Best practice for stomach tubing
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.
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.
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.
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.