Basic Neonatal Management
Newborn calves, especially heifers, should be given an animal identification number soon after birth. This identification should be a permanent method such as ear tags, tattoos or brands rather than non-permanent methods such as paint brands.
Ear tags are the most common method of identifying animals. This number will be the beginning of this calf’s permanent record that will be added to the rest of her life. The four most important pieces of information that need to be recorded at the time of tagging are: ear tag number, date of birth, dam identification and sire identification. There may be other information that individual producers would also like to be recorded at this time.
The umbilical cord is the calf’s only source of nutrients prior to birth. Enclosed in the umbilical cord are two veins and two arteries. At birth when the umbilical cord breaks it becomes known as the navel. The blood vessels inside do not immediately close, providing a pathway for bacteria to enter the calf’s body. This can cause two types of illnesses: septicemia and navel ill.
Septicemia is an infection of the blood which progresses very quickly and frequently leads to death. In navel ill, the bacteria collect in an internal organ or a joint causing abscesses, swelling, pain and possible death if left untreated.
The best way to prevent these illnesses is to disinfect the navel soon after the birth of the calf. Dipping the navel in 7 percent iodine is the best method for disinfection.
The iodine solution works three ways to prevent infection.
- It washes away dirt and manure that may contain bacteria which causes infections.
- It immediately kills any bacteria that may be present on the navel
- It helps to dry out the navel and prevent bacteria from entering the calf’s body.
Although some teat dips contain iodine, they should not be used to disinfect navels because the concentration of iodine they contain is very low and they contain moisturizing ingredients that prevent the navel from drying out. When applied properly the navel cord and navel area on the stomach should be completely covered. Dipping the navel with iodine is the recommended method because sprays do not cover the navel area well enough. Dipping the navel at birth and again 12-18 hours later will help speed the drying out of the navel cord.
There are three main advantages to dipping the navel of newborn calves.
- Lower death rate. Research has indicated that calves with non-dipped navels have a 10 percent higher death rate than calves with dipped navels.
- Increased gains in treated calves. Calves that become infected with navel ill and survive do not grow well and in general become “poor-doers.”
- It is much easier, less time consuming and less costly to dip navels and prevent disease than it is to treat diseases later.