you easily identify the animal and monitor its growth as the days pass.
These tips are a few of many that are required for a newborn to have a healthy life. Remember that prevention is always the key. Don’t hold back any questions or concerns if you have them. Consult with your veterinarian or supervisor. I’m sure they will have the solution. EL
Juan Quezada is the director of safety, recruiting and training at MilkSource, LLC. Edgar Castañeda Martinez, DVM, is one of Juan’s co-workers.
Director of Safety, Recruiting and Training
Milksource, LLC – Kaukauna, WI