Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Calf rearing: Hygiene is a powerful weapon against bugs

Natural suckling has been shown in studies to deliver variable and often inadequate intakes
Tommy Heffernan

Tommy Heffernan

The importance of hygiene for the newborn calf cannot be overstated.

Half of the battle in disease control is minimising infections and hygiene plays a big role in this.

While we often rush for a bottle or tablet when treating calves, good management and husbandry should be the real starting point.

There are several bugs involved in calf scour - the common ones are ecoli, rotavirus, coronavirus, cryptosporidium and salmonella. Get a diagnosis early when dealing with scour to help you draw up a more strategic control plan.

A lot of these infections start in the calving pen and then multiply in calf housing.

Most scour infections build over time, to a point where they overwhelm the immunity of the young calf and you can have massive levels of disease spreading.

One way to prevent this spread or certainly reduce it is by meticulous attention to detail at critical points.

One such place is the calving pen.

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My experience is that regular cleaning of this area can dramatically reduce the build-up of bugs.

Cleaning out pens and using an appropriate disinfectant is particularly important when dealing with cryptosporidium which is very resistant and can survive for months.

When dealing with crypto use a disinfectant that is active against crypto-oocysts in both calving pens and calf housing.

Remember your stomach tube is a fantastic tool for sick calves but never use the same tube to deliver colostrum to the newborn.

When dealing with a calf scour outbreak, regular cleaning and disinfection of feeding equipment reduces the spread.

Having the availability of hot (boiling) water near calf facilities can be great aid with overall hygiene.

It really helps when you can clean out calf pens easily.

On several farms I have used industrial floor paint on concrete calf pens for quick and easy disinfection.

Another technique I have found useful when dealing with calf scour is snatching calves from cows early.

This is where calves are removed from their mothers within two hours of being born to reduce exposure to disease.

Infections can enter the newborn calf by three routes: orally, nasally, or through the navel.

To reduce the risk, wash the navel quickly in hibitane or iodine solution. The navel is a tube so my preference is for dipping as opposed to spraying the navel.

Calf pneumonia

Calf pneumonia is also a huge disease risk to pre-weaned calves.

We can reduce this risk by focusing on colostrum, boosting immunity through vaccination, good nutrition, and by minimising environmental and management stressors on the calf.

Always treat pneumonia cases early and aggressively to prevent chronic cases.

Fresh air contains things like ozone and natural bactericidal agents that will reduce the survival of viruses and bacteria in the air.

This is why fresh airflow is so important above the calf, while minimising direct draughts on calves.

All these are general guidelines but are simple tips which can really benefit the next generation of calves on your farm.

Indo Farming