Calves that won´t nurse

Calves that won't nurse right after birth are often the result of difficult calvings. Because these animals have been stressed, they must have good immune transfer. Additional management steps are recommended to improve calf health.

Frustration. That’s what we have with a newborn calf that won’t suck. The most common reason for a weak sucking response is a hard birth. Either the calf is severely traumatized or has an acutely swollen muzzle and tongue. If we had provided supplementary oxygen at birth we might have prevented the problem. But, what to do now?

The ability to respond to a pathogen challenge is even lower with these calves than the low level in normal calves. They desperately need the antibodies from the dam’s colostrum.

We recommend feeding four quarts of mature cow colostrum with an esophageal or tube feeder as soon as possible after birth.

If the calf is unable to stand, try to get her up on her chest prior to inserting the esophageal tube. Tube feeding in this upright position is much less likely to spill colostrum into the windpipe (trachea) than with the calf lying on her side.

If the calf is strong enough she will benefit greatly if you take time to get her standing and dried off. Getting the calf to stand and drying her off can increase her metabolism as much as four times the resting level.

As a precaution with these immune-suppressed calves we often use supplementary injections of selenium and vitamin E as well as vitamin B within the first 24 hours. Get a bottle of each of these from your veterinarian along with a recommended treatment level appropriate for your farm.

A few calves have persistent sucking problems in spite of careful care and supplementary injections. When this problem is combined with inability to stand, ask your veterinarian to examine the calf for a possible BVD infection in the calf and/or her dam. These calves are pretty hopeless cases because of their illness.

The majority of the calves that are not sick will come around after several days of tube feeding. However, there will be one or two calves out of five hundred that don’t learn to suck. They never learn to suck on a nipple. But, they can learn to drink. They may respond to bucket training.

Sometimes they will drink first with just plain water or water with an electrolyte in it. Then, they can progress to drinking milk or milk replacer from a pail.

Related links

www.atticacows.com

Author

Sam Leadley

Sam Leadley
62 articles

Consultant on Calf/Heifer Management at Attica Veterinary Associates.

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Attica Veterinary Associates

Attica Veterinary Associates

Attica Veterinary Associates provide veterinary services and products, independent consultation in dairy management, nutrition and performance, and trainings.

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