Friday, April 18, 2014

Calf Kitchen

  • A dedicated space, calf kitchen, can improve efficiency of milk/milk replacer handling.
  • A dedicated cleaning area, a single or double sink, can improve cleaning protocol compliance resulting in lower levels of bacteria in milk/milk replacer.
  • A calf kitchen can improve our consistency of calf feeding; especially level of bacterial contamination, dry matter content, temperature and timing.
For a more complete discussion of these points click Here. This link takes you to the December 2013 issue of Calving Ease newsletter. At you can find the section containing all the monthly calf rearing newsletters for the past ten years. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Remodeling an Old Bank Barn for Calves

I guess you probably know about bank barns built for dairy. One side of the bottom floor opens out on a barn yard. The opposite side of this floor has a earthen bank running up to the main or actually second floor of the barn. This was the original cow barn. Lots of room above for storage (originally loose hay and even bundles of wheat waiting to be threshed).

Many of them sit empty - just  tempting targets for people looking for a place to raise calves. Yet, we have to remember there is a reason they are empty. Usually the ceilings are low with lots of posts and beams necessary to hold up the barn above. Windows normally only on the side opening out into the barn yard. Usually there are doors on the ends but sometimes other structures have been added that block off the ends.

What can be done with these barns to open them up and provide adequate air exchange for a healthy environment for growing animals?

This resource from Cornell Pro-Dairy program,
reviews ways to improve the environment in this kind of barn for calves and heifers.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The People Side of Calf Care

Most of us like to feel as though we are needed. Needed for something or to do something.

In two settings this past few days I have seen how this aspect of us, as people, can make managing a business difficult.

On a farm that Grandfather established the sons have assumed ownership and even brought a grandson into the business. Between 1954 and 2014 the dairy has grown 20 times in number of cattle and at least 4 times in acres farmed. Technology has gone space age. Field equipment has become over-sized.

Now, where does grandfather fit into the farm in 2014? Approaching 80 years old he is still physically active even though slower. The family would say that he is not comfortable with change although he welcomes the relief from backbreaking stoop labor of the 1950's. Even though not up on computers he enjoys having a "Smart" phone. He likes being "active" on the farm - currently feeding preweaned calves probably 29 out of 30 days a month. Working is being alive.

There are very few cow-related jobs he can do anymore - Dairycomp 305 is off limits, working in the milking parlor with automatic takeoffs and rapid exit gates is out, giving reproductive hormone injections - not going to happen and so on. Mixing TMR and running feed wagon is off limits as is running large tillage equipment, the new corn planter and this next-generation forage harvesting equipment. 

Even calf care with intensive feeding programs with step-up and step-down feeding leads to disagreements with the "boys." 

So here we are with Dad or Grandpa who has worked hard all his life, for whom "work" gives meaning to life in a setting where it is increasingly difficult to identify "safe" work that has real meaning and yet does not significantly detract from the business. 

In a restaurant that Grandmother established grandchildren-age partners have assumed much of the management responsibility. In the past decade the business has expanded so that the restaurant provides much less than one-half of the gross income. Most of the growing catering business has been the product of the younger partners.

Now, where does "Grandmother" fit into this food industry business in 2014? Approaching 80 years old she is still physically strong although with limited mobility and declining hearing sensitivity. The junior partners would say she has kept up to date in learning to use a word-processing program on the restaurant computer as well as e-mail. She spends many hours at the restaurant - "just to keep an eye on things." In the process of interacting with customers, hostess and wait and kitchen staff, however, her unacknowledged deafness has been leading to some tense interaction.

The restaurant accounts, menus, patron lists and related data are kept on a password-protected computer that she does not use. That stuff is now off limits for her. The kitchen is now the domain of a younger partner. So here we are with "Grandma" who has worked long, long hours all her life, for whom "work" gives meaning to life in a setting where it is increasingly difficult to identify work that has real meaning and yet does not significantly detract from the business. 

As a person pushing 80 myself I identify with Grandpa and Grandma. It is not easy to think about "non-work" activity as being as rewarding as "real work." Work has been at the center of my life since I was 14 years old, got working papers, a social security number, and a pay envelope. I face the same kind of side-ways movement out of my consulting work with younger generations of well-educated workers being hired to be "calf specialists" by feed companies, pharmaceutical companies, university-extension services and veterinary businesses.

As a dairy owner/operator these "old-folks" are a management challenge. Often we are family or at least seem like family. We want to be needed. We want to "do" something useful if not every day at least most days. Work has always given meaning to our lives. As managers you really don't want to take "work" away from us - but finding something that we can do that has value for the business can be difficult.

I had the idea the other day to teach a special series of seminars for us (folks 70 and over) who are considering working with calves as a new job on the farm.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Feeding 3X vs. 2X
Increased Feed Efficiency
During a talk given at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association annual meeting in Green Bay Wisconsin on April 3, 2014 frequency of feeding was related to feed efficiency.
In very brief summary, using 70 Holstein heifer calves two groups were set up. The same feed (28-20 milk replacer) was fed to all calves. One group was fed twice a day, the other group was fed three times a day. Everything else was the same. 
For the first 42 days the feed efficiency for the 3X calves was 0.61 pounds of gain per pound of dry matter intake while in contrast for the 2X calves this value was higher, 0.52. 
Thus, for the approximately 110 pounds of milk replacer and calf starter grain fed to both groups in those first 42 days the 3X calves gained an extra 10 pounds. 
When the calves were followed up there were trends [that is statistical-speak for not significant at the .05 level of probability) for the 3X calves to calve earlier (16 days) and projected 305ME milk at 120 days in milk was greater (1133 pounds). 
One difference between 2X and 3X (this was statistically different at the 0.025 level) was the percent of animals that began the trial still milking at 120 days in milk. 2X = 80%  3X = 97%  Preweaning mortality accounted for 3 of the 2X calves lost and 1 of the 3X calves. The rest (6 more) of the 2X calves managed to fall by the wayside for one reason or another between 56 days of age and 120 days in first lactation.

Well, anyway the main theme of the findings was that 3X fed calves had a higher feed efficiency than those fed 2X. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

When you feed more calves grow more
The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association group toured Synergy Dairy in Pulaski WI today, Thursday, April 3, 2014.
Calves that were weaned in March this year at 56 days averaged 2.3 pounds a day gain. Recall that the weather here in Wisconsin in January-March was very, very cold. 
Why did these calves gain at that rate when I know of other dairies that the calves gained barely 0.5 pounds a day during the same months?
They feed three times a day. They have a "step-up" program to work the calves up to 3 gallons per day by the time they are 3 weeks old. They add protein to the whole milk to achieve a 1:1 ratio between protein and fat. The total solids as fed is 15%. They have a "step-down" program at weaning time that cuts the total volume of milk to 1/2 for a week before milk feeding stops. Calves are usually consuming 5 pounds of calf starter grain daily at full weaning. All calves have ad lib. water and calf starter grain from day 2 in the hutches during all seasons of the year.
Calves go from hutches to small groups on a grain and water ration for a month. After that the owner gradually introduces roughage (good quality grass hay) until at 5 months they transition to a TMR that is formulated for young heifers.
Data from other heifers on this dairy show that average daily gain at 12 months is 2.1 pounds. They are calving in at less than 24 months and milking at roughly 85% of the mature cows.
Just another case where if you feed more the calves grow more.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ExtremelyCold Weather Management
Practices in Wisconsin, 2014
While talking with the calf health vet at Calf Source calf rearing operation near Green Bay Wisconsin he present several practices they used with reasonable success to deal with severe and extended cold conditions in January and February this year.
Just for reference, Calf Source is feeding about 3,800 calves on milk and another equal number between 2 and 4 months of age. 
The first adjustment was to increase milk solids level to 15 percent. They add to whole pasteurized milk enough liquid whey product that tests 24% protein and 16%fat to bring solids up to a standard 15 percent at every feeding. 
Then, they increased the volume fed in two feedings to about 8 quarts. 
They were already bedding with first a layer of dry wood sawdust and then a layer of long wheat straw. They started adding more long straw in this extreme cold. 
They were already using calf blankets every winter. When it dropped to -40F they tried using double blankets.
For the youngest calves they moved the metal wire cages directly up to the doors of the hutches. That way the youngest calves did not have to come outside their hutches to drink their milk.
In spite of all of this they did lose a few calves. Next year they are looking into the doors that fasten easily to the fronts of the hutches to provide a solid closing in the front.
These are all good practices. However, when the daily high temperature is -20F and it goes down to -40F at night risks of hypothermia are always present. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How do you measure the success of the calf enterprise 
on your farm?
I am at the national meeting of the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
At my session this morning on calf wellness the speaker reported briefly on a little survey he did in Wisconsin in December, 2013 and January 2014. This year at that time the weather was extremely cold. About one hundred farms responded to his questionnaire. The farms ranged in size from 40 to 240 milking cows.  The range in calf caregivers was from 2 to 6 (including both full and part-time workers).
About one-half of the farms in this very cold weather were feeding calves 3 times a day and the other half were feeding twice daily. 

He also asked,"How to you measure success on your farm?" (implied in this context was the success of the calf enterprise)

The answers were ranked in order of frequency of response:

1. Weaning weight
2. Death loss
3. Treatments
4. 5-6 month weight
5. Calf starter intake (concentrate)

Interesting responses. I must admit I was surprised to see weaning weight ranked as first. I expected death loss to hold that position.