Why is cleanliness so important for young calves? What specific steps should be taken to ensure cleanliness throughout the calf environment, including in both feed and animal handling? The answers to these questions and more are laid out below.
Why is cleanliness so important?
As noted in our look at "Critical Control Point 1: Colostrum," calves are born without immunity to help fight diseases. As such, they are left vulnerable to common on-farm microorganisms such as bacteria that cause E.coli and Salmonella, and viruses and parasites that cause illnesses such as scours and pneumonia. Excellent colostrum management is essential to boost calf immunity while their own immune systems develop during the first critical weeks of life. However, keeping the calf environment clean is also vital to reduce the risk of infection.
Calf health, growth and long-term performance can be jeopardized by even small lapses in on-farm cleanliness. Consistently utilizing some basic hygiene and sanitation principles can help keep young calves healthy and disease-free.
What specific hygiene protocols can be implemented to protect young calves?
From the calving pen to their daily environment and housing, from the way their feed is stored and handled to the way the calves themselves are handled; the strictest standards of cleanliness and hygiene must be emphasized and maintained every step of the way.
- Calves should be born in a clean and dry environment
- Calving pens should have both free draining and appropriate bedding
- Ideally, pens should be cleaned and disinfected after every calving
Housing and environment:
- Calf pens should be clean and well-maintained
- All pens should be thoroughly cleaned before new calves are placed
- Calves should have thick, comfortable, hygienic bedding
- As warm, damp environments encourage the rapid spread of pathogens, pens should always be dry and comfortable with good ventilation, be draft-free, and have plenty of space
Feed storage and management:
- Provide fresh calf milk replacer, feed and water daily
- Refused feed should be properly discarded daily
- All feeding equipment should be cleaned, sanitized and dried thoroughly after every feeding
- Feed should be stored in a clean and dry area, in containers that prevent contamination
Calf handling and management:
- Keep calves away from adult animals including having their housing uphill, upwind and upstream from adult cattle
- Always start chores with the youngest and most vulnerable calves and finish with the oldest and strongest animals
- Boots, hand tools, clothing and equipment should be free from manure and as clean as possible
- A consistent hand washing protocol should be in place
- Isolate sick or diseased calves immediately
Taking steps to ensure that on-farm hygiene protocols are not only in place but that they are followed on a consistent basis will help ensure the health, growth and long-term performance of your dairy herd.
Reducing the risk of infection through meticulous hygiene in calf housing, management and handling is of the utmost importance. Even the best, high quality colostrum and pre-weaning feeding protocols can be compromised if the facilities, feed and animals themselves are not consistently treated in a hygienic manner. Indeed, maintaining the highest standard of cleanliness is an important way that dairy farms can raise the bar for on-farm performance.