Dummy Calves

Recently I watched a webinar on calf survival. One speaker spoke about different techniques used to “treat” dummy calves. Dummy calves are bright, apparently healthy calves but slow to stand and for some reason will not suck or bond with the dam. As these calves will fail to suck people often resort to continued stomach tubing. Tubing should only be done with colostrum or with electrolytes. Tubing with milk should not be done as milk will end up in the animal’s rumen instead of its abomasum where it will ferment rather than being digested. Calves should be taken off milk and given alkalising electrolyte solution (Effydral or Life-Aid Extra) for 24 hours to correct any metabolic acidosis before re-introducing milk.

Another technique used is one adapted from dealing with dummy foals and is performed as follows:

1. Wrap a long, soft rope in three concentric loops around the calf’s chest.

2. Gently pull the rope to create pressure around the ribs. The calf should lie down and will enter a sleep-like state with eyes closed, slowed breathing and lowered heart rate.

3. Maintain this position for 20 minutes. Remove the rope and assist the calf in standing.

My understanding is that it is most successful when tried in calves at 24-48 hours of age. The thinking behind this technique is that it mimics the pressure in the birth canal that helps to “switch on” the calf’s hormones. I am very keen to try this technique so please contact us if you have a dummy calf that fails to suck.

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