Veterinarian’s corner: Farms need to consider more than ‘just dip the navel’

Posted on October 6, 2021 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Lindley ReillyCedar Grove Veterinary Services

We all know we need to dip calf navels – it is something that farmers, veterinarians and consultants all tend to agree upon. However, did you know that 5% to 20% of calves in the U.S. develop navel infections and 1.6% of calf deaths can be attributed to navel disease?  That indicates we need to do better than telling employees to “just dip the navel.”

The first item to consider is which dip should be used to cover the navel. Research points to 7% tincture iodine as the most effective dip, but it is highly regulated due to its use by drug traffickers for methamphetamine production. Therefore, it is hard for both veterinary clinics and farmers to purchase.

Several recent studies have identified that alternatives – including 2% chlorohexidine, 10% trisodium citrate and proprietary products such as Navel-Guard – led to no significant difference in health outcomes when compared to 7% iodine.

It is natural to hear the word “dip” and think that teat dip would be a good choice to use in a pinch. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Navel dips are meant to dry out the navel while teat dips are meant to soften/moisturize the teat to reduce mastitis issues. So, when navel dip availability is a problem, don’t reach for the teat dips.

Studies indicate that applying the product correctly and in a timely manner is very important. Calves’ navels should be dipped as soon as possible after birth (when dipping is delayed, it is less effective in preventing disease).  Employees should wear clean gloves to prevent contamination when dipping navels.

Dipping is preferable to spraying the navel to achieve full coverage of the navel. Full coverage is defined as covering the navel with dip in a full 360-degree direction all the way up to where it connects to the abdomen. The solution used for dipping should be cleaned and changed often to reduce contamination.  One inexpensive way to make navel dipping easier for your employees is to invest in 3-ounce disposable paper bath cups. These cups can be filled with 1 to 2 ounces of dip to allow complete coverage of the navel and the cup can be discarded after use.

Many farms only dip the navel once at birth, but many professionals encourage farms to consider dipping the navel multiple times. This can accelerate the time it takes for the navel to dry up (navels should be dry and fall off by two weeks) and it can reduce the potential for infection. Additional dipping can be done at the first and second feeding, once the calf enters its hutch/pen, or on calves that are at a higher risk for infection.

Consider the steps involved in your navel-dipping protocol and whether your team has room for improvement.  Your calves will thank you.

Category: Animal health
Starting Strong - Calf Care