Monday, October 22, 2018

Calf Starter Grain Feeding:
The Forgotten and Neglected Step-Child

Providing easily fermented carbohydrates is essential for converting our newborn calves from a "monogastric" animal (like a piglet) to a ruminant (like a cow). When beef calves follow their dams on pasture they begin to eat tender, easily fermented slips of grass. But, what about our confinement-raised dairy calves?

We provide free-choice water and calf starter grain to support rumen development. With superior management we can encourage calves to consume this grain early in life. And, with our consistent management we can achieve daily intakes of 4 to 6 pounds by roughly 8 weeks of age.

Have you heard of this, "If anything can go wrong, it will." (Murphy's Law). What can possibly go wrong with the simple process of offering grain to a calf?

I observe that calf starter grain feeding is the forgotten and neglected step-child in calf management. 

The most common error I have seen on dairy farms is when workers are pail feeding grain they add fresh grain on top of spoiled grain. Just dump more grain on top of moldy stuff. Ugh! I see this most often in warm weather months that provide favorable mold growth conditions. Another environmental factor that encourages mold growth is placing the grain-feeding bucket next to the water bucket rather than separating them - handy for the calf to drool water into the grain. OUTCOME: depressed grain intake.

The next most common error I observe is making the initial grain feeding too large. For example, filling a 10-quart pail one-half full of grain - very first feeding. The consequence is to leave this half-full pail untouched for weeks - the neglected step-child - never checked for grain freshness, never replaced with fresh, clean grain. OUTCOME: delay in initial grain intake, depressed grain intake overall.

Finally, workers let fines build up in the bottom of buckets. Regardless of the quality of pellets either fed alone or incorporated into a textured feed, all pellets shed fines. They end up in the bottom of pails. They are the least palatable part of the concentrate ration (and, very subject to mold growth). By regularly dumping grain buckets this buildup is avoided. OUTCOME: depressed grain intake. 

I cannot find research that compared grain intakes in the first three or four weeks of life where the care givers either did or did not change the grain daily. With my own calves I began offering grain at 4 or 5 days of age and changed the grain daily (just a handful). I do not have any research data to support that practice -  I  only had a "seat-of-the-pants" sense that providing a handful of fresh, fines-free grain daily would encourage early grain intake. 

By the way, if you are caring for calves daily I may share that somewhere around 5 percent of my calves over the years were "grain-laggards." That is, they just did not want to get on the program of eating grain. Since it was easy for me to approach and hold a calf I even tried feeding them a handful of grain each time I came to their hutch to feed milk/water. I can't say that this practice was especially effective. Some of them had to be cut back to close to 0.5 pounds of milk powder (2 quarts of milk replacer mixed at 12.5% solids) daily before they finally got the message to eat grain.

So, try to avoid turning grain feeding into the neglected step-child. It's great to see these little heifers end their dependence on milk and become independent ruminants!





Friday, October 19, 2018

Risk of Passive Transfer Failure

Most of us have heard of the Q's related to colostrum management:
Quality
Quantity
Quickly

Recently we have added two more:
Quantify [refers to blood testing baby calves for evidence of antibody transfer]
sQueaky clean [refers to sampling and culturing colostrum for bacterial contamination]

The Quality:Quantity:Quickly trio are often used to assess risk of passive transfer failure.
Quality - less than or equal to 50g/L of IgG's 
Quantity - less than or equal to 10% of birth weight (volume)
Quickly - delayed first feeding more than 4 hours after birth

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They collected blood samples to assess effectiveness of passive transfer of immunity from colostrum to calves.

What did they find about failure of passive transfer and colostrum feeding?

Of the calves that failed, 47% had been fed poor quality colostrum!

Especially high risk was simply not feeding enough antibodies. That is easy to do - just use poor quality colostrum and feed too small a volume (e.g., only 5% birth weight or 2 quarts).

Quality assessment is sooooo easy. Less than 1 minute, instant results.

Click HERE for a short instruction sheet for using a Brix refractometer to estimate colostrum quality (antibody concentration). If the link does not work, here is the URL
http://atticacows.com/library/newsletters/ColostrumTestingRefractometerR18119.pdf

Reference: Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operations: Part 2. Factors associated with colostrum quality and passive transfer status of dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9185-9198 October 2018.








Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Coccidiostats in Calf Starter Grain

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They asked:
"Do you have a coccidiostat in your calf starter grain?'

50% of the dairies said, "No."
That meant that only about 1/3rd of the calves in the study were receiving a coccidiostat in their calf starter grain.

As I discussed this finding with the veterinarians in our practice they expressed a lot of skepticism about the validity of this finding. In their on-farm experience most dairymen were poorly informed about the presence or absence of coccidiostats in their calf starter grain. Nearly none of them, according to our vets practicing in western New York State (average size dairy in our practice is around 300 cows), had a clue which coccidiostat even if they were aware of its presence. 

What is my take on this?

A best management practice is to periodically find and read ingredients on the tag on your calf stater grain (or, if bulk, read the delivery slip with the ingredient list).

Be informed. Talk with your herd veterinarian. Get his/her opinion about the coccidiostat's effectiveness among young calves on your dairy. 

Reference:Urie, N.J. and Others, " Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 1. Descriptive characteristics of preweaned heifer raising practices." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9168-9184.October, 2018.

Other resources:
atticacows.com/library/.../Coccidiosis3wkoldCalvesR1866.pdf


Coccida: Our Friend Just Keeps on Giving
www.atticacows.com/library/newsletters/CEAug2013.pdf


Monday, October 15, 2018

“CALF”ETERIA MENU CHANGES FOR THE WINTER

This informative article appears in the October 2018 issue of the Miner Institute Dairy Farm Report. The focus is on adapting the nutritional management program to accommodate colder weather conditions. 

Access is HERE or if the link does not work try this URL

Enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Why Would Milk Feeding Method for Calves
be Related to Rate of Growth?

In a US national study of dairy heifer growing practices we find these facts:

                                                    Calves by Average Daily Gain(%)
Feeding method               Poor (<1.4#/da)   Fair (1.4-1.8#/da)   Excellent (>1.8#/da) Total

Bucket/ pail only                     23                       37                           40                            100%
Bottle & Bucket                      32                       35                           33                             100%
Bottle only                              42                       36                           22                             100%

To put the rate of gain in perspective let's add that in order to double birth weight in 8 weeks (56 days) a 90# calf needs to gain 1.6 pounds a day. If her average gain is 1.8 pounds a day for 56 day she will gain a total of 101 pounds - that is really good growth.

So, why is the percent "Poor" so much higher for bottle feeding compared to the other two methods?

This research was not set up to answer this question. Let's do some guessing.

Many of my clients that feed with buckets have "step-up" milk feeding programs. They start calves at 4 quarts a day (divided into 2 feedings). As soon as practical they ramp up milk volume with a goal of being at 8 quarts a day by 10 15 days of age. Most of these operations also have a "step-down" weaning process rather than just quit milk feeding "cold-turkey."

What happens with bottle feeding? Well, the traditional milk feeding bottle has a 2 quart capacity. The calves get fed a bottle twice a day. That sets an upper limit of 4 quarts a day. What are the chances that these calves will be in the "poor" (<1.4#/da gain) category? I am guessing the odds are pretty high - especially if freezing temperatures prevail during the milk feeding period.

I am guessing that the equation "dry matter intake drives growth" applies here. Bucket feeding provides the flexibility to easily increase volume of milk fed well above 4 quarts a day. Few calf operations have the ability to feed with 2 and 3 and 4 quart bottles as the calf grows from birth to weaning.

By the way, season of the year [environmental temperature] was associated with rates of gain - hotter weather depressing gains, cooler weather showing higher gains. In calf hutches, during freezing weather with my intensive-fed calves average daily gain was usually between 1.9-2.1#/day. During the hottest summer months our average daily gain was usually between 1.6-1.8#/day.

My experience with using both bottles and buckets:

I fed my calves with both bottles and buckets. Bottle fed for about the first 4-5 days (until nursing strongly). Switch to bucket - lots of wet clothing and spilled milk along here - I had one Brown Swiss calf that never did drink out of bucket.

Ramp up milk replacer (15% solids, 28-20) volume to match appetite with the goal of 4 quarts twice daily. At 5 weeks any calf eating one pound  (454g) of calf starter grain (20% protein) every day lost her PM milk replacer feeding - she had to "starve" on only 4 quarts (3.8L) a day.

Most of these calves were consuming more than 4 (1.8kg) pounds of grain daily by the time they were 7 weeks old. Somewhere between 45 and 49 days they began receiving a small "handful" of hay in their grain bucket three times a week. Most were full weaned around 50-52 days. Moved to group pen (5 to a pen) around 60 to 65 day (depended a lot on pressure for empty hutches).

Reference: Shivley, C. B. and Others, " Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operations: Part 6. Factors associated with average daily gain in preweaned dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101, 9245-9258. October 2018

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our Dairy Does Not Have
Cryptosporidum or Giardia!

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%


They did fecal testing to determine the presence of both Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

Do you really believe that your dairy does not have either of these parasites?

Guess again. Presence was - percentage of farms with parasite present:

94% Cryptosporium


99% Giardia


Or, on the basis of calves that were fecal sampled, percentage of calves with parasite present:

43% Cryptosporidium

30% Giardia

Important to note - these were not clinical cases of infection. These laboratory results were just presence/absence of parasites.

Reference: Urie, N.J. and Others "Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 3. Factors associated with Cryptosporidium and Giardia in preweaned dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9199-9213 October 2018.

If there are clinical symptoms here are a two basic resources on these parasites.

  • click  HERE for basic resource on Cryptosporidium - or this is the URL http://atticacows.com/library/newsletters/CryptosporidiumparvumN18125_1.pdf

  • click HERE for basic resource on Girardia - or this is the URL http://atticacows.com/library/newsletters/GiardiaUKR17108.pdf



Monday, October 8, 2018

Do Everything Right and Still Get Failures!
Colostrum Management

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They collected information on colostrum management:
  • Quality of colostrum fed
  • Quickly - time after birth when colostrum fed
  • Quantity of colostrum fed
What did they find?

  • When calves received excellent management (high quality, fed quickly, volume of 10% or more birth weight) - still 14% still had passive transfer failure (<10g/L).
So, how come this finding?
  1. One possibility is that the subject farms lied - they reported what the farm protocol was rather than what actually was being done. But, there were many farms and many calves - so maybe not such a good explanation for 14% PTF.
  2. A second possibility is sampling and testing error. Only one blood sample was taken from each calf with considerable variation in days between first colostrum feeding and when the blood was drawn. This could account for some of the failures but still 14% is lot to attribute to errors.
  3. A third possibility is genetic variation. Some calves have genetically determined ability to absorb antibodies very efficiently while others are at the other end of the spectrum - poor absorption ability. I not sure how I would go about measuring this. But, given natural variation on all other traits this might be a viable alternative. 
Where do I come down on this question?

While the first and second reasons might account for one or two percent of PTF it is my opinion (note lack of scientific evidence) that genetic variation could play a big role here.

On one hand, as calf care person it is not reasonable to beat ourselves up over wide variation among calves in passive transfer of immunity.

On the other hand, I have a client (130 calves on milk) whose colostrum feeding protocol includes feeding only Brix 23 or higher colostrum as first feeding, nearly all calves receive first feeding before 4 hours after birth and the calves receive 4 quarts at birth, 2 more quarts 6 hours later and another 2 quarts 6 hours after that. Their PTF rate last month (<5.0 g/L) was 5% with an average BSTP of 6.4 g/L.

Reference: Shivley, C.B. and Others "Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 2 Factors associated with colostrum quality and passive transfer status of dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9185-9198 October 2018.