Birthing in a barn is a messy process for ruminants, but there’s often no alternative in the winter.

So, anytime farmers get involved with birthing and/or care of young animals, there’s going to be clean up and sanitation requirements.

Using the gold standards of dairy operations, farmers can prepare for a successful experience and perhaps avoid some bottlenecks that can occur in the thick of the birthing season.

In the dairy industry, Dr. Kelly Reed, DVM, field technical specialist with Diamond V, has a number of tips that improve operations during birth and those early days of life.

She regularly visits dairy farms across the U.S. and provides “fresh eyes” to evaluate sanitation and more. Every dairy farm is unique. Some use whole milk while others used milk replacer to feed the calves.

“We want to find a system that works well for you, to have repeatable success day in and day out,” Reed said in a recent webinar directed to dairy farmers. “I’m hoping to give you all some ideas today to evaluate your own program or the farms that you work with and figure out where there are opportunities for streamlining the system for them.”

The incentive in the dairy barn is increased milk production when that heifer grows up. Investing in heifers during the first 56 days of life could result in added value of 1,000-3,000 pounds during the first year of milking. Over the lifetime of a dairy cow, good early life care adds at least 6,000 pounds of milk production.

Rewards are also available for beef, sheep and goat operations that maintain good sanitation – lower mortality rates, higher average rates of gain, and an overall higher quality herd.

Here are some areas she encourages farmers to evaluate:

Growth goals

Reed suggests dairy managers set a goal of doubling the newborn’s weight by 56 days of age. A 90-pound newborn calf would weigh 180 pounds by day 56, for a 1.6-pound average daily gain.

“I feel like a lot of times we think we are achieving these things, but maybe we are only achieving it seasonally, and maybe not year around,” she said. “Maybe we need to take a little closer look at where we can improve that performance year around.”

Antibiotic use

Her goal is none or very limited antibiotic use during the milk-fed period. Studies show that calves still on milk that were given even one antibiotic treatment produced significantly less milk in the first lactation than calves with no record of being treated.

“This research merits us to take a closer look at our nutrition and our management and making sure we are really doing everything we can for those calves before we just reach for an antibiotic,” she said. “It’s not without consequence that we use antibiotics to treat calves.”

Sanitation for milk-contact surfaces

Young calves, lambs and kids all need a clean environment. Surfaces, gaskets or liners that have slime, mildew, mold, manure, or caked-on milk, need to be thoroughly cleaned.

Pasteurizers may also need cleaning. So do esophageal tubers. Reed encourages farmers to store esophageal tubes in a dilute disinfectant between uses.

The disinfectant needs to be changed every day, because organic material breaks down disinfectant, she added.

“We can do a good job with colostrum, harvesting it and having good quality, cooled down and stored well. Then we feed it through a nasty tube and shoot ourselves in the foot,” she said.

She also reminds farmers to evaluate bottles and nipples frequently for cleanliness and wear. If nipple holes are opened up too much, the milk can flow out faster than a young calf can drink it, and the potential exists for getting milk in the lungs.

For all milk-contact surfaces, Reed recommends using lukewarm water – not hot or cold water for cleaning.

“We will denature proteins with hot, hot water,” she said. “Cold makes the fat smeary and harder to remove.”

Cleaning equipment with detergent and water, thoroughly drying, and sanitizing is the gold standard for feeding newborn animals.

Feeding milk

Keep feeding times consistent. When using reconstituted milk replacer, mix the milk replacer in the same way every time. Well water also needs to be free of coliform and other types of bacteria.

Milk replacer manufacturers each have their own directions for mixing replacer. Read and follow the label for the best results.

Feeding milk at 95-105 degrees is an important goal, with 90 or 110 degrees the outside limits.

Hutches, pens and other equipment

Reed is not a big fan of washing hutches between every single use. Pressure washing hutches or pens can lead to a continuous disease spread as bacteria thrive with moisture.

“Scraping off as much of the organic matter as possible and then using a disinfectant or even hydrated lime are good options between use,” she said.

Hutches and pens need to be dry before a calf goes in.

She reminds farmers to frequently change the iodine solution used for navel dipping. The naval dipper also needs cleaning. A wheelbarrow or other equipment used to move calves needs frequent cleaning, too.

Calf jackets need to be frequently washed and dried, and those who are working with these calves need to remember to check the animal’s body condition.

“Sometimes we might have calves that are a little thin, and we don’t notice that when there is a calf jacket,” she said. “Ultimately, look at the calf, the body condition, their performance and see how they are doing to evaluate our program and see if we need to make adjustments.”

It’s always exciting when the first calves, lambs or goats are born, but practices can quickly become sloppy when barns fill up or farmers get tired. By evaluating the birthing process ahead of time – using standards developed for the dairy industry – farmers can be assured they are setting themselves up for the best new livestock crop possible.