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4 steps for properly tube feeding colostrum in first 24 hours

4 steps for properly tube feeding colostrum in first 24 hours

Tube feeding a newborn calf can be tricky. Here are four tips to avoid trouble when administering colostrum through a tube and ensuring the long-term health and survival of the calf.

It seems like every calving season, there is always a calf or two that fails to get up and nurse. Perhaps the labor was stressful. Maybe the calf is slow to figure things out. Possibly the first-calf heifer is confused and kicks at the calf. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to avoid having to milk out and tube feed a few calves every year.

It’s critical to get colostrum in the calf within 24 hoursafter birth. This ensures the passive transfer of immunity before the closure of the intestine, which allows the calf to absorb good quality immunoglobulin, explains Michelle Arnold, DVM, University of Kentucky ruminant veterinarian, in a recent article for the Ohio State University Extension Beef Newsletter.

BEEF Roundtable: Considerations for a successful calving season

Arnold says there are four key factors that contribute to the goal of successful passive transfer of immunity and ultimately determine the health and survival of the newborn calf.

1. Quality

Arnold recommends, “Feed a high quality colostrum with a high immunoglobulin concentration (>50 g/L) or use of a good quality powdered colostrum replacer (not a supplement).”

2. Quantity

She also suggests, “Feed an adequate volume of colostrum (2 quarts to beef calves at birth followed by 2 more quarts in 4-6 hours).”

3. Quickly

She advises producers to, “Feed colostrum promptly after birth (within 1-2 hours and again by 6 hours maximum).”

4. Quietly

Finally, she warns, “Passing the tube too quickly may result in damage to the laryngeal area and passage into the trachea and lungs. Handling the calf correctly minimizes this risk.”

To achieve the appropriate quality and quantity as quickly and quietly as possible, she also gives advice on how to properly handle the calf, insert the tube, check placement of the tube, administer the colostrum, remove the tube, and clean the equipment, which you can read here.

Arnold concludes, “Learning to use an esophageal feeder may mean the difference in life or death to a newborn calf. Esophageal feeders can also be used to administer vital electrolytes to scouring calves if reluctant to nurse a bottle.”