News & Advice

Calf First Aid

Jul 8, 2021 | Dairy, Young Stock

Calves, like all young animals, can deteriorate rapidly when they get sick. To have the best chance of treating sick calves successfully, rapid identification and treatment is absolutely essential. To achieve this on farm, there are some essential items you need to have available.


Sick calf equipment list

  • Thermometer (human digital one is fine)
  • Electrolytes
  • 2 x Calf tuber
    • one specifically for the sick pen 
    • one for feeding newborns (DO NOT use the same one)
  • Pain relief/anti-inflammatory
  • Sick pen
  • Disinfectant
  • Iodine navel spray
  • Flystrike prevention/treatment (particularly important for autumn calving herds)
  • Gloves
  • Sample containers to collect faeces
  • Calf covers

Once a calf has been identified with scours, it needs to be separated immediately to reduce the potential spread of disease to other calves. Oral electrolytes should be started immediately to replace fluid and electrolytes being lost due to the diarrhoea – they need 6-8 litres per day, fed in 3 to 4 feeds. The calf’s temperature should be taken using a rectal thermometer; a healthy calf will have a normal body temperature between 38.5ºC and 39.5ºC, with a temperature over 39.5ºC indicating a fever. If a calf has a fever, or has blood in the diarrhoea, injectable antibiotics and anti-inflammatories should be used as per your vet’s recommendation.  

Collecting a faecal sample (before starting treatment) from any calves with scours is also important so that we can identify what is causing the scours in your calves. Some of the tests can take up to two days once the sample is in the lab, so the sooner we receive the sample the sooner we can give you specific advice for your problem.

Another common problem in newborn calves is an infected navel (navel ill). All calves should have their navels disinfected with iodine spray on pick up from the paddock, and the navel should be checked frequently throughout the first couple of weeks in the calf sheds. An infection in the navel will allow bacteria to enter the blood stream, resulting in infections potentially occurring throughout multiple organs which can cause life-long problems. Any calf with a navel infection needs to be identified and treated as per your vet’s instructions to ensure the best outcome. 

If you are having problems with your calves, or you would like to make a plan to ensure your farm is well prepared going into calving season, please contact your local Anexa vet. 


Anexa info sheets you may find helpful:

Treatment of scouring calves.pdf

Calf scours – prudent use of antibiotics.pdf

Calf calamities – When Disease Strikes

Calf Rearing – Are you ready? Small changes can make a big difference.

Colostrum & calf immunity – are we really doing as well as we think we are?


For more information regarding rearing your calves, visit our youngstock page

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