In parts one and two, we focused on getting the calf on the ground successfully. However, this is only the first part of the story.
Attention now turns to getting that calf up and running to maximise its chances of survival as well as looking after the cow if she has been handled at calving.
Reviving the calf
Once the calf is on the ground, the first thing you should do is clear all mucus from the nose and mouth. This can be made easier by putting water in the calf’s ear or straw up the nose to encourage it to shake its head.
Try to stimulate breathing by lightly rubbing the chest area. Getting the calf into a natural sitting position will help the lungs to open up and get the calf breathing more normally.
Hanging the calf to clear the lungs is not always the best approach. While you may see a clear liquid come out of the calves' mouth, this is most typically coming from the stomach, not the lungs. Where the calf is hung up to clear the lungs, it is important that it is only done for a short period of time as all the weight of the calf’s gut will be pressing on the lungs and inhibiting its ability to breath.
Hygiene for the calf
While straw costs are inflated greatly on farms this spring, the calving shed is not the place to skimp on bedding.
Calving into an environment that is as clean as possible will dramatically reduce the amount of disease and infection encountered by both the newborn calf and its mother.
Treating navels should also be done on all newborn calves. At birth, the navel has not formed a boundary to the outside environment and so is an open source for disease to enter the calf. This is why a clean environment is critical for the newborn calf.
Navel dipping, rather than spraying, is better at covering all sides of the navel. However, make sure whatever you are dipping navels with, that the dip itself is clean.
Colostrum, colostrum, colostrum
No amount of hygiene, navel dipping or scour vaccines will compensate for poor quality or low quantity of colostrum for a newborn calf. This was a point that Andrew could not stress enough – the importance of getting sufficient levels of quality colostrum into a calf in the first few hours of life is essential for calf survival.
Colostrum provides antibodies to the calf for all the diseases that the cow has been exposed to on your farm. This will be the only immunity the calf will have for the first few weeks of life.
Unfortunately, the calf’s stomach can only absorb these antibodies in the first few hours of life. Even at six hours old, the calf’s ability to absorb antibodies from colostrum is greatly reduced. This is why it is so important to get the calf to feed as soon as possible after calving.
While a generally accepted level of colostrum in the first feed is 3l, Andrew says this will very much depend on the size of the calf. Smaller calves or twins will not be able to take such a large volume, especially in one feed. A more accurate way to calculate the correct feed level is 8% of birth weight, ie 3l for a 38kg calf, 3.6l for a 45kg calf and 4l for a 50kg calf.
Colostrum quality can be improved by feeding a high-protein diet in the final few weeks of pregnancy. Feeding a low level of true protein, such as soya bean meal to cows will boost colostrum quality and quantity.
Care for the cow post-calving
If we need to handle a cow during calving, it should always be done with clean, disposable, calving gloves on.
There is a much greater risk to infection for the cow when farmers are not wearing gloves. Where the cow is handled a number of times and assisted with calving, you need to think about antibiotic treatment. Speak to your vet if you are in any doubt.