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IVing calves might not be as costly as you think

Julianne Holler for Progressive Dairy Published on 04 February 2020

Evening chore time rolls around once again, just like every other night. I put on my boots and head out to the barn. The bigger calves and heifers get their hay and grain, and then I start to mix up milk replacer for the baby calves. Upon entering the calf pens, I immediately know something isn’t right.

The Brown Swiss calf in the first pen tries to get up and quickly flops back over. With no hesitation, I grab my thermometer to get a temperature on her, and 105.0° is not quite what I was expecting to see as the thermometer beeped. I suspected she would have a fever, just not quite that high. Lately, we have been fighting some respiratory issues in calves, but nothing an antibiotic and analgesic couldn’t handle.



Let’s take a step back for a minute. Our calves are housed in a modified barn. The barn used to be an old milking barn that was repurposed for calves. Is the ventilation ideal? Probably not. Is the lighting a recreation of natural light? No. But we make the best of what we have, and we have made several modifications to make it work and to still be able to raise healthy calves that turn into successful milk cows. Through this, we have definitely learned that taking the extra steps in treating a sick calf and spending a few more dollars on treatment is definitely worth it and ultimately helps the animal succeed once in the milking herd.

Going back to the situation on hand, after further evaluating the calf, she is battling a navel infection, as seen by the discharge on her underside. Much like we would feel if we were sick, she just wants to lay around and has no appetite. At this point, it is crucial to get her treated with medication and keep her hydrated to keep the issue at bay. All of our calves are delivered in a clean, dry calving pen and later moved to an individual well-bedded pen. At birth, they receive an intranasal vaccine for respiratory issues and an oral vaccine for gastrointestinal issue prevention. Navels are dipped at birth and again after 48 hours to prevent infection. I’ve had great luck with this protocol, but still things happen and calves get sick. The biggest thing we have learned from these situations is to be aggressive in treatment and to not be afraid to throw too much at a sick calf. The farm has yet to lose a calf from trying too much. In these cases, the biggest addition to our treatment protocol that seems to be working extremely well is IVing calves to keep their fluid levels up and to get them back on a normal track in less time.

The go-to IV therapy we use is a liter of lactated Ringer’s with vitamin B added in. If the calf is not real responsive and extremely weak, we will add dextrose into the mix as well. If scours are also present in the calf, bicarb is added. Once they are willing to eat, they are kept on their regular schedule of milk morning and night, in addition to two additional feedings of electrolytes mid-afternoon and again before bed for at least two days, possibly even longer depending on the situation.

Although IVing can be stressful in some situations and can be a skill many are nervous to do on calves, in my experience, the benefits outweigh the risks. Pushing those extra fluids into calves has really seemed to give them the extra boost to get healthier sooner. While following this protocol, we have found less calves need to be retreated in our facility, and the calves seem to bounce back at faster rates.

Prior to adopting this protocol, a few calves were treated with just antibiotics and a pain reliever. They had to be retreated at least once, if not twice. In those cases, they did not grow as well as they became heifers. They entered the milking herd not as mature as their counterparts who were either not sick or were sick and received more aggressive treatment with less relapse time.


At the time, it may seem like a lot to give a calf, and if you’re not comfortable IVing a calf, hiring a veterinarian to do so may not be cheap. But, in the long run, I think you will earn your money back in milk and less sickness down the road. Take it from me and be aggressive with treatment at the first sign.  end mark

Julianne Holler
  • Julianne Holler

  • Dairy Producer
  • Sharpsville, Pennsylvania
  • Email Julianne Holler