Hygiene: Combating common calf diseases

We could all learn a lot from the pig and poultry sectors where routine cleaning and disinfection is crucial. Bacteria and viruses are present in large numbers on all farms, and the diseases they and other germs cause are common and costly.

FFG-Environment-Hygiene-Clean pens

This week’s blog looks at pens, their design together with cleaning and disinfection. We’ll also investigate coccidiosis, one of the three most common calf diseases. Next week pneumonia and scour will come under the microscope.

Pens and Buildings

• Try to design calf pens so that, as a minimum, they can be emptied and cleaned prior to the new arrivals.
• Germs such as bacteria and viruses will accumulate in calf pens.
• Very few units have the facilities to allow all in, all out systems; they’re the ideal.

Pen design

1. Choose materials for calf pens which are easily cleaned and disinfected, for example metal or plastic.
2. The flooring surface should have no cracks or pits that are hard to clean.
3. Make sure you will be able to both empty and clean the drinkers and feeders between batches.

Cleaning and disinfection

FFG-Environment-Hygiene-How should I clean my pens

1. Remove all organic matter prior to cleaning and disinfection; after cleaning out the straw bedding, use a pressure washer or steam cleaner to remove the remainder.

Don’t forget, using a pressure washer in an occupied building can increase the disease risk for remaining calves. Try to remove the pen fixtures for cleaning in a separate airspace to the other calves.

2. Use a recommended disinfectant at the correct concentration on all surfaces that calves can touch. Where surfaces are cracked or damaged or porous and difficult to clean, apply a greater concentration of disinfectant to these areas.

3. Allow the pens to dry out prior to new arrivals.

Download our Farmers Guide to Housing for Young Calves

Coccidiosis: a very common problem with significant losses. Prevention is essential as treatment is too late.

Coccidiosis occurs anywhere from 12 to 21 days after ingestion of the Coccidia parasite. It causes significant gut damage, leading to scouring sometimes with blood, the calf will be seen straining and weight loss can be significant. Infected cattle go on to suffer impaired lifetime performance – reduced weight gain, treatment costs and longer time to either finishing or first calving. Severe outbreaks can result in death or chronic poor-doers which have an increased likelihood of suffering from pneumonia.


Coccidia is a common parasite present on most units. The disease occurs when young calves are exposed to high numbers.

Infection is passed from animal to animal through contact with infected faeces due to:

• Poor disinfection of pens between batches of calves
• Pen overcrowding
• Insufficient or poor quality bedding
• Grouping calves of different ages in the same pen
• Using pens on a continuous basis
• Allowing animals to contaminate feed or water with faeces, for example forage fed on the floor or concentrates being fed from low level troughs


1. If you think Coccidiosis is affecting your cattle – discuss control with your vet. Note, once you have identified an incident, damage to the gut has been done.
2. Reduce the risk of young calves coming into contact with infected faeces by
• Introducing all in, all out calf pens with good hygiene in between batches
• Preventing faecal contamination of forage and concentrate
• Isolating animals with severe clinical signs otherwise they will contaminate the environment

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