I came across a common scenario last week. Tommy had a day old calf that wouldn’t drink. He was panting a lot and had a raised temperature, though not very high.
On questioning him, Tommy told me that he had tubed his calf the night before with beastings, even though he was not very confident doing so.
Unfortunately, from my examination, I could tell that some of the beastings had gone the wrong way, and ended up in the lungs.
This was very serious.
Over the years, from my experience, I have found that very few of these calves make it.
The most you can hope for is that you can wall off the area of lung that has taken in the fluid.
It depends on how much fluid has actually entered the lungs.
When we look at the process of the food and air passageways, we should look at it as a cross of four roads.
Coming from outside, there are the passages from the mouth and the nose.
Both of these head inwards to the crossroads.
Heading away from the crossroads down into the body are the passages (oesophagus) to the stomachs and to the lungs (trachea or windpipe).
If we want to tube feed an animal (adult or newborn), we must make sure that the tube ends up in the oesophagus (food passage).
Traditionally, vets used to pass the stomach tube up the nose, until it came as far as the cross roads.
With a bit of sensitive manipulation, we were able to get the animal to swallow the tube, and push it on down into the oesophagus.
We passed it up the nose, because if we passed it through the mouth, there was every chance the animal would chew the tube, rendering it useless.
When it came to feeding calves this way, manufacturers recognised that the easiest way for farmers to do this job by themselves was to make something that they could pass through the mouth.
Onto the market came a variety of tubes with bags or bottles attached.
The tubes tended to be of a strong, sturdy material, which meant that the calf could not bite through it, thereby puncturing the wall and making the tubing process unsafe.
It being stiff, I always felt that the tube could injure the calf, if it turned its head.
All of these had a swelling at the tip, so that it could not go into the windpipe.
It was one such bag that Tommy used but, having bought the bag, he had never been shown how to use it.
I was able to give him a tutorial on its use, and got him to give a calf a full feed while I supervised.
He passed with flying colours and was pleased as punch with himself, having gained the confidence to repeat the exercise whenever he needed.
Such a tube would not work with the adult animal, as their molar teeth would test the hardest of tubes.
For that job came the Aggers Pump. This consisted of a very solid outer pipe that we put into the mouth, and passed through a large, flexible inner tube, which the animal seems to swallow very easily.
Recently I have come across a calf version of this, where the same principle applies. Once the flexible tube is passed through the mouthpiece, the milk or beastings is fed from the four-litre container by gravity feed.
I would consider this version to be the most calf friendly and farmer friendly that I have seen.
Ask your vet about getting you one of these and giving you a tutorial on its use.
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