Have you thought of a biosecurity program for your maternity area? If not, now is time to focus on how to keep your calves secure and prevent sickness. Employees, milk haulers, cow haulers, nutritionists, suppliers, vets, and the people who come to pick up newborn calves, none of them, want to intentionally harm your dairy; however, there has to be a good biosecurity program for both employees and visitors to prevent the spread of disease. As dairymen, we understand the risks of bringing others onto our dairies, but the thought of internal employees spreading disease may not be on our mind.

Security Begins in the Maternity Area

minimizing calf sickness in maternity area

Let’s focus on the maternity area of the dairy. That is where your calves, the foundation of your farm, start out. If it is not put together properly with the right people, tools, equipment, and protocols, then there are no healthy future cows that are ready to enter the milking herd.

Maternity workers have the most demanding job, having to be in a variety of locations at one time. Have you ever thought about the fact that these areas contradict one another when it comes to hygiene and biosecurity? We ask the employee to walk the close up pen at least every 30 minutes, and to feed any calves that may have been born in the meantime. The employee, while doing his/her job, then becomes a carrier of bacteria and viruses, putting the newborn calf at risk for sickness.

Seven Tips to Minimize Sick Calves and Create a Secure Maternity Area

minimizing calf sickness

So, where does one begin to make their calves secure? It all starts with perfect cleanliness which in turn reduces newborn calf problems. Here are seven tips to help you provide a biosecure environment and thus minimizing sick calves, which will help you to cut down on future antibiotic expenses and improve calf performance:

  1. Welcome your visitors: Have clear protocols in place for any visitors entering your dairy. Always provide plastic booties to decrease the chance of any unwanted “bugs” being left behind. For better control, provide foot baths for those coming in contact with the animals on the dairy, especially those entering your maternity area.
  2. Calving isn’t a sickness: Limit the interactions between your hospital and maternity area. Locate the hospital pens as far away from the calving area as possible and clearly instruct employees or providers to sanitize in between. There would be nothing worse than having your herdsman and/or vet enter your maternity area just after doctoring and/or stepping foot in your hospital pen. Hospital pens are filled with disease, viruses, and bacteria, things the newborn calves should never be exposed to.
  3. Wash the boots: When your maternity workers leave the close-up pen and enter the calving area, have them do more than rinse their boots off with water. Yes, it is important to remove all of the manure; however, there is still a lot of bacteria and viruses remaining on the boots. A newborn calf has an immature immune system and should not be exposed to that. Place a spray bottle with your most effective disinfectant agent near the hose designated for spraying boots to encourage sanitation before walking to the calves.
  4. Waterproof it: Supply your workers with the right wear. Waterproof clothing is always the best bet. It keeps your employees dry throughout their shift, but most importantly, it enables them to wash up and disinfect in between tasks. In the close-up pen, some cows may follow you around and try to lick you which leaves saliva. Having to assist a cow in the calving process may result in the placenta and a cow’s bodily fluids all over one’s clothes. These are the last things you want to be transferred to your newborn calves. Waterproof clothing allows your employees to rinse off and disinfect themselves reducing the spread of bacteria and viruses.
  5. Prevent Calf Sickness and Protect Future Profits: The 5-Step checklist for better calf health by Golden Calf Company
  6. Put on Gloves: Don’t be stingy with the gloves you offer to the maternity employees. You want them to change gloves in between tasks and more importantly in between calves. You can never go through too many gloves. The cost is minimal and the benefits are huge. Wear gloves all the time. Every time you complete a task, change them out. Put extra gloves in the pockets of your waterproof clothes. This will allow you to change your gloves more often without having to walk back into the calf kitchen.
  7. Make the bed:  If possible strip down your calving pens, calf holding pens, warming rooms, and equipment, etc at least once a month. You want to clean and disinfect in between every calf, but it is also a good practice when all calves are removed to steam clean every wall and the floors. Apply your strongest cleaning agent to kill off any bacteria or viruses that may be lingering around and let everything dry out completely.
  8. Check, check, check: Maternity area management is not easy, but new technology allows us to check if we are doing a good job. Protein residue swabs can test your feeding and milking equipment for protein residue to make sure your cleaning protocols are working. This is important because protein residue is one form of residue we cannot see but can be quite pricey if not fixed. Protein residue creates an environment that fosters bacterial growth in two ways: one, it provides a rough surface for bacteria to adhere to; and two, it provides the bacteria with food. Keeping our equipment clean of protein residue will give your calf that extra edge. The luminometer (ATP meter) can check the cleanliness of your hutches, calving pens and even your employees. This tool requires an ATP swab designed for testing the number of organisms present on the surface you are testing. These results will give you a good indication of how effective your cleaning protocols are.A pH meter will help you determine if your acids and detergents are mixed right for proper cleaning. Spot check frequently to make sure every protocol is being followed correctly and completely.

Treat All Calves Like Your Own Children

minimizing calf sickness

The maternity area has many components that require the attention of your most elite employees. Make their job easier by having weekly staff meetings to review protocols, and to go over new studies and information brought to the industry that could improve your team. This is also a good time for training and going through the “whys” of everyday steps.

The best way to keep maternity cleanliness on everyone’s mind is to use the hospital analogy. Every calf born should be treated and attended to like it was your own child. The person assisting the calf should be clean and disinfected just like you would like your child born in a clean bed. There is nothing worse than yourself or your wife showing up in the hospital to give birth in a bed that was not cleaned or changed after the previous mother that used it.

Remember, your calves are the foundation of your farm, so treat them as if they were your own children.

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.

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