One of the main recommendations for preventing navel infections is to use a navel dip to speed up navel drying and help kill bacteria that may be on the cord. As I prepared for this series of articles on navel infections I did a little research into what the scientific literature had to say about this practice in terms of frequency and timing of dipping. What I found was a whole bunch of inconsistencies and a lot more questions than answers.
What was consistent? Different dips including 7% iodine tinctures, chlorehexidine based dips, and 10% trisodium citrate have similar efficacy provided they are dipped within 30 minutes of birth. Iodine is the most common product for dipping navels, but availability is becoming limited due to increased regulations. What we don’t know is the value of multiple applications and application methods. Until we have more information from scientific studies, we must rely on personal experiences and recommendations from experts in the field to guide our best practices.
A few things that farmers, veterinarians and consultants seem to agree on – don’t reuse dip, apply immediately after birth, and make sure the entire cord is covered. If the way that you apply the dip results in the excess dip flowing back into the container (i.e. teat dip cups) any bugs on the calf’s umbilical cord will be transferred to the container where it builds up, inactivating the dip. So single use cups, sprays (make sure you spray the cord and not just around the cord), or pouring the dip directly from the container is the way to go. We dip our calves 3 time in the first day (at birth, first and second feeding) with a 7% iodine solution to speed cord drying. At the first dip after birth we typically pour the product onto the navel, while the second and third times, we typically spray as it is easier when the calf is standing. We then closely monitor the calves for the first week, respraying calves that are at higher risk of developing navel infections once a day. Calves at higher risk are ones with very short cords or large calves that typically have large umbilical cords. This has been working for us - what works for you?