Feeding Tubes on Automatic Feeders - A Weak Link in Sanitation
Recently reported research (38 dairies in upper Midwestern US) describes the bacterial challenge presented at the end of the feeding tubes.
They found these median values at the end of the feeder tubes:
1. coliform count - 10,430 cfu/ml (range from 45cfu.ml to 28,517,000)
2. standard plate count - 2,566.867 cfu/ml (range from 6,668 to 82,825,000 cfu/ml)
For my clients that are feeding with bottles or buckets I recommend no more than 1,000 cfu/ml coliforms and 10,000 cfu/ml standard plate count.
Compared to the standards that I insist on for my manual feeding clients, these automatic feeder "end of feeder tube" bacteria counts sound like a disaster in the making for calf gut health.
I checked to see what sanitation measures were being used on these farms.
Feeding tubes (or hoses) were manually cleaned on the average of 1.9 times per week. The range was from 0 to 14. Yes, at least one farm was cleaning these hoses twice a day. That is in sharp contrast to 36 % of the farms not cleaning them at all.
Changing old hoses for new ones? Hoses were reported to be changed on average of 19 times a year (somewhere between every 2 or 3 weeks). The range for changing hoses (per year) was from 1 to 104. I have examined these hoses in a few auto feeder barns that were discolored from bacterial growth displaying various red, blue, yellow and green patterns. Ugh!
What do you want to bet that the farms at the bottom of the bacterial contamination rate changed hoses frequently? My money is on the farm that changed hoses twice a week (104/yr).
How expensive are these hoses? Our vet clinic retails this hose at about $80/100 feet. That's right, $.80/foot. One of my clients with 2 feeders and 4 feeding stations uses about 50 feet for each hose change. That comes to $40 for new hoses. They change hoses weekly. Compare that to the cost of electrolyte and antibiotic supplies plus treatment labor when 60 to 80% of the calves require treatment.
Reference:Jorgensen, M.W. and Others, "Housing and management characteristics of calf automated feeding systems in the Upper Midwest of the United States." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9881-9891 December 2017