Day One, Cleaning, and Calf Performance

We all know the importance of a clean maternity pen and colostrum clean feeding equipment, but what does that really mean? What does that look like on-farm, not just a perfect protocol sheet?

Over the next few months we are going to take a journey through the life of a newborn calf and stop at every point along the way. We are going to dig deeper into what each stop should look like to optimize calf health, performance, and also how to make those must-have steps and protocols easier for managers and employees to stick to.

First, we are going to discuss the physical place where the calf lands after they are born.

What does that look like?

There are MANY types of calving pen options, and many great ways you can do it, but there are a few things that need to be true for every calving.

  1. The bedding needs to be dry.
    1. This is especially important in months where the temperatures drop below 55F (13C).
    2. To check if the maternity pen is dry, do the “knee drop test”. This can check for both comfort AND dryness. To do this, take 3-4 spots in the pen, and fall to your knees on both knees. It should be soft and when you stand up your knees should be dry.
    3. Ideally, old bedding should be removed, the pen would be cleaned, and sprayed with DK-ll.
    4. If that isn’t practical, spray old bedding, walls, and gates down with DK-ll, and top off the pen with clean bedding after 2-3 calvings.
  2. The bedding needs to be clean.
    1. There are MANY layers to this, but the most important is that the bacteria levels stay low.
      1. What should the bacteria level be?
        • Bedding bacterial counts: clean environment ready for a newborn calf, total bacterial count should be < 5,000 colonies/ml. During occupancy < 2,000,000 colonies/ml (S. McGuirk, 2003 AABP).
        • To check bacteria levels, consult your local lab to plate samples for you!
        • To help mitigate these bacteria levels, spraying the entire pen down between calvings with DK-ll can be very helpful in reducing bacterial counts.
  3. There needs to be some kind of ventilation.
    1. When cows are calving they are stressed. This causes them to shed large amounts of bacteria and diseases into the air. The other cows, of course, can handle these pathogens, but a newborn calf can not.
    2. You need to make sure there is enough air movement to carry harmful pathogens, but not too much air that you draft newborn calves.
  4. Take caution when working with cows and calves.
    1. Many diseases can be passed from cow to calf. When working with cows it is easy to get covered in manure, but you should not be going in to handle a newborn calf with cow manure on your clothes or boots.
    2. Consider creating a cleaning station to spray down with DK-ll before going in to handle the calf.

You may already know a lot of these things, but the question is how do you implement them to make sure these protocols are being done by everyone that is handling newborn calves or managing the maternity pen. Read the next article to find out!

Does your maternity pen need a makeover? Send us a message or check out our consulting packages!

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