Navel Dipping in Dairy Calves

One thing producers, heifer raisers, and veterinarians can agree on are the importance of cleanliness when it comes to the care of the newborn calf.

One thing producers, heifer raisers, and veterinarians can agree on is the importance of cleanliness when it comes to the care of the newborn calf. The umbilical cord is the critical link between the cow and fetus, transferring oxygen and nutrients to the growing calf. However, moments after birth this once important structure becomes a liability to the calf’s health.

Wet navels provide an excellent environment for harmful bacteria to replicate. This is particularly important because the navel provides a direct avenue to the newborn calf’s bloodstream. As a result, naval infections can be localized or can cause calves to become septic.  Navel dipping is one of the most important husbandry acts and is critical to the health and well-being of the newborn calf. In this TDA newsletter, we cover some of the tips and tricks that our producers have implemented with regards to navel care. 

Dipping navels is essential for preventing infections. However, sometimes when dip cups are not kept clean, they can become the source of the problem rather than the solution. One easy, cheap way to get around the cleaning of dip cups we have seen our clients successfully implement is by replacing them with bathroom-sized disposable paper cups (the type often found by a water cooler). You can fill these cups with about ¼ a cup of solution, dip the navel, and throw away the cup.

Cleanliness is key regardless of what product you use. However, cleanliness is especially important if you are using iodine-based products, as the effectiveness of these products is greatly reduced by the presence of organic matter.  Although dipping often requires more product, it is preferred over spraying as spraying coats the external surface whereas dipping allows the solution to cover the interior surfaces of the navel. Dipping navels is an important part of newborn calf care, however it is only a part of the solution. Clean housing and rapid high-quality, colostrum intake is also key in naval care.  

There are three crucial properties to keep in mind when selecting a navel dip.  

  1. Disinfection – Navel dips should contain an active ingredient in a high enough concentration to disinfect the navel. 7% Iodine Tincture has both antibacterial and antifungal properties and is highly effective as a disinfectant. However, the DEA has moved 7% Iodine Tincture to a List 1 chemical, which can make acquiring it challenging if you do not have a vendor who is registered to handle controlled products. Most iodine-based teat dips contain less than 1% iodine, it’s unclear whether these products have similar disinfecting power compared to 7% Iodine Tincture.  


 Dirty Navel Cup

  1. Drying – Most dips that are specifically designed for navel dipping contain isopropyl alcohol to help dry out the navel and promote healing. We do not recommend using teat dips to dip navels, teat dips contain emollients and other products which are intended to keep teats soft and supple.  Products such as 7% Iodine Tincture or Sodium Hydroxide based-products (such as Super 7 Ultra™) contain isopropyl alcohol which promote drying. Choosing a product that promotes drying is essential.  

  1. Dye – Navel dip only works if it is being applied in a consistent and timely manner. We highly recommend purchasing products that stain the navel which allow easy monitoring of your navel dip program.  Both 7% Iodine Tincture and Sodium Hydroxide based-products (such as Super 7 Ultra™) stain the navels and provide a quick visual clue as to whether a calf’s navel was dipped.  

Navel dipping is a cornerstone of newborn calf care. Cleanliness is priority number one. Consider utilizing single-use disposable paper cups if your dairy struggles to keep dip cups clean. Dipping is preferred over spraying to ensure full coverage of the internal surfaces of the navel. Picking a product that is an effective disinfectant, promotes drying and contains a dye is a valuable investment in your calf’s future. Our experience at TDA is that products like 7% Iodine Tincture and Super 7 Ultra™ work well to disinfect, dry, and dye navels, though other products such as can also be successful. We recommend staying away from teat dips or products that are not specifically designed for navel dipping.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at The Dairy Authority (

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