Three Hygiene basics for happy calves
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It is commonly known that hygiene is important for raising happy and healthy calves. Proper hygiene reduces the risk of infection, supports growth and development, helps prevent diseases, and lowers the spread of infections within the calf barn. Keeping both the housing and equipment clean is a starting point for calf hygiene. However, what is proper hygiene and how to properly apply it remains a question mark on many farms.
Proper hygiene practices are essential for calf health and the long-term success of any farm, regardless of its size or location. Farmers worldwide understand this vital connection and are committed to implementing hygiene care for their calves at varying levels. By reviewing and sharing best practices, producers can improve their existing protocols and help their young stock thrive.
The starting point to providing a clean environment is proper pen or hutch cleaning. Having pens that are mobile provides the opportunity to clean outside the calf barn. Cleaning a pen inside the calf barn can be a major contributor to contaminating the environment, especially when high-pressure cleaners are used. In addition to contaminating the surrounding area, when used indoors, high-pressure cleaners increase the humidity in the calf barn. Therefore, it is best practice to move calf pens outside for cleaning.
To get started, remove all loose equipment from the pens—water buckets, feeding bowls, etc.—so they can be cleaned separately. Next, to make cleaning easier, the pens should be properly mucked out. After mucking out, soak the pens with an alkaline detergent. Ideally, a foaming detergent is applied via a foaming gun on the high-pressure cleaner, the foam will linger on the equipment and help the detergent to work better. As it can differ depending on the product used, follow the instructions provided on the packaging of the detergent for the correct dosage and soaking time.
Soaking the pens will help remove most of the dirt during the cleaning cycle. After the soak, wash the pens with a high-pressure cleaner. After soaking and rinsing, let the pens dry completely before using a disinfectant for the last step of cleaning. If the disinfectant is applied on a wet surface, it will be diluted by the still-present water and be less effective. For the best protection, use a disinfectant that is active against viruses, bacteria, cryptosporidium, and coccidiosis. Finally, store the pens in a dry and clean environment until they are needed. Keep in mind, if you bring a clean pen back into the calf barn or housing area and will not use it for some time, the pen will already be contaminated by the surrounding environment before a new calf even enters it.
For cleaning feeding equipment (water buckets and feed bowls) the same cleaning routine as the pens can be used. Keep in mind, all the feeding equipment should be rinsed with clean water after the disinfection step to prevent contaminating the water/feed with a disinfectant residue. Also, for water buckets and feeding equipment, it is important to store the cleaned equipment in a dry and clean place away from any animals. If this is not possible, another option is (after cleaning with a detergent and rinsing) to leave the disinfection and rinsing step until just before the equipment will be used again.
When cleaning milk-feeding equipment, we need to keep in mind that we are dealing with milk, which contains quite a bit of fat and protein. For this reason, the first step is to rinse all equipment with lukewarm water (38–43° C) to remove any milk residues. If the water is too cold, the fat will not be removed. If the water is too warm, the proteins will coagulate and the coagulated milk will attach to the surface and be hard to remove in the following steps.
For teat buckets, make sure the teats are removed from the bucket and all connections are disassembled before cleaning. Once everything is disassembled and rinsed, scrub the equipment with an alkaline detergent.
After cleaning the equipment, thoroughly rinse it with clean water. As the final step, an acid detergent should be used to rinse the buckets before allowing them to dry. Use a drying rack so all buckets are separated and hung at an angle so that water can drip off and will not puddle in the bucket. As they are specially designed to clean milk equipment, when cleaning milk feeding equipment, the cleaning agents (alkaline as well as acid-based) for the regular milking parlor system can be used. As teats and connectors are difficult to clean, first rinse off debris and milk residue with water before soaking for about 5 minutes in a chlorine-based solution. Rinse the items off with lukewarm water after the soak and allow them to dry. Before using the milk-feeding equipment, rinse everything with a chlorine-based detergent to remove any pathogens that may have accumulated.
The first step to raising healthy calves is keeping all equipment used in calf rearing clean. Remember, milk and milk residues are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Also, recall that in early life other calves and/or adult animals are the biggest threat for disease transmission. Therefore, with proper housing and separation, investing time and attention in a thorough and consistent cleaning regime will reduce calf health issues and give your calves a healthy start from the beginning.
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