GOOD hygiene practices on dairy farms can reduce the risk of costly infections among calves.

Calves have no immunity at birth and 90 per cent of pathogens are transmitted to them in their first hours of life.

Rob Kelly, regional sales director of Diversey, the manufacturers of the Deosan range of hygiene products, said the current economic conditions and forthcoming winter challenges means the focus should be on preventing the spread of bacteria.

By failing to reduce the challenge of neonatal disease, farmers risk increased vet and medicine costs, increased labour costs, reduced animal performance and increased mortality.

He said prevention is much cheaper and time effective than cure.

“Consider the calving pen and the area the calf is housed in, particularly within the first 24 hours of life. Many farmers disinfect to remove the risk of cocci and cryptosporida. However, this can be a false policy without an effective cleaning regime undertaken first. A caustic foam or gel product is very effective as reducing the micro-organism challenge and is highly recommended.

“Farmers also need to look at teat hygiene, especially pre-sucking or pre-milking, and pathogens are removed before the calf ingests them. By effectively disinfecting, the risk from the teat and the milk drawn from the teat is reduced. Be mindful that teats can be highly sensitive on a freshly calved cow and specific products should be considered for maximum comfort and care.

“This leads us onto the equipment, and the importance of hygiene. Failing to clean and disinfect equipment that is used to deliver milk, feed or water will encourage the proliferation of microorganisms that can be readily ingested. Regardless of the system used, correct protocols need to be adopted to ensure a high standard of hygiene.”

He also said dairy farmers and their staff should not be complacent about their own personal hygiene. “Coaxing calves to suckle the cow or to the bucket is common practice yet how many people wash hands before this exercise or between calves?" he said.

"You could be responsible for passing harmful microorganisms to calves. A few seconds of effort to disinfect hands, could save hours of care for a sick calf, so invest time to prevent infection.

“Disinfect boots, and clothing if necessary, especially when entering the neonatal calf area, hutch or calving pen, with a Defra-approved disinfectant."