With many housing facilities lying empty over the summer months, dairy producers should take that opportunity to disinfect calf pens in preparation for the next calving season, said veterinary consultant, Dr Tommy Heffernan.

Disinfecting calving facilities prior to the calving season, or for winter housing can help reduce future disease pressure.

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“The low level of immunity in calves makes them highly vulnerable to disease, especially in the first days and weeks of life,” pointed out Dr Heffernan. “While it is important to practice good hygiene during this period and support immunity development, lingering pathogens from the previous calving season will further increase the infection risk, making it harder to keep calves healthy.”

According to Dr Heffernan, pre-calving hygiene isn’t a complicated task and can be taken care of in three days:

Day 1:

Remove all debris, manure, old bedding, etc from the pens. Use a power washer to remove any visible residues, paying close attention to wall and ground crevices since they capture faeces.

Day 2:

Steam clean the entire facility to sterilise the environment and remove any stuck residues.

Day 3:

Soak the shed with the appropriate disinfectant according to directions and let it sit dry until calving or housing.

“When making decisions on what needs to be sanitised, look at your farm like a production line from where the calf will first be to where it will end up,” said Dr Heffernan. “Everything in that production line, from feeding equipment and calving pens to gates, needs to be cleaned.”

Effective disinfectant

Equally important as ensuring the right equipment and facilities are being sanitised, the right disinfectant must be used in the correct dilution rate, added Alison Clark, a dairy hygiene specialist for Progiene.

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“Disinfectants must be chosen based on active ingredients that are Defra-approved to kill specific pathogens. This is essential to ensure your disinfectant of choice is capable of preventing the spread of disease on your farm since very few products on the market kill a broad spectrum of pathogens,” Ms Clark said.

To determine which pathogens disinfectant needs to be selected for, Ms Clark recommended referring back to any records from the previous calving season that show scour test kit or lab results.

“A product like Tibicur will kill TB, salmonella and e-coli, however, if coccidiosis or cryptosporidiosis are found to be present, then a product like Coxicur needs to be selected,” she said. If the pathogen status is unknown, she advised using a disinfectant like Coxicur.

“Keeping track of what pathogens are present on farm will help to choose the appropriate disinfectant. A great way to do this is through the use of Progiene calf scour test kits throughout the calving season. Within 10 minutes of collecting fresh manure, the test can detect rotavirus, coronavirus, e-coli and cryptosporidium parvum in calves,” said Ms Clark.

Importance of pre-calving hygiene

In findings from the 2021 UK Dairy Biosecurity Survey, 78% of farms reported having scour related pathogens in the last two years.

“The majority of farms have scour causing pathogens, which are highly transmissible and pathogens like cryptosporidium can survive for months in the right conditions,” concluded Dr Heffernan.

“Taking a few days to properly clean out and disinfect pens and equipment ahead of the calving season will be hugely beneficial to supporting to health and performance of those calves.”