The calving season is a busy time of year on farms, as calves on many farms are now being born around the clock. Ensuring a calf receives adequate colostrum can often be time consuming, so many farmers choose to use a stomach tube for the first feed.
Not only does colostrum provide nutrition to the calf, it’s also a source of maternal antibodies that protect the calf against infections; many of which occur in early life.
Ideally, the calf should be standing so the colostrum is less likely to enter its lungs. However, calves that are too weak to stand can be tubed in a sitting position and even while lying down.
The stomach tube is easier to use when calves are restrained. Young calves can be backed into a corner for better head control.
The tube can be placed in warm water or lubricated to make it more pliable. The tip of the tube should then be placed into the colostrum.
This may cause the calf to suck the end of the tube, making it easier for it to pass into the oesophagus.
Ensure the end of the pipe is not cracked or damaged as this may harm the calf.
A calf's mouth can be opened by gently squeezing the corner of the mouth or by grabbing its head over the bridge of the nose and gently squeezing the upper palate or gums.
Once the calf's mouth is opened, the empty tube should be passed slowly along the tongue to the back of the mouth.
When the tube is over the back of the tongue, the calf starts chewing and swallowing it, after which the tube is passed down into the oesophagus.
The end of the tube can be felt quite easily. Never force the tube; if it is being correctly put down the oesphagus, it should slide in quite easily.
After the tube is in place and before any fluids are given, it should be checked for proper positioning in the oesophagus. If it is properly positioned, the rings of the trachea (leading into the lungs) and the rigid enlarged oesophagus can be felt easily.
If you cannot feel both of these, remove the tube and start again. Remember the “two-tube rule”- you should be able to feel the trachea and the stomach tube pipe.
The tube can be unclipped or straightened out or the container can be tipped up to allow liquid to flow down into the stomach.
Liquids should be at body temperature (38⁰) to prevent shock to an already weak calf. It may take three minutes or more to allow sufficient fluid to be administered. The calf will regurgitate less with a slow flow rate.
When feeding is over, the tube should be slowly removed. The tube should be cleaned and sanitised, and allowed to drain and dry.
Remember to have two tubes available: one for tubing sick/scouring calves; and one for giving colostrum to avoid disease transfer.