In this time of uncertainty and lower milk prices, every penny counts, and many producers have “hunkered down” and decided not to make any large investments this year.
In times like these, every producer should focus on efficiencies and find areas where improvements will yield the biggest impact.
You won’t find a more important area than newborn hygiene. Proper newborn hygiene not only is critical to calf health but also, when done right, it can save you thousands of dollars on treatments and increase lactation productivity. Of course, you already know that and have cleaning protocols in place, but how do you know if they are actually working?
That’s why we bring you this article where we focus on how to evaluate your hygiene protocols.
Start Hygiene at the Beginning of the Calf’s Life
Every animal’s life begins in the maternity area, and that’s where you should begin too. Calves are born with no immunity, and the only way they gain it is through the maternal colostrum we provide.
If your colostrum protocols are too slow, or your feeding equipment is contaminated, the calf is exposed to bacteria before the colostrum has the opportunity to be digested and absorbed. The calf will not be able to properly absorb the immunoglobulins (antibodies) and utilize the calories contained in colostrum. Thus, affecting calf health.
The consequences are harsh, and depending on the level of bacterial contamination, can be deadly. At best, this calf will now have to work harder to fight off bacteria, and it may need to be treated for disease.
It also may not grow as fast as its counterparts, possibly causing it to join the herd later in life and negatively impact its lactation potential.
The easiest way to keep colostrum clean is to immediately collect it into a 4-quart container and keep it in there during pasteurizing, storage, thawing and feeding. This way, you don’t introduce any bacteria along the way.
However, not every dairy has a colostrum management system that allows for that, so washing and cleaning protocols increase in importance.
I’m sure you and your employees do a visual check of bottles, buckets and tube feeders – after all, we have been taught that, “If it looks clean, it must be clean.” And yes, many producers leave it at that, but looking deeper into your hygiene may surprise you and show you areas that need improvement.
Look for the Invisible Hygiene
Protein residue is one form of residue we cannot see but can be quite pricey if it is not fixed. Indicative of poor cleaning, protein residue creates an environment that fosters bacterial growth in two ways: One, it provides a rough surface for bacteria to adhere to, and two, it provides the bacteria with food. Add moisture, and now you have the perfect environment for biofilm formation.
Protein residue becomes a problem very quickly when recommended hygiene steps aren’t taken. Typically, a person not educated on proper cleaning techniques will focus on removing what they can see (i.e., the visible butterfat), and to do so they use hot water.
However, this narrow target of cleaning and removing that butterfat – while well-intended to get the equipment ready for the next calf – will result in baking the protein onto the equipment.
Having multiple items, such as nipples, bottles or drenchers, be washed improperly creates a chain of possible contamination points hazardous to early calfhood health.
Test for Cleanliness
There really is only one way to test for protein residue, and that is with a rapid surface protein residue swab. You might already be familiar with an ATP swab that requires a luminometer to read the results.
However, these are two different swabs testing for two completely different things. The ATP swab is testing for the number of organisms present on whatever surface you swabbed, whereas the rapid surface protein residue swab is strictly testing for protein residue after the equipment is cleaned.
These swabs cost less than a cup of coffee and are only as big as a pencil, easily fitting in your pocket, without the need to carry around a bulky luminometer or having to culture bacteria. The test is instant, immediately verifying whether your cleaning protocols need a tune-up.
To use it, simply pull the swab out of its case. Once you swab the desired area, the swab gets placed back into the case. Snap off the top to release the clear agent and allow it to interact with the swab for 60 seconds.
The liquid in the bottom of the case will turn one of four colors: green, gray, magenta or dark purple. If the swab turns green, it is a good indication that the cleaning protocol is being executed well. If the liquid turns grey, this tells you that the equipment is not being cleaned properly. Lastly, if any of the swabs turn magenta or dark purple, you should immediately address your cleaning protocols.
Empower your people
Maintaining good hygiene at a dairy is an everyday task that involves everyone who works there. The rapid protein residue test is a cheap way to sample whatever you want when you want to. We highly recommend you carry these swabs on you and randomly test different milking and feeding equipment. This will give you a good idea of how well your employees follow cleaning protocols.
Not only should this be used on your calf feeding equipment, but it can also be used in the parlor. Check your inflations and other milking equipment once the cleaning cycle has been completed.
Other items to swab are milking hoses, inflations, esophageal tube feeders, nipples, calf buckets, bottles, colostrum collection buckets, colostrum collection bucket lids and milk/colostrum pasteurizers.
Once you establish good hygiene practice, allow employees who are in charge of cleaning to swab their own work. By being able to test themselves, they can better identify gaps in protocols and fix them immediately.
It is also important to know that certain items on a dairy are intended to be replaced on a regular basis. When items such as hoses, nipples or plastic tubes result in a gray, magenta or dark purple on a protein residue swab, it is a good indication that these pieces need to be replaced.
You should work with your supplier on a maintenance schedule for regular replacement of these items, thus preventing bacterial growth from occurring.
No matter which pieces you decide to check for protein residue, a protein residue test is always a good tool to keep on hand. It is a cheap and quick way to check your equipment whenever you want and take your cleaning protocols to the next level. Remember, that these small steps, start you on the path to ensuring calf health and saving you tons of “moo-la” in the future.
Your comments and questions are always welcomed, let us know what you think, how do you implement calf protocols on your dairy, or what other topics you’d like us to address next.
President and Owner of Golden Calf Company