The importance of hygiene in the first days of a calf’s life should not be underestimated.
Beth Howells, technical development co-ordinator at NWF Agriculture, says it is misguided to think calves will not be able to build up their own immunity if calf housing is ‘too clean’.
She says: “Like most mammals, immunity is built up over time. However, this does not excuse filthy pens and unforgiving environments.
“As with most newborn animals, there is a strong relationship between hygiene and performance and health. This is the same with newborn calves and is heightened by the fact that calves require passive immunity from colostrum.”
Ms Howells says there are two fundamental areas of hygiene, firstly the hygiene of environment, and secondly hygiene of ingested liquid and feed which equates to colostrum and milk feeds.
She says: “Within the cow, the calf is in a sterile and clean environment. Once calved this all changes. The calf is exposed and has to look after itself and look for feed. So at this stage it is important to have a clean calving pen.
“If a calf is born in a dirty pen there is an increased risk of poor colostrum intake and antibody uptake due to a heightened level of bacteria.
“Calves are likely to ingest the bacteria which will stimulate the closure of the epithelial lining before the colostrum is even offered.”
She adds that the cleanliness of the feed ingested by the calf should also be considered.
“This starts with how the colostrum is harvested. The cow’s teat must be clean before taking the colostrum off and it is critical that the container and equipment used to do this is sterile and is cleaned effectively and after every cow.”
She adds that while many farms now pasteurise colostrum, which is beneficial to reduce the bacterial loading of the colostrum, it will not reduce Johne’s disease.