Calf Resuscitation

** As with all calves it is important to dry and warm these calves**  
Please refer back to What Should Be Done With All Calves After Calving

The first thing is to be prepared. Poor preparation often results in a poor outcome. Have all of your equipment in the calving area. (See equipment list)

Understand the problems that can occur in the newborn calf and have a basic understanding of what to do if these problems occur.

Monitor the calf to see if it is breathing on it's own. If not try the following:

  • Tickle the nasal passage with a piece of clean straw or a small clean nasal tube (Red rubber tube). This may be enough stimulation to get them breathing and may also cause them to sneeze and breathe more vigorously allowing fluid in their upper respiratory tract to escape.
  • Suction or drain fluid out of the upper airways.
  • If the calf is still not breathing well on its own provide oxygen through a nasal tube. The oxygen may also cause the calf to sneeze helping to remove fluid from the airways. Have the oxygen at a flow rate that feels like a gentle breeze when you put it next to your cheek. ( About 5 to 10 liters per minute)

  • DO NOT swing the calf around. This will only bring up fluid from the stomach, not the lower airways. However you can place the calf in a position where its head is lower than the rest of it's body to allow drainage of the upper airways. Respiratory stimulants are not recommended since they may not always be effective. Ventilating the calf is a better method and will help to decrease acidosis as well as deliver oxygen to the calf.
    There are special manual resuscitators available. Some are made specially for newborn calves and foals that will not allow you to over inflate the lungs.

This device is placed over the calf's nose while extending the neck of the calf.

The cylinder is then pulled out to fill with air then pushed in to deliver the air to the calf.

This does have instructions on the cylinder in both English and Spanish, however it does not tell you to hold off the esophagus while you are pushing air into the calf. If you do not hold off the left side of the neck where the esophagus is, you can very easily inflate the rumen/abomasum instead of the lungs.

This, and other commercially available devices, can help calves if used properly, however they are not as effective as placing a tube down the trachea of the calf. This will ensure that air is placed directly into the lungs. With some training, this can be quite easily placed in a newborn calf.

Here are some guidelines to follow with a calf that is not breathing well on its own:

  1. Tickle the inside of the nose with a clean piece of straw to elicit breathing and a sneeze response.
  2. If the calf is still not breathing very well, place a nasal tube with oxygen at a rate of 5 to 10 liters/minute
  3. If the calf is still not breathing well you can uses commercially available resuscitators that will help inflate the lungs. Be sure you understand the advantages as well as the disadvantages to using these devices.
  4. Calves that have very shallow breathing or no breathing but yet still have a heart beat (even if faint) will benefit the most with placement of a tube into the trachea and oxygen delivery by manual or mechanical devices.


Assess the heart -
Feel for a heartbeat, if one is not felt you may consider external cardiac massage. Consult with your veterinarian about learning these techniques.
Discuss the use of any emergency drugs with your veterinarian.

Measure the rectal temperature repeatedly. This should be done within 15-30 minutes of birth and in compromised calves you should repeat this every 15-30 minutes thereafter to determine if the temperature is stabilizing or not.
Prompt colostral supplementation (see colostrum section)

Equipment -

  • Warm towels
  • Hair dryer
  • Resuscitator
  • Oxygen
  • Nasal tube - red rubber tubing
  • Endotracheal-tube - (9 to 11 mm)


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