meta Keep These Calves Clean…Or Else! :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Keep These Calves Clean…Or Else!

Most managers of dairy facilities are excellent at managing the obviously dirty things.   However, with the ever rising statistics on calf scours, “looking” clean isn’t good enough. Having said that, removing visible manure, soil, spoiled or spilled milk or other substances from surfaces and equipment is a critical and logical first starting point.


For every easy to see nasty, there are a host of under-the-radar pathogen producing threats that persist beyond what the eye can see. Here are 21 surprisingly dirty things wand what to do about them.

If it Touches a Calf, It’s Got to be Clean!

It is only logical that everything that comes into direct contact with the calf must be sanitary!

  • Bottles
    The bottles should be disinfected before every feeding. Disinfect nipples go in a pail with chlorine water before they go on the bottle. If you only rinse a bottle with hot water, bacteria will grow on the film that remains and then you will be feeding that to the calves.
  • Esophageal feeders
    Have separate feeders for calves from those that are used for sick animals.
  • Buckets
    Watch for buckets that are becoming scratched. Even though they don’t leak, the scored places could provide a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Feed Pails
    Don’t stack buckets on cement or wood to dry.
  • Calf blankets
    Not just a warm comfort for young animals they can also be home to several type of fungi and germs. The natural hours spent sweating, shedding and drooling milk create ideal conditions for pathogen growth.  Have a regular system of thorough cleaning so that blankets are pristine for each new calf.
  • Other calves
    Calf to calf contact. Within the imitations of your situation, always ask the question “Based on what I have to use, what steps must I take to minimize exchange between calves.”
  • Feeding order
    Feed youngest first and work up to the oldest
  • Feed
    Feed small quantities of feed more often, if that is the only way to prevent the feed from harboring bacteria as it gets wet from the feeding process or becomes affected by the environmental conditions or natural breakdown of its own components. 

Clean Up Your Personal Hygiene or Risk Staff Infection

All your hard work and good intentions will go nowhere if the people who work with the calves are themselves carriers of bacteria.  The all-inclusive nature of the job means that hands, feet, clothing, and equipment are constantly being exposed and transported by the very people whose responsibility it is to keep things clean for the calves.

  • Gloves
    It’s easy for bacteria to get trapped in fabric, creating ideal conditions for bacteria to breed. Even plastic, if not sanitized, can harbor pathogens.
  • Coveralls
    Change into clean coveralls on arrival and at mid-day. It might be necessary to change whenever the clothes you’re wearing have become particularly dirty, either from a messy job or from working with other animals. The latter could raise the risk of cross-contamination significantly.
  • Footwear
    Wear separate footwear for working with calves and be aware that every step you take could be a mode of transportation for something that will put your calves at risk.

Equipment Clean as a Whistle

Beyond the obvious equipment used only for calves, it is crucially important to make sure that more general use items are also clean.

  • Livestock Trailers
    Once again, the degree of cleanliness that passes eye inspection is not enough to keep calves safe. A thorough sanitation plan must be in place and used to prevent the spread of infection between animals, farms and handlers.
  • Spiggots
    Even though, equipment or calves don’t actually come into contact – airborne and other contact pathogens can build up on these supposedly clean (because they deliver clean water) places. Clean them every day.
  • Sponges
    Try antibacterial sponges and soaps to limit the lesser of bacteria evils—but neither are very effective at controlling the big name baddies lie E.coli and salmonella. Disinfect sponges regularly and depending on frequency of use, soak them in a bleach solution for 4 minutes or microwave on high for two minutes (microwaving has been show to kill 99 percent of bacteria).
  • Water Sources
    Be vigilant about testing water. Most hoses are not delivering water that hot enough to kill anything growing in the wet, dark environment provided by an undrained hose. Rinsing with 50/50 mix of water and vinegar or — bleach — is a regular routine to instigate.
  • Hoses
    Again the assumption is that something that is filled with /delivers water will be clean.

Wherever surfaces come into contact, those joining places can breed pathogens

Flat surfaces.  A lot goes into caring for animals, and there can be a lot of airborne bacteria that is bound to find the nearest flat surface.  To minimize the risk, some experts recommend using a disinfectant on flat surfaces several times a day.  If human hands or equipment can touch it, it needs to be kept clean.  Keep antibacterial wipes handy for easy access.  This is another place to be aware of heavily nicked surfaces and replace them regularly.

Keep Your Housing So Clean You Could Eat Off the Floor

There is no such thing as going too far when it comes to sanitation of calf-raising environments.  In fact, overkill (of bacteria) is exactly what you’re targeting.

These five place should all have sanitation protocols that are planned, posted and acted upon.

  1. Maternity pens
  2. Newborn pens
  3. Calf pens / hutches
  4. Calf barns
  5. Calf transporters
  6. Automated feeders


When setting up your own customized sanitation procedures, make sure you consider these recommendations:

For removal of biofilm and sanitation of calf feeding equipment

  • Rinse equipment with lukewarm water.
  • Soak with hot water, at least 140° F that contains a chlorinated alkaline detergent with a pH of 11 to 12.
  • Vigorously wash the calf feeding equipment with a brush for one to two minutes.
  • Rinse with cold water and then rinse a second time using an acidic solution with a pH of 2 to 3.
  • Allow the calf feeding equipment to thoroughly dry. Do not stack buckets on concrete floors or boards. Bottles and nipples should be air-dried on a drying rack.
  • Sanitize both the inside and outside of the calf feeding equipment two hours or less before use.
  • Sanitize calf feeding equipment using 50 ppm ClO2.
  • One to two minutes contact time.
  • Bottles, nipples, buckets, pasteurizers, mixing equipment, etc.

For removal of biofilm and sanitation of calf pens using low-pressure foam cleaning:

  • Remove all the bedding and organic material from the calf pens.
  • Thoroughly wet the calf pens with water, starting with the highest and ending with the lowest point of the calf pen.
  • Apply an alkaline foaming detergent (pH 11 to 12) to the calf pens using either a hand-held airless or an air-driven foamer.
  • Go from low to high and apply the foam evenly to all the surfaces of the calf pen.
  • Soak 10 to 15 minutes (don’t allow the foam to dry).
  • Rinse with water, going from high to low.
  • Apply a foaming acid (pH 3 to 4) using either a hand-held airless or an air-driven foamer.
  • Go from low to high and apply the foam evenly to all the surfaces of the calf pen.
  • Soak 10 to 15 minutes (don’t allow the foam to dry).
  • Rinse with water, going from high to low.
  • Allow the pens to dry. Not for a few hours or overnight.  Letting a hutch sit without organic matter or calf, pathogens have nothing to feed on.
  • Disinfect with a suitable disinfectant, going from the highest point to the lowest point of the calf pen.

Misting (livestock present), using 100 ppm ClO2

  • At least 30 seconds contact time.
  • Use in maternity pens, calf pens, bedding packs, calf’s feet, legs, brisket, and belly.

Environmental disinfecting (no livestock present), using 250 ppm ClO2

  • Five to ten minutes contact time.
  • Use in maternity pens, hutches, calf pens, calf barns, calf transporters, automated feeders, livestock trailers.

Environmental fogging (no livestock present), using 500 ppm ClO2

  • At least 30 minutes contact time.
  • Use in calf barns and livestock trailers.

Note: Since chlorine dioxide concentrations vary quite a bit between different manufacturers, it is obligatory that the working concentration of chlorine dioxide be verified each and every time prior to use. When using chlorine dioxide at concentrations of ≥ 200 ppm, operators should wear protective eyewear, and an R95 approved particulate respirator mask that is carbon lined (grey color). The masks can be obtained in the paint section of any local hardware store.


The simplest answer regarding sanitation timing is, “Be clean all the time!” However, when looking specifically at dairy calves there are several factors to carefully consider:

  • little gastric acid production, which protects against enteric disease, during the first 5 to 7 days;
  • an immature “fetal” gut for the first 7 to 14 days of a calf’s life;
  • limited adaptive immunity during the calf’s first 2 to 3 weeks of life;
  • loss of colostrum protection against K99 coli, rotavirus, coronavirus and Salmonella at about 7 to 10 days.
  • levels of IgA on mucosal surfaces declines after 7 to 10 days of age.
  • About 20 to 25 percent of dairy heifers in the United States require electrolyte therapy before reaching 21 days of age.

It is obvious from the above points that every day of the first month of a calf’s life has a profound influence on whether it will make it through without contracting ( ),

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Calf scours takes an economic and emotional toll on calves, staff, and facilities. A hyper-vigilant program of calf facility sanitization will pay dividends. When it’s done properly, the only bill you will have to pick up is a clean bill of health.


Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.







Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend