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HomeBeefMilk replacer in lungs of tube-fed calf leads to pneumonia & death
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Milk replacer in lungs of tube-fed calf leads to pneumonia & death

Limerick RVL (Regional Veterinary Lab) confirmed aspiration in a one-week-old Friesian calf, which was being tube-fed with milk or milk replacer.

The one-week-old bull experienced diarrhoea and was anorexic, according to a report from the DAFM lab.

The lab conducted a necropsy and examined the calf’s lungs, which disclosed milk (or milk replacer) in the airways.

According to the report, “the quantity present was significant enough to seriously compromise breathing and ultimately led to pneumonia and death”.

Stomach tubing calves – tips for farmers

According to the Beef Cattle Research Council, knowing how to use a stomach tube is vital to support calves in their most vulnerable state.

Whether you are providing colostrum to a newborn or treating a calf for dehydration, a proper oesophageal feeding technique can save lives on your farm and improve your herd’s health.

To prevent aspiration, or fluid in the lungs, we need to ensure the calf is in the proper position, the council says.

A spokesperson explained: “In a perfect world, we would have the calf standing when delivering fluids.”

“However, if the calf is sick and too weak to stand, we can tube them in a sitting position or even lying down.”

Regardless of how the calf is positioned, it must be properly restrained.

If standing, back the calf into a corner for better head control, it advises.


“Never tip the calf’s nose upwards whilst tubing. This will change the angle of the entrance in the trachea and make you more prone to pointing the tip of the tube feeder down and entering the trachea.”

“Leave the calf’s head in a neutral position that is above the level of its stomach.”

“You can open a calf’s mouth by gently squeezing the concerns of the mouth or by grabbing its head over the bridge of the nose and putting slight pressure on the upper palate or gums.”

Once the mouth is opened, the empty tube should be passed slowly along the tongue to the back of the mouth.

Once the tube reaches the back of the tongue, the calf will start chewing and swallowing. At this point, the tube is passed down into the oesophagus.

“If the tube is not advancing easily, then slowly pull it out and try again. Never force the tube down,” the council stresses.

If it is properly positioned, you can easily feel the rings of the trachea, or windpipe or the rigid enlarged oesophagus.

If you cannot feel both, the council advises you to remove the tube and start again.

Remember the two-tube rule: You should be able to feel the trachea and the stomach tube.

Read more on this news article.

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Note – This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice – always seek the expertise of your vet.

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