Keeping on top of hygiene during the calving season

Calving can be a busy time on farms, especially when cow numbers are at high levels. Therefore, it is important to reduce the amount of time that can be lost when dealing with sick or ill calves.

The best way to try and avoid this is to encourage good hygiene practices to be carried out and maintaining these standards throughout the calving season.

First of all, calving pens and the area in which the cow and calf will be housed should be disinfected using a quality disinfectant.

These areas should be let dry out and allow the moisture to be absorbed before a cow is penned to calve. To speed up this process, having a gradual slope in the floor and a drainage point in pens will aid this. 

Another good practice is to lime the pens in between calvings – this will also aid the absorption of excess moisture in the pen.

Following this, the calving equipment should be cleaned and disinfected before each calving. Personal hygiene, such as clothing, also needs to be kept to a high standard in order to avoid any potential external infections entering the calving area.

If using stomach tubes or feeding bottles, these also need to be thoroughly cleaned to avoid introducing potentially harmful bacteria to the newly-born calf when feeding.

Remember that the antibodies which a calf requires will be provided through feeding sufficient colostrum. This will build up levels of immunity against harmful pathogens and infections.

Once the cow has passed her placenta, the afterbirth should be removed from the pen straight away. Bedding for the calf needs to be topped up when possible, while also being regularly cleaned out.

Another important point when considering the health of the calf is to keep pens free from draughts – while also having good ventilation within housing.

Navel Dipping/spraying

The calf’s navel will be one of the greatest health threats when it is born, as it can act as a gateway for bacteria or a harmful disease to enter a calf’s body.

To reduce this threat the navel area should be disinfected and farmers should try to promote drying and healing of the umbilical cord.

Teagasc advises applying a navel dip or spray of iodine at 7-10% or chlorhexidine within 15 minutes of birth and ideally again one to two hours later. Keep your safety and surroundings in mind when completing this as freshly-calved cows will be protective of their calves.

When applying the dip or spray, you should cover the whole navel from the end of the cord right up to the belly. The product used needs to be properly stored and free from contamination.