Clean feeding utensils help keep calves healthy
Clean and sanitized pails and nipples should be stacked separately and stored off the floor until completely dry.
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Would you mix soiled bedding, dirt or manure in with the milk replacer, colostrum or waste milk before feeding it to pre-weaned calves? Of course not! Yet, there are calf feeders using pails and nipples that have not been cleaned and sanitized or that have become contaminated since the last feeding. Recent research at Penn State (Journal of Dairy Science, Nov. 2010) evaluated the effectiveness of pasteurization by measuring bacteria counts in the waste milk before and after pasteurization as well as in the milk fed to calves. The research results showed that pasteurization reduces the number of bacteria in milk. No surprise! However, they also found that all types of bacteria counts were higher in samples pulled from calf buckets at feeding than in pasteurized milk before feeding. The researchers concluded that this is a good indicator that milk is frequently contaminated between pasteurization and feeding. I think this is a good reminder of why it is important to always clean and sanitize feeding utensils right after use as well as take measures to prevent contamination of those utensils and the milk before feeding.
Proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures of feeding utensils can mean extra work and it does take time. This may seem like a small matter, given the bacteria and other pathogens in the total environment to which the calf is exposed. However, the details of all calf management practices can make a difference in having healthy calves or sick calves. It's important to have a consistent, efficient, cost-effective approach to keep the utensils clean and sanitary, everyday. It takes someone being responsible to get it done. It may take writing up a protocol stating the procedures to be used, then posting them so that anyone who feeds the pre-weaned calves understands them and follows them, every time.
Here are some suggestions to make sure feeding utensils are as free of bacteria and pathogens as possible:
Cleaning and sanitizing:
- Every utensil used for feeding calves must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each feeding. This includes balling guns and stomach tubes. Nipple buckets should be taken apart and cleaned.
- Have enough feeding utensils to be able to clean and disinfect between uses, especially on sick calves. If nipples or buckets are shared by multiple calves during a feeding, they must be disinfected between calves.
- Begin cleaning milk-feeding utensils by rinsing in cold or lukewarm water. Using hot water during rinsing makes the milk proteins stick to the surfaces.
- Just "rinsing-off" and storing the utensils is not good enough.
- After rinsing, then use water at least 120oF that contains both a detergent and a disinfectant. Expose the equipment to the solution as long as possible. The longer the exposure to chlorine the greater the opportunity for killing bacteria. Use 1 cup of fresh household-strength bleach in 5 gallons of very hot water. If there are calves with scours - use 1 1/2 cups to 5 gallons. Dump nipples into the solution. Fill the bottles with it.
- Use a wash acid at a rate of about 1 ounce per 5 gallons of lukewarm water to get rid of any possible remaining milk solids on the containers. Most bacteria will not grow in very acid conditions. Acid sanitizers designed for manual cleaning of bulk tanks work well in this application.
- After washing, rinse in cold water.
- After cleaning and sanitizing, allow containers, nipples, balling guns, stomach tubes to air dry.
- Avoid stacking pails inside each other until completely dry. Bacteria can grow rapidly where there is moisture, no sunlight and poor air exchange. For this reason, freshly washed pails should not be placed upside down on a concrete floor.
- There needs to be enough esophageal feeders to dedicate one to each sick calf for that feeding or that day.
- Avoid using feeding buckets that have scratches (plastic) or other rough surfaces as this allows bacteria to reside in them.
- Colostrum, milk replacer, dry feed and water sources should always be clean and placed outside the pen where contamination cannot occur from urine and manure.
- Clean hands, boots and clothing are a must for the calf feeder so contamination of the clean and sanitary calf feeding utensils and equipment cannot occur.
- Disinfect the boots after entering pens with sick animals.
Having clean and sanitary calf feeding utensils may not be a revolutionary idea. But following these suggestions can help decrease the exposure of the calves to disease organisms and improve their health, survivability and growth rates. They can be applied to every calf raising situation on every farm, whatever size operation.