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A Guide to Livestock Umbilical Care for a Healthy Start to Life


Welcome, dear reader, to the world of livestock umbilical care, where attention to detail can ensure a healthy start to life for your newborn animals.

As we embrace the season of new beginnings, it’s a perfect time to delve into the vital role of proper umbilical care for your young livestock.

The umbilicus is a special connection between a mother and her offspring during the prenatal period. Still, it also plays a crucial role after birth as a direct pathway between environmental pathogens and the vulnerable neonate’s internal organs.

This vulnerability underscores the importance of meticulous care for this delicate area, as an infected umbilicus can cause omphalitis. This medical term stems from the Greek word “omphalos,” meaning “a central point or hub,” and colloquially referred to as navel ill.

However, do not fret, for there are ways to ensure proper care and cleanliness of your newborn’s belly button, regardless of whether it is a calf, lamb, kid, piglet, cria, or foal.

Taking the proper steps can prevent infection and promote healing, including proper sanitation and a hygienic environment.

So, take heed and invest your time caring for your livestock’s umbilical region. By doing so, you will be providing them with a healthy start to life, setting them on the path to a bright and thriving future.

Why Proper Care of Umbilical Cords in Newborn Calves is Crucial

Greetings, esteemed reader. The umbilical cord is a vital connection between a mother and her newborn livestock mammal during gestation.

After birth, the cord is severed, leaving a section of the umbilicus still attached to the newborn’s abdomen, typically about 5 to 15 centimeters long for a calf.

This section is still wet and is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria and pathogens, making it critical for care providers to take necessary precautions to prevent infection.

Umbilical cord infections are a serious concern, as 15 to 20% of newborn dairy calves in the United States develop such infections, with 1.6% resulting in death.

The umbilicus remains vulnerable to environmental pathogens for up to a week after birth, making disinfectant dips a crucial step in neonatal care.

Furthermore, navel infections can cause reduced weight gain early in life and, if severe, can lead to sepsis and death. Common culprits of umbilical cord infections include Staph. Aureus, Strep. Bovis, and E. coli.

Ellan Dufour, a dairy specialist with Hubbard Feeds, stresses the importance of maintaining a clean, dry environment with fresh bedding to minimize the risk of umbilical cord infections.

When the cord ruptures at birth, the umbilical stump is left hanging from the calf’s navel, leaving the calf’s immune system vulnerable to infection via navel contamination.

Why Proper Care of Umbilical Cords in Newborn Calves is Crucial
Credit: Hubbard Feeds

Caring for the umbilical cords of newborn calves is crucial for their well-being and survival. This essential pathway from the dam’s bloodstream to the calf’s bloodstream and liver offers vital nourishment and waste removal during gestation.

Proper disinfection techniques and a hygienic environment can prevent infection and ensure that newborn calves get the best possible start in life.

Read more about Caring for Your Young Livestock: Preventing Dehydration and Ensuring Health

Importance of dipping the umbilical cord

Ensuring neonatal livestock’s umbilical health is of utmost importance. The first step in preventing infections is to provide a clean and dry environment with fresh bedding for the calf’s birth.

Dirty maternity pens can expose the calf to pathogens, making her susceptible to navel infections caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus bovis, and E. coli.

To prevent these infections, it is essential to dip the external part of the umbilical stump in an effective antibacterial solution as soon after birth as possible.

This ensures complete coverage and limits calf-to-calf pathogen exposure, and using small disposable cups for the dipping process is the best way to achieve this.


When considering what to use for the dip, it is crucial to opt for an effective dipping solution, and the gold standard is a 7-percent tincture of iodine.

It has antimicrobial properties and acts as a drying agent, which is crucial since the umbilicus can take up to a week to dry out. The faster this process occurs, the better, since once dry, the umbilicus will shrivel and fall off, closing off access to the abdomen.

While other navel dip agents like 4-percent chlorhexidine are excellent, teat dips are not strong enough to help prevent umbilical infection.

To ensure optimal results, checking the calf’s navel area two to three times during its first week of life is essential to ensure it is fully healed and dry.

A hardened navel that is enlarged or causes the calf discomfort when squeezed might indicate an infection, and fevers also indicate infections. If a calf shows signs of a navel infection, it is critical to contact a veterinarian for treatment options.

In conclusion, neonatal livestock umbilical health is a two-tiered process involving dipping the umbilicus and keeping the environment as dry and clean as possible.

Using a spray bottle to apply the solution is not recommended since it does not offer consistent, total coverage, making the cord susceptible to pathogen exposure.

Therefore, the preferred method is using a 7% tincture of iodine solution with small disposable cups for dipping the cord. Ensuring optimal navel health for neonatal livestock is crucial, and taking these preventive measures can ensure a healthy start for the animals.

Related post: How to Bottle Feed a Lamb

Effective Umbilical Dip Solutions

Umbilical cord care is essential to the health and well-being of newborn calves. Proper umbilical dipping is necessary to protect against infections and illness.

Here are some examples of effective umbilical dip solutions:

  • 7% tincture iodine solution (preferred) – contains alcohol that aids in drying out the cord. Diluted iodine solutions below 7% are ineffective in protecting calves.
  • 4% chlorhexidine
  • Triodine 7 – a 2.4% titratable iodine solution
  • Navel-Guard – purified water, acidified water, and isopropyl-alcohol product
  • Super 7 Ultra Navel Care – a solution that does not contain iodine or alcohol

While the first and second options are commonly used, the effectiveness of the latter options is gaining interest due to federal regulations concerning the sale and storage of 7% iodine solutions.

It’s important to note that using teat dip from the milking parlor as an umbilical dip is ineffective.

Even with proper umbilical dipping, calves can still be at risk for infections if their navels are not appropriately managed. Wet and dirty bedding can keep the cord wet and pliable, creating an ideal environment for infectious pathogens to enter.

When keeping the bedding clean and dry is challenging, consider re-dipping the navel 24 hours after the first dipping and again at 48 hours to promote drying and deter bacteria.

To prevent umbilical infections, checking the navel area two to three times during the first week of life is crucial. Here are some things to look for when checking the navel:

  • Palpate the cord at three to five days of age. The cord should not be any bigger than the diameter of a pencil, and it should be soft and pliable. A hardened navel that causes discomfort to the calf may indicate an infection.
  • Palpate the cord of any calf under two weeks of age showing signs of illness or fever.
  • Contact your veterinarian for treatment options if a calf shows signs of a navel infection.
Effective Umbilical Dip Solutions
Credit: Ag UPDATE

Taking care of the umbilical cord is an easy task that can significantly impact a calf’s health and performance. One or two total dips with a practical and clean solution and regular navel exams will help keep your calves healthy and thriving.

Discover our Helpful Tips For Managing an Orphaned or Rejected Lamb

Recognizing the Signs of Umbilical Infection in Young Livestock

The umbilicus is a crucial aspect of livestock care, and its health should be taken very seriously. A healthy umbilicus is vital to protect the neonatal animal against infections.

If you are unsure what to watch out for when it comes to an infected umbilicus, here are a few signs to look out for if the umbilicus remains wet for more than one week, if it is swollen, if there is heat or pain around the area, or if there is discharge or a foul smell, then it’s time to take action.

In such a situation, it is essential to contact your veterinarian immediately. The infection can often be confined to the umbilical area with swift treatment, and antimicrobial therapy can successfully treat it.

However, if left too long, the infection can spread through the neonate’s bloodstream, causing sepsis, a severe body-wide infection with a highly uncertain outcome. Therefore, maintaining a healthy umbilicus is of utmost importance.

A basic understanding of umbilical care and appreciation of its significance is necessary to give your young livestock the best start possible for a healthy life.

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