Are you wondering if you have an issue with navels? Until you get in the pen and examine the navels of your calves, you will not be able to answer that question. Remember, navels that are left untreated will show up in three ways: a calf that is very sick and down, as a joint infection and/or respiratory disease, or a dead calf. If identified and treated early, there is a better chance of successful treatment and a healthy calf.
Once you have gotten skilled at evaluating an individual calf, there is a need to start developing protocols to monitor the whole group. Since navel infections are typically first seen between 3 and 14 days of age, we carefully monitor calves starting on day 3 of age with a combination of observing behaviours, close monitoring of high risk calves, and systematic evaluation.
One of the early behavioural signs of navel infection that I have noticed is a delay in learning to drink. If a calf is not drinking completely unassisted by 3 days of age I make sure to examine their navels. Often these are calves that are developing a navel infection. Just like other illnesses, calves that start off strong drinkers but then begin to drink less or slower should also be checked. (Check out my earlier blog on what calf's drinking behavior can tell you I_am_so_hungry )
Calves that are born with an unusually large navel or with a very short cord, are also flagged at birth to be monitored closely. We try to examine the calves every two to three days until the navel is dry and well healed. If a navel infection is found, the calves born on that day are also carefully checked since they share many risk factors, including calving pen cleanliness.
For systemic evaluation, all calves that have not been evaluated by 7 days of age are checked for navel healing. This quick evaluation can catch any calves that are not showing clinical signs and allow for prompt treatment. Reported rates of navel infections range from 1.3% to 25%. Top goals for navel infections is to have less than 5% of calves affected.
Take homes for navel infections
Clean and dry environment is key for preventing navel infections
Dip navels to disinfect and speed drying of cord
If you don’t look for navel infections you will find them too late