Thursday, January 10, 2019

Challenges of Very, Very Cold Weather

During very cold situations (wind chills around 10F or -12C)) when feeding in outdoor calf hutches I found that in order to feed 105F(41C) milk replacer mix (I was feeding about 90 (340L) gallons of milk mixed in three 30-gallon (114L) barrels) I could not mix all three barrels at one time. If I mixed all three barrels at once and took them outside the last calves fed received about 70F (21C) milk.

In order to avoid feeding cold milk I had to mix just one barrel at a time. I would mix one barrel, go outdoors and feed it. 

Then, come back inside the utility barn, mix another barrel and feed that and repeat for the third barrel.

On days like this I fed water as soon after milk replacer feeding as practical - about 5 or 10 minutes.  The calves were usually still standing up. Amount warm water fed? With some practice I could guess at an amount of water close to consumption - only a quart (.9L) for young calves and proportionally  more for older ones. At the end of the milk/water feeding routine I went back through and dumped any water that the calves did not drink.

As you might suspect, I really did not look forward to feeding milk in these very frigid conditions. The calves? When fed enough they stay healthy and grow beautifully in a clean dry hutch even in frigid conditions.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

What to do about Scours

What to do about Scours is the title of the January 2019 calf management newsletter. To go to the newsletter click HERE or the URL is 

The main headings are:
  •  How “Normal” are scours (diarrhea) in young calves?
  • The pathogen vs. immunity balance predicts scours treatment rates.
  • What are some low-cost practices that predict lower scours treatment rates?

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Large Variation in Starter Intake Observed

 Calf starter intake data were collected from 4,534 Holstein heifer calves at a Minnesota research facility. 

Two observations were of interest to me. 

One, there was a wide variation among calves in the amount of calf starter grain consumed in spite of the fact that they were all fed the same calf starter, the same amount of milk replacer and raised in the same environmental conditions (weather, air quality, barns, bedding, water availability and so on). 

During week six (weaned at 42 days) the average calf starter grain intake (sum of intake for 7 days) was 39 pounds (about 5.5 pounds per day). That is quite a respectable level of consumption.

However, the standard deviation was 17 pounds! Or, if we look at the population of 4,534 calves roughly 2/3rds of them had intakes between 22 and 56 pounds (between 3 and 8 pounds daily).

Calf management implications? The big eaters usually do fine - they sail through a change in housing (individual pens to group pack pens) and keep growing at a rapid rate.

But, what about the "picky" eaters? The ones that get to 49 days and are still only consuming 2 or 3 pounds of grain a day?

I had a "left-back" management program. These picky eaters were "left-back" in the individual housing for an extra week or even two before going to group housing. There was extra labor to keep them in the individual housing for one or two extra weeks but I considered that well worth the time not spent on treating sick heifers in the transition pens. I made this program work by marking the pens of the "picky" eaters so we could monitor their grain intakes - roughly five percent of my calves.

Second observation.

Their data showed a distinct seasonal effect on calf stater grain intake rates. Grain intakes were significantly higher for calves born in the fall and winter compared to spring and summer. It was nice to know that their experience was the same as mine.

 I was frustrated with the same effect with my own calves. I fussed and fussed with changing the grain in pails, made sure the calves had plenty of free-choice water from June through September (I was in a western New York State climate) with limited success - once the weather got hot grain intakes fell significantly below those during the cold weather months. The percentage of calves that had to spend an extra week or two in the individual housing always went up during the summer. Year after year, during hot weather the winter-time 56-day average daily gains dropped from over 2 pounds daily to 1.7-1.9 pounds per day.

Reference: Rauba, J. and Others, "Relationships between protein and energy consumed from milk replacer and starter and calf growth and first-lactation production of Holstein dairy cows." Journal of Dairy Science 102:301-310. January, 2019.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"Don't Rush the Transition"

This is the title of a summary sent out on December 3 by Abby Bauer, Associate Editor of Hoard's Dairyman, of talk by Dr. Bob James (Down Home Heifers) on managing the transition of dairy heifers from their initial milk-based ration to that of a ruminant. 

See the summary HERE. If in desperation due to a technical mix up the link does not work here is the full URL 

Dr. James does a good job emphasizing the need for a planned carefully executed plan to move these young heifers to full ruminant status. 


Monday, December 17, 2018

Tips for Keeping Your Milk Replacer Clean

The December issue of the calf management news letter is now posted online at To view, click HERE or paste the URL into your browser.

The summary: 

  • Keeping bacteria out of powder – cups, scoops, open bags.
  • People and containers can add more bacteria as we measure and mix.
  • Avoiding “hidden” sources of bacteria as we feed – routines and equipment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cold Weather Calf Care

You say, "Oh, no. Not another cold weather care newsletter!" Yup! Yet another one. Each one of these newsletters about cold weather care for young dairy calves has several unique ideas - so look through this one to see if you pick up an idea or two. 

The Iowa State Cooperative Extension Dairy staff member, Dr. Ryan Breuer, covers familiar ground and included several practical "How To" hints. 

The URL is

Or, you can click HERE.


Monday, December 3, 2018

What is all this fuss over nesting scores for calves 
during cold winter weather?

The principle of "nesting" in bedding for young dairy calves is creating a micro-environment. Workers at the University of Wisconsin pioneered in developing this concept. The short video featured here in this blog explains the concept and, with pictures, demonstrates the 3-value scale.

The URL is

or, try clicking HERE to go to the podcast video presentation.

I was fortunate when raising calves in the cold western New York climate to have a generous supply of long wheat straw for my calves. As early as the first of November in this climate I began to bed for #3 score bedding. 

Even on winter stormy days when there were just not enough hours to get even the basics done just before the afternoon milk feeding I tossed a couple of straw bales into my JD Gator. For the very youngest calves I shook out an extra flake or two of straw in their hutches. I slept better in my warm bed at home those nights knowing these baby girls had a "nest" to help keep them warm.