Thursday, May 12, 2016

Treating Sick Calves and Biosecurity

I was just reviewing a study of US calf ranches (that is, places that raise either only heifer calves or both bull and heifer calves). W. L Walker and Others, "Characteristics of dairy calf ranches: morbidity, mortality, antibiotic use practices, and biosecurity and biocontainment practices." Journal of Dairy Science 95:2204-2214.

Two practices caught my attention.

1. "When sick preweaned calves were treated or examined, the person treating or examining them usually entered their pen or individual housing area."
2. "Personnel were required to wear disposable gloves while working with preweaned calves."

What did I do while working with my calves twenty years ago?

Yes, if I checked out a calf that might be sick I got right in and up close.

No, I did not wear disposable gloves. And, maybe even worse, I did not in any way clean off my rubber boots after checking out a sick calf! I have no idea why more of my calves did not get sick! 

One of my clients has a bio-security routine that I have been admiring. The calves are housed outdoors in individual hutches far enough apart that the calf care person has to take several steps between hutches. All the calves that need to be examined or treated have a white plastic clip attached to the wire pen in front of the hutch. The examining and treating is done separately from any feeding activity.

This is the protocol:

1. Positively identify the calf to be examined/treated. All the calves have easy to read ear tags, calves to be examined/treated have large white clips on the wire pen outside the hutch.

2. Set a small footbath down from the back of the 4-wheeler.

3. Pull on disposable gloves.

4. Step into footbath, using a small garden-type pressure sprayer containing a disinfectant solution to spray off boots.

5. Enter wire pen and examine/treat calf.

6. Exit pen, step into footbath and spray off boots, stomping up and down to rinse bottom of boots. 

7. Dump footbath, put in back of Gator, discard gloves and drive on to next calf to examine/treat.

Back in 1991 I never even thought about this level of biosecurity.

Maybe all of us need to think more seriously about how we spread pathogens from calf to calf as we provide care?

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