Read the Progressive Dairy Canada digital edition

Ask a Vet: Tubing a calf

Vicky Lauer for Progressive Dairyman Published on 28 February 2019
tube a calf

No matter the situation, follow these steps to properly tube a calf.

1. Fill the calf feeder bag or bottle with fluid, such as colostrum, electrolytes or milk. (Note: Milk should only be tubed for calves less than seven days old; older calves should receive electrolytes.)



2. If using a calf feeder bottle, attach the probe to the bottle. (The probe or tube will already be attached to a feeder bag.)

3. Clamp off the tube directly underneath the bag or bottle so no liquid gets in the probe.

4. Restrain the calf by backing it into a corner. Place its head between your legs while you face the same direction.

5. Moisten the tip of the probe.

6. Insert your finger into the corner of the calf’s mouth to open it gently.


7. Gently insert the tip of the probe into the calf’s mouth and over the tongue.

8. Continue to slowly slide the probe to the far left of the calf’s mouth. Keep the bottle or bag below the calf’s head to ensure no fluid comes out.

9. The calf will likely struggle a little. If the calf coughs or struggles fiercely, remove the probe and try again.

10. Feel for the trachea or windpipe. It is a slightly firm tube on the bottom of the calf’s neck. You do not want the tube here. The calf’s esophagus is directly above the trachea and toward the calf’s left side.

11. Feel for the probe moving in the calf’s neck. If the probe is correctly placed in the esophagus, you will feel two “tubes”; one is the trachea, the other is the probe in the esophagus. Move the probe in and out to make sure you can feel it moving inside the esophagus.

Warning: If you only feel one tube, or can’t feel the probe moving back and forth, the probe is in the trachea. Slowly pull it out and try again. If you give fluids in the trachea, they will go directly into the lungs and kill the calf.


12. Once you’re sure the probe is in the esophagus, elevate the calf’s head and the bag or bottle.

13. Unclamp the tube and let the liquid drain in. Do not squeeze the bag or bottle.

14. Make sure the calf is breathing while the fluids are running.

15. Once the bag or bottle is empty, reclamp the tube.

16. Slowly pull out the tube and probe.  end mark

If you’re still uncertain on how to proceed, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure.

PHOTO: Tubing a calf. Courtesy photo.

Vicky Lauer
  • Vicky Lauer

  • Professional Services Veterinarian
  • Animart
  • Email Vicky Lauer