On Tuesday morning after doing a calving, I was hopping into my jeep after cleaning myself and my boots. ‘Just while I have you will you take a quick look….’. A phrase a lot of vets hear just when your about to head out the gap you get one more request. I was asked to take a look at a 2 week old calf ‘not right in himself’. It's funny when walking to the calf shed I got more insight to this ‘one more thing’, being bigger than the farmer might have thought!
The calf was the third calf like this in the last 3 weeks.
When I looked at the calf I could see one thing he was quite hunched and on closer examination had both a swelled hock and back knee joint. The calf also had quiet an enlarged navel that was hard, sore and weeping. I was then shown another calf and another they had various ailments but all had one similar issue that was navel infections.
As a vet I often get shown calves being off and the problem is the navel or has started in the navel. So why? Can the navel cause so many issues in calves.
When we look at calves when they are born, two big issues usually contribute to navel infections. Firstly they are born without natural immunity and if they don't get enough colostrum they simply don't have the ability to fight infections. We must also remember that a lot of calving occurs indoors and they can often be in dirty calving boxes. The navel in calves and lambs that are newborn is wet and also is a tube that connects directly to the liver of the calf.
This tube like structure if exposed to bacteria can be like a gateway for infection. That infection can set up locally causing navel infections or an abscess, or worse enter the blood stream and cause joint infections or other infections like pneumonia in the young calf. This was exactly what happened these calves with one getting a local infection and swelling in the navel. The other 2 calves had got joint infections most likely through the navels.
So we treated the calves with antibiotics and pain relief. On further questioning navel dressing had changed at calving time from iodine to antibiotic spray. We blood tested calves for passive transfer (checking for colostrum intakes) all 3 were low. We also looked at calving pen hygiene, which was quiet good.
What had happened on this farm was calves were getting a poor navel treatment and didn't get enough colostrum meaning not enough natural immunity to fight infection.
So the focus was put on colostrum 1st milk, first 2 hours and 3 litres. Also we changed from antibiotics on navels to chlorohexidine wash at birth and again 6 hours later.
This case although simple in its nature illustrates the danger of infection being introduced through the navel particularly where colostrum management wasn't optimal.