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Care of the Newborn Livestock




     At times, we need to care for a newly born animal.  During the first few days of life month, baby livestock may have trouble regulating their body temperature, especially their first day.

     A weak animal may indicate a low body temperature, while a crying baby may indicate hunger.  The baby’s temperature should be 99?101 degrees rectally; a temperature of 97 degrees indicates warming is needed, and a temperature of 95 degrees or less is a severe problem that needs to be closely monitored and calling a veterinarian.  Quickly warming a dehydrated animal will usually cause the neonate to go into shock.  Warm slowly and feed small amounts often.  When the body’s temperature reaches about 97 degrees, expect them to start shaking; this is a normal response by the body for warming itself up until it is near normal temperature again.  A 125-250 watt heat lamp placed 12-18 inches above her is usually adequate to heat the cold neonate.  If you use a heating pad it should be placed on low, with a blanket over the pad so that the pad is not in direct contact with her.  Heating pads can easily burn animals and/or cause other problems if chewed or urinated upon.  Always have an area where she can get away from the heat.  We prefer the heat lamp method in one corner, and a thermometer left in the area with the baby to measure the air temperature.  Do not use materials that can be easily ignited by a heat lamp.  If using a heat lamp, be sure that the air temperature is not heated over 85 degrees (thermometer not in direct placement under the heat bulb).  It is important to weigh and record her weight periodically, expecting a 2-5% increase in daily gain.  Check the skin for dehydration on all “quiet” animals; ask your veterinarian for a demonstration.  All newborns that appear weak should have their rectal temperature taken daily.

     Livestock require colostrum, also called the first milk, to supply the baby with antibodies until she is approximately 6 weeks old and can respond to vaccinations herself.  All newborns that are physically slow, cold or dehydrated the first day of life should receive colostrum.  Even if the patient is 2 days old the colostrum won’t hurt her, although after 36 hours her digestive track will begin to digest the colostrum antibodies for food instead of absorbing them intact.  Always warm frozen colostrum in warm water, never a microwave.  If microwaving or using very hot water a temperature over 110 degrees will coagulate and change the protein’s structure, thus inactivating the antibodies.  Expect to feed 1 quart (minimum) to 2 quarts of colostrum to an 80# animal the first day.  If you do not have artificial colostrum then we can use a freeze-dried commercial product.  Since some species of animals do not have the commercial products available, we then can use a species which is similar in vaccination requirements.  Sheep and goats can also use cattle colostrum, llamas can use goat or sheep colostrum, but horses should have only horse colostrum if possible.  There are also injectable colostrum-type products called antiserums or gamma globulins, if need be.  In a rare case we can orally feed the serum of the same species of animal to a newborn; or use the mother’s own serum intravenously to the newborn if she is immunodeficient by testing for colostrum absorption after 48 hours old.  If you had to remove the sick calf from the range and/or mother, we recommend place a marker or some sort of colored tape to indicate where to return the calf; most mothers will reunite with their calf if you return it warmed and nourished within a couple of days.

     Expect the newborn baby to mostly eat and sleep; crying indicates a closer observation or feeding is required, and if ignored this may lead to dehydration and hypothermia.  A newborn requires feedings 4 to 12 times daily, with a total amount of 2?3 ounces per pound daily (60?70 ml or up to 60?70cc/#/day).  Expect to feed 10% of the animal’s weight a day in milk, milk replacer, electrolytes or colostrum.  A pint weighs 1#, thus a 50# baby requires 5 pints a day; more if dehydrated.  If feeding a normal, healthy animal 3x a day the 5 pints/50# would be 1.6 pints, or 26 liquid oz per feeding (1 pint = 16 oz = 240 ml).  One pound also weighs 454 grams, which is equivalent to 454 ml of fluid.  One cc is equal to one ml, as we sometimes say milliliter (ml) instead of cubic centimeter (cc).  One liquid ounce is equal to approximately 28 ccs.  We start 80# calves with 1/2 – 1 quart (maximum) of nourishment as the first feeding, then repeat 1/2 quart in 1-2 hours.  If the neonate’s temperature is 95 or below, digestion and absorption will not occur; only 1/4 the amount should be given initially to these patients.  Increase the amount slowly until food is left in the stomach from the previous feeding indicated by aspirating back on the syringe before the new food is given; with esophageal feeders you cannot aspirate back.  Once the baby is alert you can feed as often as they are hungry.   The suggested feeding amount on the milk replacement’s label is usually 10?20% more than the requirement and over supplementation may lead to diarrhea.  A newborn foal, and other large animal species, requires a minimum of 10% of her weight a day in milk.  In horses a foal may drink up to 20% of his weight a day by 2 weeks.  A minimum age to wean a foal or calf is 12 weeks, preferably starting with small amounts of a creep feed before each milk feeding until he is eating well on his own. 

     Hopefully the baby will nurse on her own.  If she does not you will need to tube feed her to ensure she is getting the nourishment and/or the first colostrum.  This is done using a special feeding tubes, measured 3/4 from the distance from the nose to the last rib.  Passing the tube slowly she should swallow it normally and you can feel or see the tube go down the LEFT side of her neck.  Always aspirate before slowly giving the formula.  Any volume should be given over a period of 15 ? 30 seconds.  There are esophageal-feeding bags for animals over 50#, which are very easy to use. 


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic




    Each species has its own individual care concerns, especially newborn llamas and ruminant wildlife.  We have comparison charts for the various milk replacers and the normal values for the different species of animals.