Calves born as the result of a difficult calving were more apt to be stillborn. For 1st calf heifers that had difficulty at calving, 27.7% of the calves were stillborn. Assistance from the herdsperson at time of delivery can save many of these calves. As soon as a calf is born, its mouth and nostrils should be cleared of mucus and afterbirth. Straighten out the calf’s neck so that the airways are not obstructed. The calf’s situation needs to be quickly evaluated. If the calf’s eye looks slightly deflated and has turned a blue, opaque color then the calf has been dead for several hours. If the calf is soiled in the rear with feces, the calf probably died during the birthing process struggling to breath. Press your hand against the chest between the front legs, if you can feel a heartbeat there is a good chance you can save the calf.
The simplest method that may produce breathing is to take a straw and insert it an inch or two into the calf’s nostril. Move the straw in and out. Within 5-10 seconds, the calf may shake its head, sneeze and start breathing. This method is also recommended for healthy calves to help clear the lungs. If the straw method doesn’t work, give the calf what is known as the “kiss of life.” Hold the mouth of the calf open, with the calf’s tongue on the floor of the mouth. Blow down the calf’s throat. Your breath contains about 4- 5% carbon dioxide, while normal air contains much less. Blowing carbon dioxide into the respiratory tract of the calf will act as a stimulant to initiate breathing. When performing this technique, your mouth should not touch the calf’s.
When working with weak or sick calves, one should always be aware of the potential of human exposure to infectious diseases. Brucellosis, Campylobacteriosis, Leptospirosis, Listeriosis, Salmonellosis, and Chlamydiosis are a few diseases that humans can catch from cattle under the right conditions. Most of the diseases have been isolated or at least implicated in weak and stillborn calves.
A third method to try is to briefly hold the calf up by its hind legs. Fluid may run from the calf’s mouth. Most of this is coming from the calf’s stomach, not the lungs. While the calf is suspended, have someone else pour cold water onto the chest and head regions. This cold shock may initiate breathing where the two previous methods failed. Variations of this include having a pail of very cold water handy and dumping it on the calf’s head as it is laying on the ground. Another suggestion is to pour cold water into the ear. If the calf still is not breathing, it is time to try artificial respiration. There are many different methods used to force air into the calf’s lungs.
Applying intermittent pressure on the calf’s rib cage with the calf lying on its side: Pressure can be applied simultaneously to both sides of the rib cage if you position the calf so it is lying on its chest. Applying pressure to the rib cage forces air out of the lungs. Releasing the pressure allows fresh air to enter the lungs. If an assistant is present, have him blow down the calf’s throat at 15-20 second intervals. Artificial respiration can be continued for 5-10 minutes.
Calves can also be revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation using commercially available devices that protect the operator from germs that the calf may be harboring. As you blow into the calf’s lungs, you should be able to see the rib cage expand. If it appears that most of the air is going into the stomach, pinch off the esophagus in the neck with your fingers. This will force the air into the trachea. Many producers have found the use of a portable oxygen tank to be much more convenient. A small oxygen bottle with a regulator can be purchased from a welding supply store with about 5 feet of hose. Attach 5 inches of a small diameter rubber tube to the end of the hose. When a calf needs help, the oxygen is turned on so that it feels like a gentle breeze when the tube is held next to the operators cheek. The 5-inch tube is inserted into the calf’s nose for about 30 seconds to get calves breathing. Finally, respiratory and heart stimulants are available from your veterinarian for use under their supervision. Many people have claimed good success when these have been injected. If the heart is not beating, then the prognosis is not good. Heart massage can be given by laying the calf on its side and compressing the area of the chest between the front legs with your hand approximately once per second. At the same time, some sort of artificial respiration should be given by a second person. The calf may be weak after normal breathing is established. Make sure the calf gets colostrum via a tube feeder as soon as possible. If the calf is chilled, supplemental heat is extremely important. Regular freeze-dried coffee can be used to stimulate weak newborn calves. Where available Mix 1 teaspoon of crystals per 60ml of colostrum. Administer 240 -500ml of the mix every hour with a tube feeder until the calf responds. Hopefully, a few of these ideas will allow you to resuscitate the occasional calf that may need help.