AFTER a difficult calving, a calf can quite often suffer from a degree of acidosis.

Acidosis occurs when blood becomes too acidic due to carbon dioxide build up. When a calf goes through a difficult birth, there is often a delay in the start of normal breathing allowing carbon dioxide to build up.

Also, if trauma occurs, the calf's ability to expand its chest and breathe normally can be compromised. As a result, the calf's ability to blow out the excess carbon dioxide and breathe in oxygen is compromised.

Signs of acidosis in calves include:

- Erratic kicking movement when the calf is inside the uterus.

- The calf's breathing is still irregular 30 seconds after birth.

- The calf has not lifted its head and lied upright in the first five minutes after birth.

- There is a lack of muscle tone (the limbs may appear and feel flaccid).

- The foot is not withdrawn when pinched between the toes.

Acidosis reduces calf vigour and makes them 'dopey'. It also reduces their strength and willingness to suckle.

It can also impair the absorption of colostral antibodies in the gut which leaves them less protected against diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.

Severe acidosis also has a detrimental effect on the heart and lungs and is sufficient to threaten survival.

Sterile bicarbonate solution administered into the vein can be successful in treating acidosis. Bicarbonate helps to neutralise the acidity of the blood. Your vet should be consulted for this procedure.

The solution should ideally be administered as soon as possible after birth to calves showing signs of acidosis. The response in practice is variable and not successful in every case.

However, considering that the price of a decent calf in the Scottish beef calf scheme would be £200-300, bicarbonate therapy in calves showing signs of acidosis could well be a worthwhile investment.

By Alwyn Ll Jones,

VIO SAC Veterinary Services

St Boswells