Maternal Matters: hygiene when calving heifers

Poor hygiene in the calving area can have adverse effects on both cow and calf health and performance. It is vital to the health and welfare of the animals that it is kept clean and safe.

Why is hygiene important?

Always keep equipment and calving facilities clean and in good working order.

When assisting cows in calving, ensure that hands are washed and clean and that long gloves are worn to prevent infection.

Calves born indoors need to be in dry pens with plenty of airflow, no draught. The air should be fresh and not stale; a human crouching at calf level should not feel any air movement.

Pens should be cleaned regularly. Try the 'squelch test'. When jumping on the straw, there should be a rustling sound. If there is a squelch, the pen needs mucking out.

Where cows and calves are to be housed for some time, particularly if stocking densities are high, creating a calf creche at the end of the pen will ensure that calves have a cleaner space to lie and are less at risk of injury.

At birth, the calf’s navel should be dipped in a 10% iodine tincture, repeated 2–4 hours, particularly if it has been licked excessively by its mother. Do not use products containing antibiotics, such as blue spray, on the calf’s navel. Iodine is better because it is not only antibacterial but will also help the navel to dry.

Check out our webinar on managing suckler cows and calves around calving: