There are few things more powerful than watching the miracle of birth and if you own cattle, you know how magical this moment is. But as amazing as it is, there are also a number of considerations you always have to be thinking of to keep your cows and their calves safe.
It’s very important to treat the newborn calf’s navel and umbilical cord with the right care. This is why we’re going to talk about navel dipping and what it is, the importance of this simple practice, how to do it correctly, as well as some more tips for treating newborn navels on calves.
What is Navel Dip?
A calf’s umbilical cord is its life source in the womb because it transports the nutrients the calf needs from its mother. This nutrient highway is crucial during gestation and after the calf is born, it becomes a breeding ground for bacterial pathogens if not disinfected properly. Enter: navel dipping!
Navel dipping is when you dip the umbilical cord and navel in a sanitizing liquid. The traditional method was commonly iodine but safer alternatives like Super 7 Ultra are now readily availble on the market. Not only does this help reduce the risk of infection, but it will also help the stump dry out faster. This simple practice only takes a few minutes but can reduce the risk of some serious diseases and potentially losing the calf.
Doing a navel dip on calves can help reduce the risk of common navel issues, including:
- Wet navels
- Navel infections and navel problems
- Umbilical cord hernias
The Importance of a Navel Dip
When a calf is born, they are susceptible to many conditions because of their weakened immune system and fragile state. One of the most dangerous areas is an untreated umbilical cord. This is because a navel infection can quickly lead to sepsis, which is when bacteria enters the bloodstream. Bacteria can enter the circulating blood through the umbilical stump. Some of the symptoms of sepsis include:
- Liver abscesses
- Swollen joints
- Loss of appetite
Many bacteria can enter through an untreated umbilical cord. Some of the most serious include E. coli, rotavirus, and cryptosporidium. There are many outlets for exposure when a calf is born, including the calving area, and tools or equipment, and other calves.
How to Dip the Navel Correctly
Dipping a newborn calf’s navel is one of the most important things you can do for their health (in fact, it could save their life). You will save time and money not having to care for a sick calf down the line, making navel dipping one of the most economic things you can do to take care of your new calves. This is a good step before you have the possibility to deal with Corneal ulcers and lesions as well as pinkeye in cattle. A great video showing how to properly dip navels can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMaQtxApVKM&t=14s
Here are some tips on how to perform a navel dip correctly:
- Use a solution like Super 7 Ultra – Traditionally, most handlers dipped their calves’ navels in an iodine solution because it’s simple and effective. This still works, but iodine is now on the list 1 of regulated chemicals by the DEA. Because of this, more people choose a commercial dip that is an alternative to iodine No matter what solution you choose, make sure that it is designed especially for navel dips.
- Dip the entire umbilical cord – It’s important to dip the entire umbilical cord to reduce the risk of infection. If you only dip the tip or part of the navel, there is still a chance that bacteria can enter. Make sure to get the entire thing to ensure that it’s as clean as possible. Some people recommend using a disposable cup with your solution in it and leaving it in the solution for five seconds.
- Re-dip if needed – You should dip the navel right after calving, and don’t be afraid to dip it again right away if you don’t think you covered the whole thing. In this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Re-dip after 12-18 hours – In addition to re-dipping right after calving. Most handlers will re-dip the navel every 12-18 hours after birth to make sure it is nice and clean. Most experts recommend keeping a new calf in their own area for at least seven days to make sure they have a dry navel before they are moved. Dipping the navel regularly during this week will help keep it clean and healthy.
A poor start in life, such as contracting a condition from an infected navel cord or getting moved too early with a wet navel, will have dire consequences down the line. These calves will likely never get to their full weight and can die months or years after infection. Navel dipping is an important practice to ensure that your calves live a long and healthy life.
More Tips for Treating Newborn Navels on Calves
Navel dipping is one of the first steps you should take after birth to ensure that the navel and umbilical cord stay clean and free of bacteria. In addition, there are other things you can do to keep both your cow and her calves safe before, during, and after calving.
- Maintain a clean and dry maternity area – Even the smallest bit of manure, urine, or debris can cause an infection in the umbilical cord, which is why it’s very important to keep a clean birthing area.
- Palpate the cord after 3-5 days – You can physically feel and massage the umbilical cord at about 3-5 days after birth to make sure it’s not hard or enlarged. The umbilical cord should be soft and pliable. If it’s hard or causes discomfort to the calf with you gently squeezing it, this could be a sign of infection.
- Use an antimicrobial gel – Antimicrobial gels aren’t a navel dip, but they are good at helping the umbilical cord site heal. Our antimicrobial gel is natural and contains no alcohol, steroids, or antibiotics. It’s safe to use on newborn calves and can help with cleansing and conditioning, umbilical protection, castration sites, and post-surgical incisions. It is also helpful for common wounds or sores on cow udders as well.
- Train caretakers to recognize trouble – If you have multiple people caring for your calves, make sure that they all know how to treat a newborn calf and know what to look out for when it comes to navel infections. As is the case with most conditions, time is of the essence if you suspect there is an issue with your calf. Know the warning signs and call your vet right away if something doesn’t look right.
Navel dipping is a simple practice, but it is one of the most important things you can do for your calves. Using a proper iodine solution and completely dipping the umbilical cord will help reduce the risk of serious infections for newborn animals, including sepsis which can be deadly. In addition, you should always keep a clean, dry birthing area and monitor calves for at least a week, or until their navel is completely dry and healed.