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Detecting the reasons for disappearing daily gains

Ron Robinson Published on 18 January 2013


Like young humans, calves are more susceptible to bacterial infections than their adult counterparts.



And just as you wouldn’t serve your children’s dinner on a dirty plate or allow them to sleep in dirty beds, it’s important for calf-feeding operations to ensure that proper sanitation methods are in place to prevent calves from being exposed to potentially harmful contaminants in their food or bedding.

The sole purpose of a calf-feeding operation is to transform calves as young as a few days old into healthy replacement heifers.

Healthy calves will grow quickly and reach a proper breeding weight according to their breeding protocol. But infections can hinder development and slow weight gain. Even worse, calves can die from some infections, which is a devastating situation, even for large operations.

Many times our CIP detectives have been called to investigate these cases of “disappearing daily gains” in otherwise smoothly running calf-feeding operations.

The first question we ask is: “Tell us about your standard operating procedure (SOP) for cleaning all of the equipment you use to feed calves.” We often find they don’t have an SOP in place, it’s not written down or it’s missing key steps.


Sanitation SOP
There are many areas of the feeding process that are prone to build-up of deposits, like milkfat and formula, which can harbor bacteria and infect young calves. These include, among others:

• Pasteurizers

• Mixing and storage tanks

• Bottles/nipples

• Calf feed transfer system

In developing an SOP, first take a look at each individual step in the process and ask: Is this step being done properly and effectively? Is it achieving the intended result? Is there a way this step needs to be changed or tweaked to be more effective?


For example, some cleaning products eliminate residue but can be corrosive, causing damage to equipment and creating more “safe harbors” for residue and bacteria to build up. Over the long term, that’s counterproductive. Be sure you use the most appropriate product for each step.

The SOP also should include specific instructions on how to perform each step. It’s possible to “go through the motions” of cleaning without achieving true sanitation.

For example, at one calf-feeding site we visited the storage tank was being rinsed with a good detergent, but the rinse time was not being monitored. The result was that the tank was being rinsed for so long that the water temperature dropped too low, and residue was redeposited on the surface of the tank.

It’s also important to walk through the steps in real time to make sure there’s nothing missing. For example, if bottles will not be used immediately after cleaning, you may find it necessary to rinse the bottles with an acid sanitizer just before use to ensure the bottle is sanitized properly prior to feeding.

Advanced sanitation sleuthing
As a dairyman, you know calves will lick anything and everything, so you may need to look beyond the obvious to find bacterial sources that can cause infection.

One common issue we encounter is contamination of hutches. Typically this occurs in the bedding or in the soil under the hutch, especially when hutches are left in the same place for a long time.

To help prevent calves from getting sick from their immediate environment, we recommend several routine practices:

1. Move hutches to new ground periodically or remove a layer of soil and replace it with new soil under the hutches

2. Ensure that straw bedding is clean and dry

3. Clean and sanitize the hutches every time a calf is moved into or out of the hutch

Better results with proper processes
If your calves are experiencing “disappearing daily gains” – intake consumption without proportional weight gain – infection due to poor sanitation may be the cause. A written sanitation SOP can help ensure that everyone in your operation is working to eliminate contaminants so your calves get healthy and stay healthy.

In most cases adhering to a sanitation SOP doesn’t add any time or cost to the process and will actually save money over time. And healthy calves will improve dairy profits all the way up the chain. PD

TOP RIGHT: A written sanitation SOP can help ensure that everyone in your operation is working to eliminate contaminants so your calves get healthy and stay healthy. Photo by PD staff.
Ron Robinson
VP Business Development A&L Laboratories