Wilbert Swinkels, ‘a single splash of manure can be enough to infect a calf’

Hygiene for the youngest calves is a four-stage process: the calving shed, the colostrum, the cubicle and the livestock farmer. Wilbert Swinkels is young cattle ­specialist at Agrifirm and cannot emphasise often enough that hygiene is essential in preventing diseases such as calf diarrhoea.

Clean calves

It all starts before the calf is actually born. ‘Make sure the rear end of the cow is thoroughly clean and ensure a thick layer of straw in the calving shed. A single splash of manure can be enough to infect a calf,’ he explained. Following the birth and the disinfection of the umbilicus the next stage is colostrum. ‘That too must be obtained hygienically’, he continued. ‘Is the mini milker clean? And what about the cow’s udder? You do not want to introduce pathogens to the calf, with the colostrum.’

Clean and disinfected

For hygienic rearing, the cubicles must be cleaned and disinfected. ‘Place the cubicle in sunlight for a few days; that is the very best form of disinfection there is.’ Clean your buckets after feeding, he added. Also remember any milk residue on the inside of the teat. Store your buckets hung upside down.’ When the calves enter the group pen after 14 days, hygiene is important too. ‘Take the 30 second test,’ suggested Wilbert. ‘Kneel on the straw in the pen for 30 seconds. When you stand up, your overall should still be clean and dry.’ If you keep straw within easy reach, it is easy to spread more. ‘Even if you take all these measures, watch out for indicators of possible diarrhoea in the pen, and along the walls.’

Work at fly prevention

As well as guaranteeing hygiene for the calf and its environment, it is also important to maintain personal hygiene, too. ‘Put on clean overalls and footwear whenever you visit the calves, and work at fly prevention. This will help prevent pathogens being transferred from one calf to another.’

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