The In’s and Out’s of Bacteria in Group Housed Calves

When farmers are considering going from individual housing to group housing, one of the main concerns is, “I don’t want to have more sick calves because they are spreading diseases to each other.”

While that is a valid concern, there are many ways to mitigate the risk of disease transfer in a group-housed setting.

Here’s how we lower disease pressure in our high stocking density group pens, and only spend 2-5 minutes per month, 3 gallons of water, and $0.21 to do so.

In any kind of calf housing, over time, bacteria can build up in the pen or area that the calf is living in.

The difference between group housing and individual housing is that there are diseases from many different calves, all being expelled into a shared environment. This can cause increased disease pressure in group pens. 

There are a few ways to manage the risks that are associated with group housing calves. This is what we do to set our calves up for success when it comes to commingling. 

At AVA Group Inc. We “individually” house calves for 5-7 days. We don’t have a solid wall between calves, only hog paneling, so they are never technically isolated from each other. They go into these hog panel pens at 1 hour old to 24 hours old, depending on when the calf is born at the dairy.

The only reason we have chosen to separate the calves at all is to help make bucket training and headlock training easier. 

Each day, twice per day, the buckets are collected throughout the individual pens and are sprayed down completely with DK-ll to clean them. This helps reduce the spread of bacteria from calf to calf.

When we remove the hog panel dividers from the calf pens, the whole pen is then sprayed down from top to bottom with DK-ll. 

This might bring up a few questions.

Why would we take the time to spray down the whole pen again after just cleaning it and spraying it down with DK-ll before putting new calves in the pen?


The reason behind it is we have had great results in calf performance, just by taking into account the bacteria level in the pens, and the vulnerable immune system of a young calf. It makes perfect sense. When we commingle calves at 5-7 days of age they are at a point where their colostrum defenses are wearing off, and their own immune system is just starting to kick in, they need extra help at this time to protect them from pathogens. 


Won’t this just get the bedding or pen all wet?


No, it won’t! The Dostron is a specialized chemical mixing machine that gives you the ability to adjust the concentration depending on what you’re spraying, and automatically mixes the perfect water to DK-ll concentrate ratio! The mixer is then dispensed through a hose as a light, cone-shaped mist, so you won’t soak your calf pens when doing these “in-between” spray downs. 


Is it corrosive to metals?


Almost our entire calf pens are made of metal. The flooring, headlocks, bucket holders, water cups, basically everything. We have had NO issue with corrosion to any of our metal parts, galvanized, painted, and raw metals. We spray everything at 1.5-2.0 oz DK-ll/gallon of water. Just be cautious of heavy mixing ratios when using DK-ll on your soft metals. 


Why use DK-ll to do this? 


Any old sanitation product will do the trick, right? Wrong. The reason we opted for DK-ll, instead of chlorine dioxide or other sanitation products is because of the long-term activity of the DK-ll. Many sanitation products are one and done. They take care of the bacteria they can handle and they are used up, done cleaning. DK-ll, on the other hand, continues to clean much longer than other sanitation products, making it very effective for situations that need cleaning longevity. 

The other reason we chose DK-ll is because of safety. There is no dangerous mixing, hazards of gas inhalation and lung damage, and no corrosive chemicals for sensitive calf noses to touch. It’s safe for us and the calves. 


If you want to increase calf performance, and not spend more than 2 minutes doing extra cleaning and a couple of cents, consider adding a regular pen spray down with DK-ll to your calf program. 

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