Navel infections are among the biggest threats to a newborn calf in their first few hours. In some parts of the world it accounts for over 1 in 5 of all preweaning deaths related to disease.

The navel is the remnant of the umbilical cord, a tube like structure that connects the unborn calf and the dam so that the calf has access to the dam’s blood supply.

Generally, the way to prevent navel infection is to dip or spray the naval soon after the calf has been born. If a navel infection takes hold, it can lead to liver problems, joint ill, respiratory disease and even death.

If you don’t look for navel infections you will find them too late. Even when your calf has been treated, it is pivotal that you perform a navel examination on the calf.


Early signs of navel ill include not drinking completely unassisted by 3 days of age.

Calves that start off strong drinkers but then begin to drink less or slower should also be checked.


One dead giveaway of an issue with your calf’s navel is discharge or puss or swelling from the region.

Swelling and Inflammation

Inflammation of the navel is a sign of navel ill developing. Sometimes inflammation isn’t obvious, and can be easily missed.

A good way of picking it up is to gently squeeze the navel. If the calf flinches it could indicate inflammation.

Examining the navel can help you not only pick up on navel problems, but other problems too, (eg. hernia) so it is worth your while doing.


Effect of Climate

The weather and climate during calving has a large bearing on how it ends up. A humid tropical climate is conducive to bugs breeding.

A study done in Southeast Brazil over nearly 30 years and over 11,000 calving events found that inflammation of the navel was the second most prominent disease killing calves preweaning (21.4% of all deaths related to disease).

There was 13% greater odds of death for calves born between November and January comparing with those born between August and October.

These results are probably related to high humidity and temperature in this period, ideal weather conditions for the development of screwworms, usually in the navel of the young born calves.

Cochliomyia hominivorax, the New World screw-worm fly, or screw-worm for short

Prevention is better than cure

As with all illness, prevention is better than cure. Because of this, it is essential to be present during, or very soon after birth, to dip or spray the calf and prevent navel ill.

A great way of making sure you’re present is with the Moocall Calving Sensor, which alerts you an hour, and two hours before your cow is due to calf.

If you use the calving sensor, you have the additional bonus of being there to feed colostrum and to assist during a difficult calving. (plus it stops you from getting up in the middle of the night for no reason.)

Learn more about that here:

tech breakdown calving sensor

After you’ve sprayed or dipped the navel in a disinfectant or agent your vet recommends, it should shrivel and dry up.

This means that bugs can’t breed, minimising your calf’s risk of contracting navel ill.

On some operations it is best practice to dip or spray the calf twice to make sure they get the most possible benefit out of it.

Trim the navel

If the navel is too long, cut it and leave two to three inches from the stalk then dip the navel in tincture of iodine to prevent local infection. This procedure is important for prevention of navel ill (omphalitis) and helps the umbilicus heal quickly.


Calving environment

Making sure the calf is born into a clean environment is a major one, as this limits the amount of bugs in the environment. You should give the calving area a clean every time a cow has calved. Make sure there is fresh clean bedding.

Post calving environment

Once the calves have been taken off their mothers make sure the area they are going into is also hygienic and cleaned out often.

Good ventilation is also key. An easy way to determine if you have good ventilation is to smell the air.

If it’s damp this means you have more moisture. More moisture means more problems.

If you think you have a problem contact your vet and put a prevention and treatment strategy in place.