4/09 CALF CONNECTION: Protocols must be followed

By Sam Leadley



One common objective in calf rearing is healthy calves. But that objective is hard to reach if our collection, storage, mixing and feeding equipment is contaminated. We get high bacteria counts in our colostrum and milk/milk replacer. These high counts translate into scours, extra work caring for sick calves and unnecessary expenses.

Sometimes contaminated equipment results from a lack of effective cleaning protocol. For an example of a protocol that works well for manual cleaning of colostrum and milk equipment see www.atticacows.com. Click on Calf Facts and scroll to “Washing Milk Containers Protocol.”

However, many of us have this or a similar protocol already  in place. Then what is the problem?

A buildup of biofilm and residual wash water indicates cleaning protocols are not being followed.

A buildup of biofilm and residual wash water indicates cleaning protocols are not being followed.

In the accompanying picture, we see a milker pail where there were cleaning failures. The milker bucket was to be rinsed out, washed with hot water containing a chlorinated detergent including brushing, rinsed with an acid solution and set upside down on a rack to dry. Note the biofilm buildup on the inside and residual wash water in the bottom. 

This farm and another with poorly cleaned equipment  collected samples of their colostrum and milk replacer. Laboratory culturing showed t there was high bacteria contamination at both locations including especially high undesirable coliform counts. Thus, we went looking for failures in cleaning colostrum and milk replacer handling equipment. We found them, as you can see in the example in the picture. In both cases there had been no monitoring of established cleaning protocols for some time. 

These are the steps I take in monitoring cleaning protocols: 

• Before I observe actual employee behavior, I go to the work site and determine if it is possible to perform the task correctly in that setting with the tools and materials available. For example, are cleaning chemicals and an adequate supply of hot water and brushes available.

• I observe actual employee behavior instead of just talking about doing the job. This is best at the regular time employee does the task.

• I compare observed behavior to the training standards, which may be incorporated in the protocol. Examples are water temperature, use of chemicals, use of brushes and whether steps are done in correct order.

• When deviations from the protocol are observed, I review these differences privately with the employee. This is in contrast to “chewing out” the employee in front of her or his peers.

• When deviations from the protocol are observed, I provide a training opportunity for the employee. For a checklist to plan training see www.atticacows.com, click on Calf Facts and scroll to “Training Employees to Follow Protocols.”

• When performance of the task results in an objective, measurable outcome, I provide resources for collecting information to provide employees with feedback. In these instances, after the farms had provided the appropriate training, colostrum and milk replacer samples were collected and cultured to provide evidence that cleaning procedures were working well. 

• My employee feedback is related directly to the protocol. In the case of the milker bucket failure, the feedback provided the actual wash water temperature (too low), chemicals (failure to use chlorine) and brushing (incomplete brushing of inside surfaces).

•  I give  employee feedback in straightforward, understandable terms. In the case of the milker bucket failure, I used a thermometer to show the employee the actual water temperature. I held up the detergent container and pointed out the absence of chlorine.

• I actively solicit employee reactions to their evaluations, using this information to revise protocols when needed. At one location the employee pointed out that she was expected to finish morning cleanup at a certain time, but the parlor wash cycle did not leave enough hot water to meet the wash protocol standard. This was useful information. A small but separate water heater was added just for the manual wash up sink making protocol compliance possible within the worker’s time limits.

• Where outcomes are the result of more than one employee’s work, I involve all employees in evaluation, retraining and/or protocol revision. The milker bucket example actually involved two employees that worked different shifts. It was necessary to meet with them at shift-change time to do the re-training.

•  I communicate with employees (evaluation, feedback, and training) in a language they understand. This refers not only to using the workers native language: Don’t say “hyperfluidity of feces” when saying “scours” would be better understood.



Sam Leadley is a replacement consultant with Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, N.Y. Contact him via e-mail: sleadley@rochester.rr.com; phone: 585-591-2660; or visit http://atticavet.entrexp.com.