Vet’s Voice: Care of the newborn calf | TSLN.com

Vet’s Voice: Care of the newborn calf

Dave Barz, DVM

Winter has finally returned to the plains. The temperatures are frigid and the winds continue to howl. To make matters worse, we get an inch or two of snow every few days. Many of you will be calving soon and it will be a tough job to help young calves maintain normal body temperature.

Newborn calves are relatively hardy but can quickly become chilled rapidly during extreme cold. If a calf does not nurse, it starts depleting its blood glucose in 30-60 minutes. The calf tries to replenish these levels from glycogens stored in the liver, but they are used up in 4-6 hours. At this point, calf is now hypoglycemic. If the calf does not receive proper nutrition, it burns up its brown-fat reserves in a few days. This is the reason it takes 3-7 days for a calf to starve to death during normal temperatures, while calves may live only a few hours during extreme cold.

Colostrum ingestion is the most important activity the young calf must accomplish. If the calf is chilled and does not suckle within several hours, you must aid the calf. Fresh colostrum from the cow is best. Not only does it contain the antibodies specific to your herd to give the calf immunity, but it also contains sugars and proteins which give the calf energy. Bagged colostrum is available, but they are not as effective as the real thing. There are several new products which show better immunity and energy levels, but they are more expensive. Tubed or dried products are available, and while they aid in the passage of immunity, they are not an adequate energy source.

If the calf is unable to suckle with your assistance, you will probably need to drench the calf. We prefer the use of a stiff tube with a small enlargement on the tip. The calf will swallow the tube, but try to stimulate the calf to suckle before you allow any fluid passage and administer slowly. Most problems occur when feeding is done too rapidly. When the calf suckles, the esophageal groove between the stomachs allows the colostrum to bypass the rumen. If milk products enter the rumen, the may remain there and ferment. This causes indigestion and bloating. If you use a long hose, be careful to not pass it all the way into the rumen negating the ability of the esophageal groove. Be sure the tip of your feeder tube is not too large for a small calf. This could also result in choking.

The young calf is born with a body temperature of 103 degrees F. Within a few hours, the calf’s temperature lowers to 101-102 degrees, which is normal. When the calf cools to about 100 degrees, they need to be warmed and possibly fed colostrum. If calves are wet they lose heat more rapidly. Wind speeds evaporation and also cools the calf more rapidly. Minimizing losses to cold weather requires shelter. Always dry young calves as soon as possible. Use bedding to avoid contact with frozen ground. Provide adequate protection from the wind. Many producers prefer to calve when the ground is frozen hard or the grass is green. Any other time of the year results in wet muddy conditions aggravating temperature regulation.

In spite of all your efforts, you may get a calf which requires warming. Many producers have heating boxes which help warm the calf slowly. Remember to clean up between calves to avoid transmission of disease. Some producers apply too much heat to the calf too rapidly. If the calf is unable to move away, it cannot protect itself from the extreme heat of a Knipco heater. At the clinic we utilize warm-hot water. Soak the calf to raise the temperature. It may require several soakings. Be sure to not wash off all the fluids from birthing so the cow will still claim the calf. Last year a calf arrived with a rectal temperature of 78° (pretty cool) and we were able to bring it around with warm intravenous fluids, warm drenches, several warm water dips and a recovery room at 100 degrees.

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Extra care and management are needed at calving time. The effort you muster will directly affect your herd profitability. Visit with your veterinarian or extension specialist to devise calving protocols to best utilize the facilities you have available.

Winter has finally returned to the plains. The temperatures are frigid and the winds continue to howl. To make matters worse, we get an inch or two of snow every few days. Many of you will be calving soon and it will be a tough job to help young calves maintain normal body temperature.

Newborn calves are relatively hardy but can quickly become chilled rapidly during extreme cold. If a calf does not nurse, it starts depleting its blood glucose in 30-60 minutes. The calf tries to replenish these levels from glycogens stored in the liver, but they are used up in 4-6 hours. At this point, calf is now hypoglycemic. If the calf does not receive proper nutrition, it burns up its brown-fat reserves in a few days. This is the reason it takes 3-7 days for a calf to starve to death during normal temperatures, while calves may live only a few hours during extreme cold.

Colostrum ingestion is the most important activity the young calf must accomplish. If the calf is chilled and does not suckle within several hours, you must aid the calf. Fresh colostrum from the cow is best. Not only does it contain the antibodies specific to your herd to give the calf immunity, but it also contains sugars and proteins which give the calf energy. Bagged colostrum is available, but they are not as effective as the real thing. There are several new products which show better immunity and energy levels, but they are more expensive. Tubed or dried products are available, and while they aid in the passage of immunity, they are not an adequate energy source.

If the calf is unable to suckle with your assistance, you will probably need to drench the calf. We prefer the use of a stiff tube with a small enlargement on the tip. The calf will swallow the tube, but try to stimulate the calf to suckle before you allow any fluid passage and administer slowly. Most problems occur when feeding is done too rapidly. When the calf suckles, the esophageal groove between the stomachs allows the colostrum to bypass the rumen. If milk products enter the rumen, the may remain there and ferment. This causes indigestion and bloating. If you use a long hose, be careful to not pass it all the way into the rumen negating the ability of the esophageal groove. Be sure the tip of your feeder tube is not too large for a small calf. This could also result in choking.

The young calf is born with a body temperature of 103 degrees F. Within a few hours, the calf’s temperature lowers to 101-102 degrees, which is normal. When the calf cools to about 100 degrees, they need to be warmed and possibly fed colostrum. If calves are wet they lose heat more rapidly. Wind speeds evaporation and also cools the calf more rapidly. Minimizing losses to cold weather requires shelter. Always dry young calves as soon as possible. Use bedding to avoid contact with frozen ground. Provide adequate protection from the wind. Many producers prefer to calve when the ground is frozen hard or the grass is green. Any other time of the year results in wet muddy conditions aggravating temperature regulation.

In spite of all your efforts, you may get a calf which requires warming. Many producers have heating boxes which help warm the calf slowly. Remember to clean up between calves to avoid transmission of disease. Some producers apply too much heat to the calf too rapidly. If the calf is unable to move away, it cannot protect itself from the extreme heat of a Knipco heater. At the clinic we utilize warm-hot water. Soak the calf to raise the temperature. It may require several soakings. Be sure to not wash off all the fluids from birthing so the cow will still claim the calf. Last year a calf arrived with a rectal temperature of 78° (pretty cool) and we were able to bring it around with warm intravenous fluids, warm drenches, several warm water dips and a recovery room at 100 degrees.

Extra care and management are needed at calving time. The effort you muster will directly affect your herd profitability. Visit with your veterinarian or extension specialist to devise calving protocols to best utilize the facilities you have available.

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