Critical Firsts for the Newborn Calf
A new calf is born. The miracle of life has occurred once again! Although miraculous, delivery is a stressful time. Once the calf is born there are several critical steps that need to be completed to ensure a healthy life for the animal. Remember three “firsts” when establishing a neonatal calf protocol.
- First Hour
- First Day
- First Week
1. First Hour
Once the calf is born the clock starts ticking! Swiftness in caring for the new baby is essential to reduce stress, reduce pathogen load, and aid IgG absorption. Here are few things that need to be done within the first hour of a calves life.
- Upon delivery the calf must take their first breath. Usually this happens automatically, but sometimes mucus or birthing membranes can cover the calves nostrils and prevent breathing. Be sure to clean off the calves nose, if breathing is delayed you can tickle the nostril with a piece of straw to stimulate the calf to breathe.
- Allow the mother to lick the calf. This promotes circulation in the calf and encourages it to stand and walk. If the calving pen is crowded, mama and new baby can be moved to a separate area for her to complete this task.
- Until the navel dries, it provides a direct route for pathogens to enter the body. It is important to dip the navel as soon as possible after birth, this will provide protection to the calf and aid in the drying of the cord. Dip the navel using a clean disposable cup, dispose of the cup after use to prevent passing bacteria from one calf to the other. Most commonly it is recommended to dip the navel in a 7% iodine tincture, however navel guard and chlorhexidine gluconate have also been found to be effective.
- Colostrum provides essential early nutrition and immunity to the calf. It is recommended to feed a calf 5-6% of their body weight in high quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth. This is approximately 4 liters (4 quarts) for large Holstein calves, and 3 liters (3 quarts) for Jersey calves. The colostrum can be given from a nipple bottle or tube fed to the calf. The important part is that they consume ALL of it.
- Colostrum quality can be measured using a colostrometer, which uses the specific gravity of the colostrum to assess quality. A Brix refractometer can also be used. The brix reading mathematically correlates to the amount of IgG found in the colostrum, a brix reading of greater than or equal to 22 indicates high quality colostrum. For instructions on how to use these instruments click HERE:
2. First Day
- 6-12 hours after the first colostrum feeding calves will benefit from a second feeding of high quality colostrum. Michigan State University recommends that by 24 hours of age calves have received 10% of their body weight in colostrum.
- Re-dip the navel 24 hours after birth, using another clean disposable cup.
- Once the calf is processed move it to a clean, dry, well bedded pen.
3. First Week
- Calves can benefit from consuming 2nd milking colostrum or lower quality colostrum at each feeding for the first few days of life. Although gut closure is complete at 24 hours of age, feeding this “first milk” provides a greater amount of nutrients to the calf than fluid milk or milk replacer, and can bind pathogens within the gut. This second feeding of colostrum also aids in the establishment of healthy bacteria, and development of gut villi.
- At 3-5 days of age palpate the navel to check for any infection. If the navel is infected please follow advice from your veterinarian regarding treatment.
- Provide clean and fresh starter and water at all times to encourage early intakes.
Proper management within these “first” critical times will set the calf up for success in health and production over it’s lifetime. Please consult your veterinarian concerning any vaccines that should be given during this time. Click here for our FREE Newborn Calf Care Barn Card!
Written by Mariah Gull, M.S.