Video offers ‘911’ techniques for a newborn calf that’s not breathing

Use a recovery position or some water from a squirt bottle, but never hang a calf on a gate

“The day a calf is born is going to be the highest- risk day of its entire life.” – Dr. Claire Windeyer.
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A new video from the Beef Cattle Research Council demonstrates some simple ways to revive a calf that hasn’t taken a breath after having endured a tough labour.

“The day a calf is born is going to be the highest-risk day of its entire life,” Dr. Claire Windeyer says in the video. “So it’s important that producers are prepared with some tools that they can use to help keep calves alive.”

Using a rather floppy demonstration model of a calf, the associate professor from the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Calgary, begins the video by showing how to put a calf into a recovery position — which means putting it “up on its chest and pulling its back legs up towards its armpits.”

“And what this does is allow both of those lungs equal opportunity to fill with air and putting those legs forward means the calf is stable and can’t just flop back over onto its side.”

Windeyer also demonstrates other ways to get a calf to take a breath (assuming it has a heartbeat but is just not breathing yet). One is rubbing it vigorously and another is inserting a piece of straw up a nostril to gently poke the septum. She also squirts a bit of water into the ear of the dummy calf, a technique that “tricks the body into thinking the calf might be drowning so it gasps.”

The veterinarian also debunks the practice of hanging a calf over a gate or putting it upside down. The idea is to allow fluid from the lungs to drain, but the discharge that comes out is generally from the stomach and so does no good. Worse, hanging the animal upside down causes the stomach and intestines to press down on the diaphragm and compress the lungs, making it harder for the calf to breathe.

“Every once in a while we kind of uncover a stone and realize that there’s a new, better way to do things that makes more sense,” Dr. Adam Schierman of Davis-Rairdan Embryo Transplants notes in the video.

Pain relief can also be helpful, the Beef Cattle Research Council says in the blog article that accompanies the video. A recent University of Calgary study found slight statistical improvements in calves given pain control after a difficult birth.

“Furthermore, without being told which calves had received the pain control product, producers were able to identify calves that had received the pain control product,” the article states. “They noted that these calves appeared brighter, mothered up faster, and were let out of the barn sooner.”

The video (which is less than three minutes long) and blog can be found at (click on the Blog link and then on the Calf 911 entry from Jan. 19).

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