Helping the Newborn Calf Breathe

Helping the Newborn Calf Breathe

February 2008

Despite our best efforts at bull selection and heifer development, cows or heifers occasionally need assistance at calving time. It is imperative that the newborn calf begin to breathe as soon as possible. To stimulate the initiation of the respiratory process, a few ideas may help. First, manually clear the mouth and nasal passages of fluids and mucus. Hanging the calf over a fence is not the best method to accomplish this task. The weight of the calf on the fence restricts the movement of the diaphragm muscles. The fence impairs the diaphragm's ability to contract and move. This diaphragm activity is necessary to expand the lungs to draw in air and needed oxygen.

A better method is to briskly tickle the inside of the nostrils of the calf with a straw. This will usually cause the calf to have a reflex action such as a snort or cough. The reflex cough or snort expands the lungs and allows air to enter. Expect the calf to pant rapidly for a few minutes after breathing is initiated. Panting is the natural response that increases oxygen intake and carbon dioxide release and will allow the calf to reach normal blood gas concentrations.

Glenn Selk Dr. Glenn Selk, Professor-Animal Reproduction Specialist
Animal Science - Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK