The autumn-calving season has begun, and as farms prepare for winter milk production, with that comes the care of autumn-born calves.

Alongside colostrum, caring for the calves navel is important to ensure that a calf has the best start to life.

Farmers should follow the 1,2,3 rule when feeding newborn calves this autumn-calving season.

Using the 1,2,3 rule:

  1. Use the first milk (colostrum) from the cow;
  2. Feed the calf colostrum within the first two hours of birth;
  3. Calves must be offered at least 3L of good-quality colostrum.

Navel care

A calf’s umbilical cord provides nutrients from mother to calf, while the calf is in the womb.

Once the calf is born the umbilical cord and navel become a breeding ground for bacteria, if not properly disinfected.

A calf’s naval and umbilical cord should be disinfected at the first opportunity – Iodine is the most common disinfectant used on farms.

Iodine does not only help to disinfect the navel, but also helps to dry out the area faster.

It only takes a matter of seconds to complete, but reduces the risk of serious disease and potentially losing a calf.

Exposure to bacteria

Young calves are susceptible to bacteria due to their weakened immune system; this is why disinfecting the navel area is so important.

A infection starting in the navel can quickly develop into something more sinister.

Many bacteria can enter through a untreated navel, such as; E.Coli, rotavirus and cryptosporidium.


There are several ways to disinfect a calf’s navel. The two most commonly used methods are dipping and spraying.

Calf navels are usually dipped or sprayed in Iodine. It is important that the full length of the cord and navel right up to the stomach are covered in Iodine.

The calf should be checked 24 hours later and more Iodine applied if required. Continue to check the calves navels for the first week of life to ensure the cord and navel dries.