Feeding Hygiene for Calves
When it comes to the health of pre-weaned calves, a very key aspect to consider is feeding hygiene. Bacteria thrive in moist, warm areas and proliferate quickly where nutrient dense milk is being fed, as it provides the perfect environment. The protein, fat and sugars within milk replacer can linger and build up on feeding equipment surfaces if not cleaned properly – this goes for all types of feeding systems.
When cleaning bottles, nipples, feeding pails, or mixing barrels the first step should always be to rinse with lukewarm water. If the initial water used is too hot, the milk protein and fats will actually adhere to the surfaces, causing a biofilm to buildup where bacteria can grow and become more difficult to remove. While this is not always visible to the naked eye and may appear clean, in some cases you can actually feel a greasy texture, indicating there could be an issue with cleanliness.
Once the initial water rinse is complete, the next step is to manually scrub with hot water (at least 74°C) and a detergent. Be sure to thoroughly clean the inside and outside of the equipment and check nipples for any type of wearing that will occur. Cracks and scratches make great hiding places for bacteria, so be sure to update old equipment as necessary.
The next step is to rinse and then use a sanitizing product, such as an acid. The last important step is to let the feeding equipment dry if it is not being used again right away. Some sort of drying rack is ideal so that it can dry as quick as possible and not introduce new bacteria from a floor or other surface. Ideally, this sort of cleaning should take place each time before a new batch of milk is mixed.
While most calf feeders are set up for automatic cleanings throughout the day, it is still important to monitor them. An autofeeder should ideally have a circuit clean containing a detergent once a day, followed by an acid rise a couple times a week depending on the hardness of the water. Be sure to identify any portion of hose not included in the circuit clean, and wash them, along with the nipples. For some of the newer models this may not be an issue as the machine will clean all of the hoses and nipples. Again, be sure to replace any nipples that become worn out or damaged from calves drinking. It is also a good idea to take a cloth and wash down the drinking station every so often.
Another very good tip for autofeeders is to make sure you are using the proper detergent in the feeder, it needs to be a “reduced temperature detergent,” used at the correct rate to perform effectively. In some cases, using too much can cause unwanted buildup and not clean properly. Be sure to read the labels and if you are unsure, consult your chemical supplier.
Having protocols in place will help everyone on the farm understand the appropriate cleaning procedures for feeding equipment, which will help ensure calves stay healthy and grow efficiently.
By: Kaitlin Henderson
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