Newborn Calves Umbilical Cord Care

It is imperative that a stockperson does all they can to ensure calves are born in clean, dry environments with fresh, dry bedding. At birth the cord ruptures, disconnecting the dam from the calf. The umbilical tail is left dangling from the calf’s navel where it eventually dries up and falls off. Before the cord dries, the passageway to the calf’s bloodstream is still open, leaving the naïve immune system of the calf susceptible to infection and disease via the navel. Navel infections can lead to reduced body weight gains in early life, and if severe, can lead to death. Umbilical cord infections commonly known as ‘’Navel Ill’’ are caused by Staph. aureus, Strep. bovis and E. coli with the most common infection being Joint Ill which affects the calf’s knee joints causing swelling and discomfort.

The best step in preventing these infections is dipping the umbilical tail with an effective antibacterial solution as soon after birth as possible. In my experience using a teat dip cup is the most effective way of 100% coverage. The cup needs regular cleaning between fills and should be stored in a clean dry environment.

Using a spray bottle to spray solution on the navel and cord is inadequate, as the spraying does not offer consistent, total coverage, making the cord susceptible to pathogen exposure.

A 7 to 10% tincture of iodine solution (Veterinary Iodine) is really effective because the alcohol present in it helps dry out the cord. A solution less than 7% will not offer the protection a calf needs, and the risk of infection is higher.

Top Tip – Check each calf’s navel area two to three times during its first week of life to ensure it is fully healed and dry. A hardened navel that is enlarged (it should be no bigger than the diameter of a pencil after three to five days) or causes the calf discomfort when squeezed might be signs of an infection.

Navel dipping should be incorporated in your Calving Standard Operation Procedure (SOP). For more information or help in setting up SOPs for your farm livestock management, contact Mark at or your local FCG Office.

Posted in Business Management, Dairy & Forage, Sherborne.