“The highest morbidity and mortality rates generally occur in baby calves prior to weaning. The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) estimated preweaning mortality of U.S. dairy calves to be 10.8%, and the average age at first calving was reported to be 25.8 months (anonymous, 1996).” (2) With this in mind, properly managing dairy calves in vital for a dairy farm to be as efficient as possible. Basic cleanliness should be the first priority. When caring for the animals in different sections of the farm, washing your hands and keeping your boots clean are vital to prevent diseases that those with weakened immune systems, like young calves, might be more susceptible to. There are many management practices that can be followed out to help prevent disease in unweaned dairy calves. Calf huts and proper bottle washing are just a couple of the practices that can be done.
When planning how to best care for dairy calves basic environmental conditions should be considered. A few of the considerations include:
1. “A clean, dry, and comfortable resting area
2. Adequate ventilation
3. Good access to feed and water” (3)
Many of these considerations can be easily carried out in calf huts, but other housing options can also achieve these considerations as well.
Calf huts are used to help decrease the chances of exposure to infectious organisms. Calves will have increased exposure if they remain in the calving area too long, are housed with adult cattle, or housed with sick cattle. The calf huts are an easy way to ensure that the calves are not housed with other cattle that they shouldn’t be housed with and to lower the amount of calf-to-calf contact. However, the huts do need to be properly managed. They should be kept clean and bedded properly. Dirty or damp bedding may increase the risk of developing pneumonia. The location of the huts is also important to consider. A poorly ventilated or in the path of noxious gases, dusts, or molds can also increase exposure chances. (2)
Bottles should first be rinsed to rid of any organic matter. Once they have been rinsed, then the bottles should be washed with water and chlorine that maintains a temperature of 120 F. The temperature is very important because at lower temperatures the milk solids start to come out of suspension and will end up back on the bottle. Every surface of the bottle needs to be brushed to break up protein and fat films, simply soaking in the water is insufficient. After they have been cleaned, they need rinsed in an acid solution, then allowed to dry completely. The acid rinse is important to help prevent bacteria growth. (1)