How To Prepare And Clean Calf Pens

15 March 2022
calves in a calf pen

Calving is a busy time in the life of any farm, often with a number of family members pitching in to help care for and raise calves. The health, wellbeing and wellness of young cows is critical in the first few days and months. Preparing calf pens properly, and then maintaining a clean hygienic environment is crucial.

Calf scours and pneumonia are two of the most common diseases leading to calf mortality in the UK and Ireland, and this leads to lost future income. Preparing calf pens and bedding properly can greatly reduce risks of illness, and applying an effective cleaning regimen helps maintain healthy happy calves. If calves are comfortable and healthy then all their energy goes into getting stronger instead of battling illness.

How To Prepare Calf Pens

  1. Ensure that the calf pen is safely contained with petitions or barriers that will not catch or harm young calves, plastic or metal is ideal.
  2. Check that there is airflow particularly across the bottom bedding of the pen, but make sure the calves are not going to be cold or windblown.
  3. Depending on your base, whether concrete or hard-packed soil with compacted lime,or something else, make sure it is clean and dry to start with.
  4. Cover the base in a moisture-absorber which will help keep the bedding dry and also reduce ammonia growth from urine. Natural mineral zeolite products are a great option so ask your vet or farm advisor what they recommend.
  5. Apply bedding such as straw, sawdust, shavings on top of the base. The amount required will vary based on the product used and also your location and weather, but 300-500mm is common. Follow the instructions from the supplier and be sure to remember to completely clean out the pen, aerate, and replace bedding whenever you move calves out and new ones in.

How To Clean Calf Pens

  1. Remove all clumped organic matter such as manure and bedding that is soiled with urine. This is the single most important task in keeping a clean environment.
  2. Where there are patches of light soiling that can't be removed, cover them with more bedding and moisture absorbent.
  3. Every day using a disinfectant solution and a hand pump, clean and disinfect calf test buckets and all feeding equipment. Start with hot water and a common detergent or solution such as chlorinated alkaline to remove the film where bacteria can grow. Follow this with a chemical agent such as chlorine dioxide to clean all equipment. Your vet or farm adviser can recommend cleaning products and Ezi-action® drum pumps can handle all types of chemicals including chlorine.
  4. If a calf falls ill, remove it immediately from the pen and clean out any organic matter around it.
  5. Always wear gloves and change them regularly, and remember to disinfect your boots especially if moving between well and unwell animals.

The most important rule with calf pens is to keep them clean and dry. Follow the above tips and your chances of more happy healthy strong calves will greatly increase, and so will your profits.


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