Best practice in stomach tubing explained

Calving is in full swing on farms across the country and many farmers will be utilising a stomach tube to ensure that their calves are provided with an adequate volume of colostrum.

At a recent LacPatrick calf event, held on the farm of Dermot Sherry, Naoimh McCann gave farmers a demonstration in best practice when it comes to using a stomach tube.

She suggested that only calves that are weak should be tube fed and those that are strong enough should be fed using a teated bottle.

Before stomach tubing a calf, the veterinary nursing student also recommended to hold the calf in such a way that its nose is below its ears (don’t tilt the head upwards).

“Tilting the head down pushes the esophagus opening up and it makes sure the windpipe opening is below that,” she said.

This reduces the risk of inadvertently suffocating a calf by placing the milk or colostrum in the calf’s lungs.

Niamh also stressed that hygiene is extremely important when using a stomach tube; care should be taken to clean and sterilise it after each use.

Dr. Paul Crosson, LacPatrick group technical support manager, also spoke at the event. He said that calf mortality costs dairy farmers in the region of €10-15 million each year.

“About 100,000 calves every year don’t make it through to one year.

Putting a conservative figure of €150/calf – across dairy heifers and beef calves – that’s somewhere between €10 million and €15 million worth of calves that are lost every year; that’s a huge cost to the national dairy industry.

To minimise this loss, Paul suggested that farmers need to minimise the infection challenge faced by newborn calves, while also maximising the calf’s capacity to withstand those challenges.

“We know that calves are born without any immune status. So, the passive transfer of antibodies from the cow’s colostrum is critical. We need good colostrum management in the early hours of the calf’s life,” he said.