Recent studies in Canada show that between 19-27% of calves can have an enlarged or abnormal umbilicus (navel). It is important to have a navel care protocol for both replacement heifer calves and bull calves that you plan to sell.
As many of you may know, Milverton-Wellesley Veterinarians are the sale barn inspectors at the Milverton Stockyards (Parks Livestock) for OMAFRA. We check all the calves that are delivered for the sale and pay special attention to the calf’s navels. This same inspection occurs at all sales barns in the province. Although most calves that come in have acceptable navels we do see a number that are not ideal and are infected or still wet. Their infected navels are a health risk for the calf and need to be identified and treated before they are sent to the sale. A navel is considered infected if it is greater than 1.3 cm (1/2 inch) thick, is painful or warm to the touch, or has a discharge. According to OMAFRA regulations a calf with an infected navel is unfit to be transported.
Veal Farmers of Ontario has an excellent resource for Navel Health/Prevention. The following is taken from their calf care chart.
An acceptable dry navel
Before shipping dairy calves off the farm (to sales barn, neighbours, calf raising facility) double check to ensure the navel is well-healed and dry. This is best done by palpating (feeling) the navel.
Protocol for Navel Health is as follows:
Ensure the calving area is clean, dry and free of manure. Dip the navel with 7% iodine or 2% chlorhexidine to prevent infection.
Monitor healing/drying of the navel daily to ensure normal healing process. This takes about 9 days and therefore regulations require calves to be at least 9 days old before going to a sales barn or assembly centre. The navel should be dry.
Maintain clean calf housing and provide adequate bedding. Be aware that infection can occur within the first three weeks of life.
If navel infected, treat the calf with antibiotics, pain reliever and topical spray. Consult with your veterinarian.
Check for hernia. This occurs when the umbilical ring fails to close after birth. Abdominal contents may protrude through the opening and the area around the navel may feel mushy.
If the umbilical ring is greater than 2 ½ inches (6 cm), consider repair in a heifer? If going to sales barn be prepared for the calf to be discounted in the price due to increased risk of intestinal entrapment.