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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Calves and heifers > Clean feeding utensils help keep calves healthy

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Clean feeding utensils help keep calves healthy

Neil Broadwater, Extension Educator

February 18, 2011

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:


Other considerations:

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.

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