Feeding dirty colostrum to your newborn calves can cost you thousands of dollars in future treatments, vet bills, and time dealing with calf problems. So ask yourself this question, is it worth cleaning? And if it is, follow our five steps to the perfect cleanliness.

Are Your Colostrum Tools Worth Cleaning?

In colostrum feeding, we often use items made of plastic. These are the hardest to clean, and any nicks, scratches, or cracks which harbor and grow bacteria. Pay special attention to scratched plastic tube feeders; those also run the risk of irritating or injuring the calf’s esophagus. If you need to use plastic, you will have the best results using single-use items to prevent bacterial contamination and injury, such as single-use tube feeders or disposable bags for colostrum storage. Whenever possible, use tools made of stainless steel for feeding your calves since those are the easiest to clean and sanitize.

Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company

5 Steps to Proper Cleaning of Colostrum Tools

Perfect Cleanliness means healthy calves - use the right colostrum feeding tools to make your job easy

Here are the steps that will guide your colostrum feeding hygiene towards healthy calves on your dairy.

STEP 1: Rinse with lukewarm water

Make sure you rinse both the inside and outside of calf buckets, bottles, nipples, tube feeders and other feeding tools. Water temperature is critical on the first rinse of tools used to feed colostrum. Milk/colostrum proteins react to temperatures above 120°F by adhering to the surfaces, forming an invisible film and a perfect environment for bacterial growth.

Tools used for feeding colostrum are especially susceptible since colostrum contains higher levels of protein and should be rinsed at 100°F to 110°F. Do not use water below 93°F because that temperature is too cold to wash out fat, allowing it to collect on the surface.

STEP 2: Wash in hot, soapy water

Time to turn up the heat – always wash calf feeding equipment with hot water (140-160°F). For this step, an alkaline detergent is important in breaking up the remaining milk fat. Check that your solution of chlorinated cleaner or a combination of detergent plus bleach reads at a pH level between 11 and 13. The right pH breaks up the fat, and the chlorine helps in removing the protein.

Manual cleaning is a critical part of this step, so vigorously brush for one to two minutes to remove any organic matter from the surface.

Watch your temperature. If it falls below 120°F, the milk solids may reattach themselves and all of your hard work goes to waste.

STEP 3: Post-rinse with acid

Use lukewarm water (100-110°F) to remove the soap residue. Once the soap is gone, add acid sanitizer. Follow the label directions for proper water dilution. Check your solution with a pH paper strip or a pH meter to make sure it is staying in the two to four range.

The effect of acid sanitizer is twofold. One, it removes milk minerals and prevents them from accumulating on surfaces; and two, it lowers the surface pH, creating an environment that’s too acidic for bacterial growth.

STEP 4: Air dry thoroughly

Moisture provides bacteria with a growth environment. By allowing the calf-feeding tools to dry thoroughly, you are ensuring the next step of sanitizing will be effective. To ensure good drying, arrange your equipment on racks, but arrange them far enough apart to allow for good airflow. Avoid stacking buckets on top of each other until they are completely dry, and always keep feeding equipment off the floor to prevent contamination.

STEP 5: Sanitize

Two hours or less prior to feeding, sanitize everything one more time on both the outside and inside surfaces and allow time to dry. This second acid cycle ensures that any bacterial pockets that might have been hiding under a layer of moisture in Step #3 have been addressed, and it takes care of any contamination during the drying period.

A chlorine dioxide (ClO2) solution has become very popular for use during this step due to its effectiveness for Cryptosporidium parvum. It is an effective method provided you take the time to properly understand the correct concentrations, application and precautions.

Perfect Cleanliness means healthy calves - use the right colostrum feeding tools to make your job easy

Verify How Effective Your Cleaning Really is!

Protein Residue Test Calf Lab

Knowing your protocols are actually working is priceless. Fortunately, in the 21st century, we have methods and tools to test our effectiveness immediately and correct any shortcomings long before our animals start showing signs of poor hygiene. They include protein residue swabs and the ATP test luminometer.

Protein residue swabs offer a cheap and quick way to check surfaces of bottles, nipples, and tube feeders for protein residue without the need for an expensive luminometer (ATP meter). Simply swab the surface, return to its tube, release the chemical agent, and then watch it change colors depending on the level of protein residues.

These swabs, while not measuring actual bacteria, allow for everyday low-cost verification of the effectiveness of cleaning protocols.

ATP test luminometer is a highly sophisticated tool able to detect living organisms on feeding equipment. The adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is an energy molecule residing in the cells of all living things, including bacteria. Using a swab, sample the surface of your tube feeder, feeding bottle, nipple, or bucket. Return back to its tube, release the chemical agent and then place it in the luminometer. A reading of estimated bacterial contamination follows. Luminometers are available for purchase to anyone but are often offered as a service by your local veterinarian.

Practice, Practice, Practice

As former Green Bay Packers’ head coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” We can be given the correct cleaning agents and protocols, but if we are not practicing our cleaning correctly then we are doing no good.

It is important when cleaning our equipment to establish clear standard operating procedures or SOPs to be able to continuously deliver high standards of cleanliness.

Your comments and questions are always welcomed, let us know what you think, how do you implement calf protocols on your dairy, or what other topics you’d like us to address next.
Andy Beckel
President and Owner of Golden Calf Company

Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company