Newborn Calves Need Umbilical Cord Care
Some 15 to 20% of newborn dairy calves develop umbilical cord infections after birth, with 1.6% of those resulting in death.
So it’s imperative care givers do all they can to ensure calves are born in clean, dry environments with fresh, unsoiled bedding, says Ellan Dufour, a dairy specialist with Hubbard Feeds.
“At birth the cord ruptures, disconnecting the dam from the calf, and the umbilical stump is left dangling from the calf’s navel where it eventually dries up and falls off,” she explains. “Before the cord dries, the passageway to the calf’s bloodstream is still open, leaving the naïve immune system of the calf susceptible to infection and disease via navel contamination.”
Navel infections can lead to reduced body weight gains early in life, and if severe, can lead to sepsis and death. Umbilical cord infections are most commonly caused by Staph. aureus, Strep. bovis and E. coli.
So the next step in preventing these infections is dipping the umbilical stump in an effective antibacterial solution as soon after birth as possible. “Calf raisers typically use small, disposable cups to dip the cord; this allows for complete coverage and also limits calf-to-calf pathogen exposure,” says Dufour.
“Using a spray bottle to spray solution on the navel and cord is inadequate, as the spraying does not offer consistent, total coverage, making the cord susceptible to pathogen exposure.
A 7% tincture of iodine solution is preferred because the alcohol present in it helps dry out the cord. A solution less than 7% will not offer the protection a calf needs and has been shown to be ineffective, she says.
Dufour also says it’s important to check each calf’s navel area two to three times during its first week of life to ensure it is fully healed and dry. A hardened navel that is enlarged (it should be no bigger than the diameter of a pencil after three to five days) or causes the calf discomfort when squeezed might be signs of an infection. Fevers are also indicative of infections.
“If the calve is showing signs of a navel infection, contact your veterinarian for treatment options,” she says.