The following is part one of a series of three posts from the Beef Cattle Research Council on calving that include newborn calf management practices and intervention strategies to help producers create positive calving outcomes.

Calving is a natural process and most cows give birth to a healthy calf and everything goes as planned. However, there are times when things go wrong. Perhaps there is a malpresentation, such as a backwards arrival, or the calf’s foot is back. In some cases, perhaps calves do not take their first breath after a difficult labour. Here are a few tips to consider to get a calf up and going as soon as possible (Spoiler: do not hang them upside down):

  • Position the calf in the recovery position with both front legs tucked underneath their chest or out in front of them and back legs on each side of the body, pulled towards its head. This allows the calf’s lungs to expand with the least amount of pressure making it easier for the calf to breathe.
  • Avoid hanging calves over gates or upside down. Hanging a calf upside down causes its stomach and intestines to press down on the diaphragm and compress the lungs, making it harder for the calf to breathe. Although fluid will come out, this fluid is from the stomach, not the lungs.
  • Rub the calf vigorously with a towel or your hands which can often help the calf ‘wake up’ and start breathing.
  • Gently poke the nasal septum, the . This may cause the calf to gasp and take a deep breath in, and initiate the breathing process.
  • Squirt a few drops of water in a calf’s ear which can often cause them to gasp and start breathing. Be careful not to fill the ear with water as this could cause an ear infection.
  • Consider giving a pain control product, such as meloxicam, to cows and calves after a difficult birth. Recent work at the University of Calgary showed slight statistical improvements in weight gain during the first week of life. Furthermore, without being told which calves had received the pain control product, producers were able to identify calves that had received the pain control product. They noted that these calves appeared brighter, mothered up faster, and were let out of the barn sooner.

READ MORE: BCRC: Calving Season Timing and Transition – Fast Forward, Rewind, or Press Play

When newborn calves don’t get off to a healthy start, it can be stressful. However, these techniques will allow farmers to know how to respond quickly and provide timely care and attention to newborn calves that need resuscitation. For more information visit our Calving and Calf Management webpage.

Click here to subscribe to the BCRC Blog and receive email notifications when new content is posted.

The sharing or reprinting of BCRC Blog articles is welcome and encouraged. Please provide acknowledgement to the Beef Cattle Research Council, list the website address,, and let us know you chose to share the article by emailing us at

We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. Contact us directly or generate public discussion by posting your thoughts below.

Source: Latest from Beef Cattle Research Council

1 Comment

1 Comment

Comments are closed.