Calves are at a relatively high risk of mortality as soon as they are born.
When they hit the ground, and their navel cord is severed, they need to obtain oxygen through the lungs. They do this by starting to breath.
However sometimes a difficult or prolonged calving can result in trauma or a weak calf, and they need a bit of help kicking it into gear.
A newborn calf’s nostrils and mouth are covered with mucous which can affect their breathing, and there are multiple ways a farmer can help to clear them.
Here are just a few.
“Hang the calf”
This method of clearing fluid out of the lungs involves the farmer lifting the calf so the head is below the chest or hanging the calf on a sloped surface.
This should not be for more than 1-2 minutes as it labours the calf and can cause more stress for both calf and farmer.
The method is used by many farmers, but unfortunately by some in the wrong way.
The incorrect way some farmers do it is to hang them upside down over a gate, or swing the calf. This is bad practice though, and should be avoided.
It can result in distress for the calf and make it more difficult for them to expand their lungs to breathe.
One similar practice used by many farmers is to release tension from the jack once the calf’s ribs are outside the cow to let the calf hang from their hips, be careful not to lever the calf too much on their back as they can be easily injured.
Stimulate the nostrils to make the calf cough or sneeze.
If you tickle the calf’s nostrils with something small, soft and clean you can bring about a cough or a sneeze to clear away the mucous.
Usually this is done with straw or a gloved fingertip. Be careful though – if it isn’t clean, small enough to enter the nostril or soft enough, it could injure or inflame the nose.
‘Christening’ the calf
Pouring cold water over the head or into the ear of a newborn calf can bring about head shakes and coughing to clear fluid from their throat.
This sudden gush of cold water will come as a shock and is a pretty abrupt welcome into the world for a newborn calf (or anyone waking up in the morning!).
‘Kiss of life’ (Aspiration)
You can inflate the lungs of a newborn calf by aspiration in a few ways.
One way is to insert a soft tube into the nostril. Another is by placing a gas mask over the snout of the calf.
This practice prompts the calf to snort like the straw method, however is comes with the added benefit of having the added momentum of a lungful of air.