University of Minnesota Dairy Extension specialist Neil Broadwater says appearance only goes so far when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing calf equipment. To ensure that equipment is truly sanitary and free of disease-causing bacteria, he offers the following pointers. 

Cleaning and sanitizing:

  • Every utensil used for feeding calves must be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each feeding. This includes balling guns and stomach tubes. Nipple buckets should be taken apart and cleaned.
  • Have enough feeding utensils to be able to clean and disinfect between uses, especially on sick calves. If nipples or buckets are shared by multiple calves during a feeding, they must be disinfected between calves.
  • Begin cleaning milk-feeding utensils by rinsing in cold or lukewarm water. Using hot water during rinsing makes the milk proteins stick to the surfaces.
  • Just “rinsing-off” and storing the utensils is not good enough.
  • After rinsing, then use water at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit that contains both a detergent and a disinfectant. Expose the equipment to the solution as long as possible. The longer the exposure to chlorine, the greater the opportunity for killing bacteria. Use 1 cup of fresh household-strength bleach in 5 gallons of very hot water. If there are calves with scours, use 1.5 cups to 5 gallons. Dump nipples into the solution. Fill the bottles with it.
  • Use a wash acid at a rate of about 1 ounce per 5 gallons of lukewarm water to get rid of any possible remaining milk solids on the containers. Most bacteria will not grow in very acid conditions. Acid sanitizers designed for manual cleaning of bulk tanks work well in this application.
  • After washing, rinse in cold water.


  • After cleaning and sanitizing, allow containers, nipples, balling guns, stomach tubes to air dry.
  • Avoid stacking pails inside each other until completely dry. Bacteria can grow rapidly where there is moisture, no sunlight and poor air exchange. For this reason, freshly washed pails should not be placed upside down on a concrete floor.

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