Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Gerry Giggins: Getting your house in order can keep diseases at bay

Gerry Giggins

It's been an inordinately long housing period on a lot of beef farms. In many cases, animals that were housed this time last year have only recently been sold. This means that the person feeding them and the sheds have not had a lot of rest.

In discussion with many farmers, they have highlighted the fact that they have had a greater incidence of 'housed' diseases such as digital dermatitis, which is better known as slurry heel. So I return to a subject I have covered before with regard to summer cleaning procedures that should be part of every farm's routine.

The inevitable build-up in diseases over this period needs now to be dealt with by carrying out some simple routines that should be part of the annual disease prevention process. All housing, handling facilities, feeding equipment, feed storage areas and transport equipment should now be thoroughly cleaned and all relevant maintenance carried out in preparation for the forthcoming winter.

Evidence proves that so doing is hugely effective in reducing the incidence of problems and disease when housing the following winter.

Areas which should receive a thorough cleaning include cattle transport vehicles, handling pens, handling race, calving pens, calving house, sick pens, feed store, housing pens and all other equipment associated with livestock.

Certain bacteria and viruses are harboured in faecal matter, bedding material and wasted feed and it is important that all this is removed from areas that housed cattle will come in contact with later in the year.

Simply scraping and removing the material is not sufficient. High pressure washing is essential to remove all loose and impregnated material. Most tractor-powered high pressure washers will remove all faecal matter, etc from concrete areas.


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Electrically powered washers, whilst they may have sufficient water pressure, may not have the necessary volume of water to remove all material.

Pre-soaking or moistening the area to be washed a day or two in advance will significantly ease the task of washing. In older buildings where the roof is much lower than more modern buildings and where dust and cobwebs are more evident, it is important to thoroughly wash this area also.

It goes without saying, that care must be taken when dealing with water around electrical fittings, so electrical power should be isolated from the buildings being washed.

Where rubber mats are in use, it may be more difficult to thoroughly wash the slatted areas, due to damage and fraying of the rubber. Where possible, the mats should be removed so that they can be thoroughly washed and reinstalled.

The main area for attention and often most neglected is the actual housing pens. After washing of slats is carried out, it is important to ensure that the underground storage area does not rise above slat level, as the benefits of washing would be eliminated. It is important to leave time for the area to dry out fully, prior to using a Department of Agriculture-recommended disinfectant. At all stages during washing appropriate protective clothing should be used, along with a face guard.

Along with washing all of the areas, it is essential to pay particular heed to the feed area and also water troughs. These areas prove to be ideal breeding grounds for pathogens. Water troughs should be fully drained and solid material removed. Washing should take place and the troughs should be sanitised using a preparatory sanitiser and left empty until just prior to the animals being housed.

I noted last winter a dramatic increase in the occurrence of grain mites in feed storage areas. It is therefore essential, and should be part of the annual routine, that all feed-storage areas be thoroughly cleaned, washed and allowed to dry, prior to putting on an appropriate and approved disinfectant. The huge economic loss that I witnessed on a number of occasions owing to heavy infestation of mites should be avoided at all costs.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist. Email:

Indo Farming