A piece of equipment that every rancher or dairyman that calves out cows should have in their truck is an esophageal feeder. An esophageal feeder is designed to be able to feed a calf that will not nurse, and is especially useful in getting colostrum or first milk in a calf as early as possible. The feeder is basically a metal or plastic tube with an enlargement on one end to keep the tube from entering the trachea and to make sure the tube goes in the esophagus. It has a bag on the other end that usually holds about two liters of fluid so you open the calf’s mouth, slide the tube over the top of the tongue and into the esophagus as the calf swallows, and then invert the bag and allow the fluid to drain into the calf’s stomach. The bag must be inverted because if fluid is allowed to run out while you are passing the tube, some of it may enter the lungs and lead to aspiration pneumonia. It only requires about a minute to feed two liters of fluid to a calf, which is quick and easy on the calf.
Nursing is better and if the calf will do so, then allow the calf to nurse the cow or the bottle. However, if the calf will not nurse, the esophageal feeder can save a lot of calves for you. Certainly, you want to make sure you clean the feeder and get it ready for next time. You do not want to feed a calf that is lying on the side as the calf either needs to be standing or sitting up on the chest. Feeding the calf lying down can lead to aspiration pneumonia so that must be avoided. You should never squeeze the bag but let the fluid flow by gravity only and then re-invert the bag when removing the feeder from the esophagus. So, if you do not have an esophageal feeder in your truck and you calve out cows, stop by the feed store and pick one up.