Delivering Calf Science

Emily Chittenden ’17, animal science major, CCE in Northern New York

Blog entry: August 8, 2015

Emily Chittenden
Emily Chittenden ’17

This week has been a crazy one! With the trial starting, everyone has been on call at all hours of the day, prepared for whenever a soon-to-be cow momma might decide to calve. The trial’s focus is colostrum, the first milk produced after an animal has given birth. It contains antibodies to protect the calf against disease, and it is lower in fat and higher in protein than ordinary milk. Calves receive no passive transfer of immunity before birth, so colostrum ingestion is crucial in order for them to get the antibodies they need. The calves born during the trial will be receiving a colostrum supplement when they’re born.

To start off the week, a group of us met with a veterinarian to practice taking blood samples and inserting/removing catheters. This was the first time any of us had used a catheter on a calf, which proved stressful for both the person trying to insert it, as well as the person trying to keep the calf calm and still. It was important to learn proper catheter placement, as each calf needs to have 10 blood samples taken in a four hour time period. Taking so many individual samples could result in a collapsed vein if we were to stick the vein every time. The catheter ensures that only one prick is made in the vein and that we aren’t over-stressing the calf.

maternity pen
The maternity pen at the barn.

Once we felt comfortable with the procedure, it was time to put it to the test the following day…except the cows we were waiting on didn’t feel like calving on Tuesday. Or Wednesday, for that matter. The longer we had to wait for our first calf, the more anxious everyone became. It didn’t matter how much time we spent in the barn, checking the cows, and organizing our materials, these ladies just weren’t ready.Thursday morning, at about 5:30 a.m. the farm called saying that they’d just put a cow into the maternity pen! A heifer calf named Poseidon was born at 6:10 a.m. With our first calf to enroll in the study, we found some kinks in the protocol that had to be worked out.

Calves resting
Calves resting in the barn.

The catheters were too long. Based on prior calf studies, 5 1/4 inch catheters were selected, which worked fine when we practiced on two-day old calves. Newborns, however, have much lower blood pressure, which made it hard to find their vein and fill the catheter when they were born. It was still extremely hard to fill the catheter all the way even two hours after birth. Therefore, the first calf was enrolled on the feeding regime, but won’t be used for metabolic analysis, as we stopped trying to take blood samples from her. Once we found some smaller catheters, the trials were able to proceed as planned.

I’m sad that I won’t be able to see this project through to the end, but I can’t wait to see the results! Hopefully we’ve found all the unexpected issues and the rest of the calves can be enrolled smoothly from here on out. Here’s hoping that these beautiful bovines calve relatively soon and thirty bouncing babies will be here in no time!

The Cornell Cooperative Extension Summer Internship Program has helped Cornell fulfill its land-grant mission by engaging students in outreach since 2007. Faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Human Ecology along with extension educators from local Cornell Cooperative Extension offices involve students in the college’s work to benefit New York state communities. From research to education and program development, interns are involved in a wide spectrum of activities which they document by blogging.