Ask the Vet

Newborn Calf Protocol

The most important thing for calves to have after they are born is colostrum. Check with your veterinarian to create the best strategy for your herd. (Jennifer Carrico)

READER: What factors should I consider when deciding what to give a newborn calf at birth? It seems like everyone looks at what calves should get at birth a little differently. What are your recommendations?

DR. McMILLAN: Everyone looks at this differently -- and for good reason. It varies greatly depending on the part of the country in which you live, and even operations in the same area may have different needs.

If a calf is normal, I want the calf up and nursing within two hours. The most important factor to calf health is getting them adequate colostrum in the first four hours. If there are any questions, I recommend giving a high-quality colostrum replacer. If the calf is cold and wet or dirty, cleaning and warming it up is critical. Anytime a calf is born in a dirty environment, the navel should be dipped with a disinfectant. I recommend tagging the calf as soon after birth as possible. This can be very helpful in matching cows to calves and identifying those always-pesky twins.

From this point on, I recommend getting with your veterinarian to develop a custom program to meet the needs of your herd. In some areas of the country, a selenium injection, or a product like Multimin, may be indicated. If your operation has issues with calf scours, vaccines for cows and for newborn calves may help, but calf vaccines should be given within the first 24 hours. Alternatively, a product like First Defense provides antibodies to E. coli, rotavirus and coronavirus.

Additional vaccinations are controversial since a calf's immune system is not fully developed at birth. Some people feel intranasal vaccines like Inforce 3 or Bovilis Nasalgen 3 may provide early protection for the common viral respiratory diseases. Other people give a clostridial vaccine at birth, but I really question the benefit of this practice.

I would appreciate hearing what our readers do for their newborn calves.


As I noted in my first "Reflections" (in the February 2024 issue of Progressive Farmer), my wife gave me a wonderful Christmas present: a notebook with every column I had done for Progressive Farmer over the last 22 years. So much has changed since then. For example, in that first Ask the Vet column, the very first answer is wrong. On the first day of veterinary school, the professor told us, "I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is half of what we are going to teach you is wrong. The worse news is we don't know which half is wrong."

Back then, the best evidence was to use a class of dewormer in goats on a regular basis until it was no longer effective. Well, we quickly ran out of classes of dewormers.

The current best evidence supports using the FAMACHA program developed in South Africa. FAMACHA is a selective deworming program where only animals with significant anemia are dewormed. Anemia is closely linked to the level of infection of Haemonchus contortus, or the Barber's pole worm. It also helps with the selection of animals with the highest level of resistance.

So, science marches forward, and we make decisions based on the best available evidence. Never marry yourself to the "way we always have done it." Question everything and understand that your veterinarian's recommendations not only can change but will change over time.


-- Please contact your veterinarian with questions pertaining to the health of your herd. Every operation is unique, and the information in this column does not pertain to all situations. This is not intended as medical advice but is purely for informational purposes.

-- Email Dr. Ken McMillan at


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