Award-winning bottle washing system helps keep calves healthy

Henry filling bottles web

Henry Keunen filling milk bottles for calves

Keeping calves free of disease and getting them off to a good start in life is a top priority for dairy farmers Henry and Rose Keunen of Strathroy.

In fact, an integrated milk pasteurizer and calf bottle washer system designed by Henry has won the Keunens a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

Not only does his invention save a lot of labour, it is also contributing significantly to better calf health, including less diarrhea and elimination of passive transfer of Johne’s Disease.

The Keunens used to feed the calves by hand and rinse their calf bottles daily with warm water, disinfecting them with chlorine water only when they showed signs of residue.

However, the bottles are a perfect environment for growing pathogens like E.coli, bovine viral diarrhea virus, salmonella, and others.

Rose Keunen says she and her husband searched the world for a milk pasteurizing system that was also able to wash and disinfect milk bottles, and finding none, Henry set out to design his own.

They purchased a pasteurizer from Dairy Lane Systems in Ilderton and built a bottle washer that fits perfectly inside the pasteurizer and uses its wash system to rinse, wash and disinfect the bottles for each use.

bottles in the pasteurizer

Calf milk bottles in the pasteurizer

It’s been so successful that Dairy Lane now manufactures the bottle washer, making it available to other farmers along with the pasteurizer.

“It’s very simple to fill the bottles with milk. The bottles are put on a rack for filling and when they are empty, they go back on the same rack but upside down, and into the pasteurizer for washing,” Rose explains. “The bottles are disinfected before every feeding and all the nipples go in a pail with chlorine water before they go on the bottle. If you only rinse a bottle with hot water, it is still dirty and the film layer will cause bacteria to grow, which you are then feeding to your calves.”

bottles going into the pasteurizer

Rose putting bottles into the pasteurizer

At night the Keunens fill their pasteurizer with the amount of milk they need for the morning and lunch time calf feedings. In the morning, a timer turns on the pasteurizer and the milk is cooled to a preset temperature. The milk is always at a perfect 38C feeding temperature when the bottle is put in the holder in front of the calf.

“The timer makes it flexible to work for everybody and you don’t have to be a slave to your milking schedule,” says Rose. “At lunch we will heat the milk back up to the right temperature before filling the bottles.”

Bottles in rack for washing - close up

Bottles in the wash rack ready for cleaning.

The Keunens are proud of their extremely low calf mortality rate of only about two per cent from birth to age two years.

Rose says they’ve always been very particular about the milk they use for their calves, and once they started pasteurizing milk and disinfecting their bottles, they noticed the number of diarrhea cases decreasing even more.

Note: A longer version of this story was originally prepared for the Ontario Veal Association’s Calf Care newsletter in 2014.