cow and young calf

Neonatal Maladjustment Syndrome in Livestock

What is neonatal maladjustment syndrome?


  • Neonatal maladjustment syndrome occurs in newborn livestock that appear healthy when they are born but are weak, uncoordinated, lethargic, and exhibit little to no suckle reflex. In a  recent discovery in foals, it was determined that affected animals have high levels of hormones normally found when sleeping in the womb.
  • The “Madigan Squeeze Technique” (MST) is an approach developed to create pressure over the chest area which mimics the normal birth canal pressure which is believed to signal the transition from sleeping in the womb to wakefulness.
  • This is done by applying pressure to the ribs using ropes looped around the ribcage for 20 minutes. The procedure produces a sleep like state; upon release of the rope pressure the symptoms may resolve.  
  • Originally developed to treat newborn foals known as “dummy foals”, successful use of the MST has also been reported in “dummy calves, lambs and goats.“ It has also been suggested for treatment of “dummy crias”.

Neonatal maladjustment syndrome occurs in newborn livestock that appear healthy when they are born but are weak, uncoordinated, lethargic, and exhibit little to no suckle reflex. They are often born by cesarean section, have a long or otherwise traumatic birth, and some have what has been considered a normal or quick birth. These animals can be difficult to manage and some do not survive. Early diagnosis and intensive treatment can be successful, but these efforts are often time-consuming and expensive.

Affected calves, also known as “dummy calves” have been reported, but other causes that lead to weak newborn calves, such as white muscle disease (selenium deficiency), hypothermia, infectious diseases (BVD, leptospirosis, etc.), and trauma, should be considered. It may be necessary to consult with a veterinarian to determine the cause and most appropriate treatment for a weak calf. The same is true for “dummy lambs” and cases of neonatal maladjustment syndrome that may occur in other livestock species.

What is the “Madigan Squeeze Technique”?

The “Madigan Squeeze Technique” (MST), or “Madigan thoracic squeeze”, is an approach developed by UC Davis veterinarian and equine neonatal expert Dr. John Madigan to treat “dummy foals”. Madigan postulates that the journey through the birth canal activates a brain switch that enables newborns to transition from a calm, sedative state in the womb to consciousness - an essential early life step for prey species whose survival depends on being alert and mobile shortly after birth. In cases where this physical transition does not occur, the newborn remains in the calm, quiet state experienced in the womb. The MST acts to simulate the physical pressure of the birth canal and transition the animal to an active and alert state.

This procedure should be performed by skilled handlers after the newborn has received a thorough physical examination.

It is recommended to perform the MST within one to two days of birth. To perform the technique: (Watch a video of the MST being performed in a foal here. View a printable version of instructions here.)

  1. Tie a bowline knot and make a fixed loop so that the rope will slide through like a honda on a lariat.
  2. Starting at the withers area, place the rope across the neck and between the front legs. Bring the end of the rope back up to withers.
  3. Thread the end of the rope through the fixed loop and adjust to a snug fit so there is pressure on the chest but no airway obstruction.
  4. 4.    Pass the rope over the animal and make a half-hitch. Snug the rope just behind the elbow.
  5. Pass the rope over the ribcage again about 6 inches back from the first half hitch and snug it up.
  6. Have the assistant hold the animal. Position yourself behind the animal and apply a steady pressure by pulling on the rope. Gradually increase the pressure until the animal begins to lay down.
  7. Keep the same pressure (about 10-20 lbs) on the animal when it lies down and maintain it for the 20-minute duration of the squeeze. Allow the dam to stand close enough to view the newborn. Protect yourself from the newborn kicking or moving its head during this time.
  8. At the end of the 20-minute squeeze, release pressure on the rope and allow the animal to stay down or get up as it chooses. Slowly move the rope away. Do not force the newborn to get up; let it sleep more if it wants. When the animal gets up, allow it to do whatever it wants and observe. Do not attempt to assist nursing or push to the dam.

In some cases, the technique may need to be repeated several times during the first few days after birth.

What is the prognosis for newborns with neonatal maladjustment syndrome?

Early diagnosis and intensive medical treatment of affected animals can be successful, but these efforts are often time-consuming and expensive. Reports of the use of MST in livestock, which involves less time and significantly lower costs, in the scientific literature is currently limited, but promising results have been observed in a small number of animals.

A recent study reported success after utilizing the MST in two calves, one at 20 hours and the other at 6 hours post-cesarean section. After the procedure, both calves were lively, able to find their dams, and were observed suckling. No further issues were reported for either calf.

Another recent study has reported utilizing the procedure, which some term “resuscitation compression”, in newborn sheep showing signs of maladjustment. . Application of this technique to lambs with neonatal maladjustment syndrome resulted in reduced time to stand and suckle.

It has been suggested that the squeeze technique could also be successfully applied to crias with neonatal maladjustment syndrome, but no data has been reported in the scientific literature to date.

For more information

TLC Tips for Dystocia Calves”, Dairy Herd Management (May 2021)

Weak Calves May Need a Big Squeeze”, Bovine Veterinarian (February 2021)

Flora, T., Smallman, M., Kutzler, M.A. 2021. Resuscitation Compression for Newborn Sheep. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal 37: 175-181. doi: 10.1016/j.cvfa.2020.10.006.

Stillwell, G., Mellor, D.J., Holdsworth, S.E. 2020. Potential benefit of a thoracic squeeze technique in two newborn calves delivered by caesarean section. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 68:1, 65-68. doi: 10.1080/00480169.2019.1670115.

Riedel, P., Dascanio, J., Johnson, J., Miller, L. 2018. Implications of allopregnanolone in weak calf syndrome. Proceedings of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners 51(2).

A Cure for the Dummy Cria Syndrome: The Squeeze Maneuver” (2016)

*This article may not be reproduced without the written consent of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Primary Category