Holiday Ranch
Breeder of South Poll Grass Cattle

Tube feeding calf

Here are instructions for tube feeding a calf that were taken from  The articles were written by Gae-Lynn Woods and Regan Hennessy.  These instructions can be found here and here

Feeding a calf with a feeding tube, a process commonly called stomach tubing, is a skill that every cattle owner should have. Frequently, baby calves are born extremely weak and unable to nurse. Since these little ones must have colostrum (the nutrient-rich milk a cow first produces after giving birth) within hours of being born, stomach tubing them is often the only feeding option that keeps them alive. Another common situation that requires stomach tubing occurs when your baby calf develops scours or diarrhea and won’t eat. Without stomach tubing electrolyte fluids, rapid dehydration and death typically result.

  • Feeding tube with feeding bag
  • Tape measure
  • Tape
  • Helper
  • Colostrum/electrolyte fluids
  • Calf

Step 1

Acquire a feeding tube designed specifically for calves from a livestock supply company or catalog. A feeding tube typically consists of a sheath of pliable plastic tubing that is often attached to a plastic feeding bag at one end. According to R. L. Morter, DVM, from the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University, the tube should contain a large bulb on the end to reduce your chances of passing the tube into the calf’s trachea.

Inspect the feeding tube and its parts to ensure they are clean, dry and undamaged.

Step 2

Prepare colostrum for newborn baby cows by warming it slowly to 104 degrees F. According to Oregon State University, warming the colostrum too quickly can kill part of the protein antibodies that are so important to newborn calves     or…

Warm whole milk or milk replacer to room temperature for baby cows who cannot nurse. Raising milk to room temperature allows the calf to regulate its body temperature more easily      or…

Prepare special formulations of electrolytes and vital fluids for baby cows suffering dehydration from scours. Consult your veterinarian if you are unsure of the amount of liquid to feed your calf.

Step 3

Determine how much of the tube you need to insert. Using a tape measure, calculate the distance from the calf’s nose to the point of its elbow on its front leg. Measure this distance on the feeding tube starting at the tip of the bulb; wrap a strip of tape around the feeding tube to mark the length of tube that you need to insert     and…

Dip the tube in warm water to keep it pliable if the weather is cold. Also dip the tube in mineral or vegetable oil to help it slide more easily down the calf’s throat.

Step 4

Fill the feeding bag with the warm liquid (usually colostrum or electrolytes) that you will be tubing. Have your helper clamp or pinch the tube right below the feeding bag so you can pour in the liquid slowly without having it leak out the other end of the stomach tube.

Step 5

Restrain the calf. If the calf is active, straddle its neck, placing your legs on either side so you’re facing in the same direction as the calf. If the calf is weak, you should be able to simply wrap your arm around its head, cradling its jaw to limit sudden head movements.

Step 6

Insert the stomach tube. Gently open the calf’s mouth and slide the stomach tube along the length of the tongue toward the left side of the throat. At this point, the calf usually will start swallowing the tube, which allows it to pass easily into the esophagus. Let it continue to slide in until you reach the tape-marked section of the tube.

[Note:  Our vet taught us to run the tube along the left jaw line to insure the tube goes down the esophagus.  If the tube stops at the back of the mouth, just keep trying because the tube is hitting the molars.]

Step 7

Check for correct tube positioning. Gently palpate the calf’s neck; you should be able to feel both the enlarged esophagus (which contains the feeding tube) and the trachea (which should have distinctive raised rings) next to each other. If you can’t feel both of these, remove the tube and re-insert it.

[Note:  If your partner touches the neck, they should be able to actually feel the tube passing down the esophagus.]

If the baby cow coughs when you are inserting the tube, it may have gone down the trachea instead of the esophagus and fluids will flow to the calf’s lungs instead of its stomach. Remove the tube slowly and insert again.

[Note:  If the tube enters the trachea thru error and you pour fluids into the lungs, your calf will drown and die.]

Step 8

Have your partner raise the feeding bag into the air and release the other end of the feeding tube so the liquid can pass slowly into the calf’s stomach, minimizing chances of regurgitation.

Do not force the liquid through the tube by squeezing the bag or shaking the jug. Calves will retain more fluids with a slower flow rate.

Step 9

Remove the feeding tube slowly.

[Note:  Our vet taught us to crimp the feeding tube before removing it to insure no fluids enter the lungs as the tube is being removed.]

 Don’t forget to wash and sanitize the stomach tube and feeding bag before hanging them up to dry.

[Note:  I hope you never have to tube feed a calf.  If at all possible, I suggest you have someone experienced with this procedure teach you before you try this the first time.  There is a real risk of drowning your calf.  This happened to my neighbor several years ago.]

Please visit our website to learn more about our cattle specifically bred to thrive on grass with no grain inputs.



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