Thinking about navels... (Part 2) Navel Dip

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.

Remember that navel prevention starts from the second they are born.  Make sure it is a clean environment, they get high quality, clean colostrum quickly, and then dip the navel! (Photo courtesy of

Remember that navel prevention starts from the second they are born.  Make sure it is a clean environment, they get high quality, clean colostrum quickly, and then dip the navel! (Photo courtesy of

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?

Thinking about navels...(Part 1)

I guess I am being optimistic in this cold weather but I am starting to prepare for summer and this led to thinking about navel infections. When the weather is hot, bacteria and flies are thriving, and everyone is busy with planting, harvesting, and the million other things that have to happen on a farm- and things can slip.  However, with navel infection it is definitely true that an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. 

I was further reminded of that by a recent article by University of Guelph's Dr. Dave Renaud's recently published work in the Journal of Dairy Science on risk factors for death in veal calves.  Dr. Dave and colleagues found that calves that arrived at a veal facility with a navel infection were 2.4 times more likely to die in the first 21 days post arrival AND 1.8 times more likely to die during the remaining growing period relative to calves without navel infections.   

This was no surprise to me as when things go wrong and we have a calf with a navel infection, I know that she is in for a rough road.  Even when the infection is caught early and treated, I am likely to see that calf further down the road with respiratory disease.  This is why prevention is key.  

At birth, the umbilical cord provides direct access for bacteria into the body.  Risk factors for navel infections include cleanliness of calving area, cleanliness of calf pens,failure of passive transfer, a short umbilical cord (often a result of being delivered backwards or by c-section), and cross-sucking of navel.

So as we head into summer, it is important to remember all of these factors and keep management focused on prevention while keeping an eye out for new cases. 






Sorry for the nasty picture, but this is a great example of why navels must be carefully monitored - especially in the summer. 

A navel infection + flies = major problems! 

bedding picture_opt.jpg







It's important that the first things a calf is exposed to is clean bedding and colostrum - not manure and bacteria - so lots of fresh of straw.  Even if you have to recruit some extra help!