Calf Health and Hygiene

A system of calf rearing, if implemented correctly, can produce a healthy calf, which will have a life of optimum health. It is important to have the correct procedures, equipment and calf health and hygiene products in place to ensure that a calf has as healthy a start to life as possible. There should be a target that minimises any exposure to disease, whilst at the same time bolstering its defences against disease.

In order to maximise the defence of a calf against disease there must be proper management of the calf’s intake of colostrum or substitute colostrum.

Why is colostrum important?

This provides the gut with antibody protection and helps to support the development of good responses from the immune system in a natural way.

The calf requires colostrum as it contains bioactive compounds, and is a source of immunoglobulin’s that protect the calf against disease for the first few weeks of its life. The placenta in a cow does not allow for maternal antibodies to transfer to the calf pre-birth, and the calf will only begin to produce antibodies at a slow rate during the first 3-4 weeks after birth. Without colostrum there will be little protection against disease, and increased chances of poor health or infant mortality as there is a great vulnerability to infection in the intestines in particular.

For the process of minimising the exposure of the calf to disease whilst the first part of the task is being implemented, there must be a clean environment that is managed thoroughly to ensure an environment and living standards that are clean and disease-free.

A clean, disease-free environment can be achieved by several means, including:

  • Creating a clear protocol for adequate colostrum feeding within the first 24-hours of a calf being born
  • All areas to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to, and during the calving season in all areas where calves will be
  • All straw bedding to be provided to calves, dry and clean
  • Provide good ventilation, with no draughts, throughout the animal housing
  • Provision of fresh water for calves
  • Rearing to be conducted in batches to ensure that young calves are not in areas where older calves are housed

Calf rearing is an integral part of an overall plan for the health of your herd, and you should have in place clear protocols to cover all demands for biosecurity, vaccination and the culling of carrier animals in the event of problems with disease.

The hygiene of calves and the rearing system is also vital to ward off infection and disease in the first few weeks of life. Without it, disease and infection can cause illness, poor health and potential infant mortality that will experience higher costs. These financial losses can be prevented with carefully implemented and strategic hygiene management plans. Cleaning in an effective way, with all personnel on the same page, clear processes and boundaries of clean areas where certain people and animals cannot enter, as well as vaccination and medication procedures will all play a part in creating a healthy calf and hygienic housing.