Care of a Newborn Calf and its Mother

Livestock and beekeepingNutrition


Here’s Barbara Peacock with some hints about care of newborn calves.

Peacock:   Today I have some hints for anyone who has one or more cows and wants them to produce strong healthy calves that don’t get sick easily.

To begin with, to have a healthy newborn calf, the calf’s mother must be healthy while the calf is growing inside her.  To be healthy she must have plenty of good feed and clean water, especially in the last 2 or 3 months before the calf is born, ‑ and she must continue to get good feed and clean water afterwards as well.  If your cow is healthy and well fed, she’ll produce a healthier calf and the most milk possible.

Another thing, it’s a lot better, when the time comes for the calf to be born, if your cow knows you and feels that you are her friend.  If she’s young and is going to have her first calf, this last few months before the calf is born is a good time for you to get to know her, ‑‑ and even more important,  for her to get to know you and to feel at ease when you are near her.  During this time, be kind to her, talk to her, pet her, rub her, give her a bit of salt whenever you’re near her. Then when the calf comes, your cow won’t mind if you’re with her to help her if necessary.

Now a few days before the calf is born, prepare a clean, dry place, with a roof if possible, where the mother can be when the calf is born.  This can be a place where the calf can sleep and be sheltered from sun and rain, at least for the first few weeks of its life.  Be sure to keep it clean, and dry.  If you don’t,‑‑‑ if the ground gets wet and muddy, with flies and manure all over the place, your young calf can get sick very easily, and may even die.  So be sure the place is ready with some clean straw or other clean, dry bedding for the calf before it’s born.

Now when the time comes for your calf to be born, arrange it so there’s no noise or commotion anywhere near your cow.  Keep children and others away so she won’t be disturbed.  It’s good for you to be there, however, if you can.  Then if something goes wrong you can go for help.  Normally, however, the calf will be born quite naturally without any help, and it’s usually best not to do anything unless you have to.  Just watch and see that everything’s all right.

Another good reason for being there is so you can do something for the calf after it’s born.  Sometimes the newborn calf’s nose is blocked with a thick sticky liquid called mucus.  If it’s blocked this way, it won’t be able to breathe, and could die.  So, as soon as it’s born, quickly clean out any mucus, or thick sticky liquid, from inside its nostrils and around its nose and mouth.  You can do this with your thumb and fingers. Another way is to push a straw up the calf’s nose.  This will make it sneeze. ‑‑ That’s a good way to clear out the mucus. If it still isn’t breathing after that, using your hand, give it a good hard slap on its side, just behind a front leg, ‑‑ that should help.

The newborn calf should drinkits mother’s milk soon after it’s born ‑‑ within the first hour if possible, and the sooner the better.

You’ve probably noticed that the milk a cow produces for the first few days after her calf is born is different from the milk she produces at other times ‑ it’s thicker and more yellow in colour.  That’s because it has more protein and other good things in it than a cow’s milk normally has.  It also has something special in it (antibodies) that protects the young animal from diarrhea and other troubles.  This special milk helps the calf grow strong and healthy right from the beginning of its life.  If your calf doesn’t drink this special milk, it can get sick very easily and it could die.

Make sure, then, that your calf drinks this special milk soon after it’s born, and if it hasn’t started drinking within an hour or two, move its nose close to the mother’s udder, and squirt some milk into its mouth if necessary.

Make sure, also, that the mother cow continues to get lots of good food and water so she’ll produce enough good milk for her young growing calf, to keep it strong and healthy.

And, finally, be sure your calf has a dry, clean place to rest, with plenty of clean dry bedding.  This way, it won’t get wet and dirty from mud and manure.  And watch it carefully. ‑‑ Look at it at least once or twice a day, and if it seems to be getting sick, do what you can to help it get well right away.

Your calf is a valuable young animal.  If you look after it well, it will grow up to be strong and healthy and it will serve you well.

Serving “Agriculture, the Basic Industry,” this is Barbara Peacock

Information sources

DCFRN Participant Dr. V.K. Dubey, Hony. Secretary, National Council of Developmental Communication, P.B. No. 17, B 21/108 Vinayaka Bhelupur, Varanasi 221 010 (U.P.), India.

DCFRN Participant Dr.C.J. Daborn, Divisional Veterinary Officer, Karonga Agricultural Development Division. P.O. Box 43, Malawi, Central East Africa.

Additional source of Information: 

Livestock Husbandry Techniques (214 pages) by J.I. McNitt, published by Extension Aids Branch, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, P.O. Box 594, Lilongwe, Malawi.