Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Moving Calves into an Auto Feeder Pen

Everyone seems to agree that calves should only be moved into an auto feeder pen when they have a strong suckling reflex.

But, individual dairy circumstances seem to lead to a lot of variation. We know that we want calves nursing well from a bottle. After that is accomplished, how much time is available to train calves to drink from the auto nipple?

So, here are some reflections from my recent experiences.

One client moves calves in the morning when they would normally be fed by bottle. A calf care person is available to stay in the pen to be sure each calf goes into the feeding station. The idea is combine a hungry calf with an opportunity to suckle. They guess that at least half of the calves do not require even a second time being guided to the nipple - success!

Another client has their individual calf pens in the same large building as the auto feeder pens. As soon as a calf is aggressively nursing on a bottle the next feeding time she is guided to a "teaching station." This station is an extra auto feeder stall along one outside wall of the utility building. The calf is guided to the nipple, the calf care person manually triggers milk flow and, (we hope) presto, the calf nurses. As soon as the calf seems to have adopted robust nursing behavior she is moved over into the group pen that is being filled at that time. (all-in, all-out pen management) In general, nearly all calves move into the auto pens before 7 days old. However, they experience quite a wide age range in moving to the auto feeder pens with a few calves moving as early as 4 days and others taking as long a 2 weeks. As an aside, if they have a calf with severe scours she is held back in an individual pen and bottle fed along with electrolytes until she shows signs of recovery.

Based on calving rates and numbers planned per pen the length of time to fill a pen may vary very widely from dairy to dairy. One of my largest clients aims for a pen size between 15 and 20 and fills a new pen every 3 to 4 days - very narrow age range. Another much smaller dairy puts all the calves born over 2 weeks in one pen in order to limit the age range - over a year they average about 12 -15 calves per pen. Both dairies hand feed for 4 to 5 days before moving into the group pens.

Another dairy with two "all in all out" auto feeder pens has a 14-day hand feeding protocol for all calves. This protocol avoids all individual decision making - same routine for all calves. regardless of nursing readiness. The reasoning is that by 14 days most of the diarrhea episodes will have occurred in individual pens limiting transmission of disease. My observation is that most of the diarrhea is related to cryptosporidiosis (a parasite) and was going to occur regardless of the housing environment. Given that nearly all calves have scours between 7 and 10 days and on this dairy calf care personnel skills are limited, maybe it is best to use individual housing to make it easy to identify scouring calves eligible for electrolyte feeding. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 Not Enough Colostrum?
Test! Adjust Feeding Volume by Quality.

On Friday, August 10th, I posted "Stretching Your Supply of High Quality Colostrum." This suggested that feeding a somewhat lower volume of high quality colostrum may give adequate levels of circulating antibodies for newborn calves. This post expands on this idea. 

Research completed this past  year at Penn State University suggests a way to make a limited supply of colostrum go farther when feeding newborn calves. Test and adjust volume?

 They divided their colostrum supply into three categories: high, medium or low. 
Measuring actual antibodies (IgG) they found these quality differences:
high         92.5 mg/ml
medium   59.4 mg/ml
low          48.0 mg/ml

They fed the calves and tested blood 24 hours later.
The blood serum total protein levels went up as colostrum quality went up - no big surprise.
high          24.8 mg/ml
medium    22.2 mg/ml
low           18.0 mg/ml

Now, of special interest, was the efficiency of absorption of the antibodies fed.
When they compared the absorption results from calves fed the medium and  high quality colostrum they found the calves had absorbed about the same amount of antibodies regardless of  the volume of antibodies fed.

The calves fed medium quality colostrum had an efficiency of absorption of 38 percent while calves fed the high quality colostrum had a lower level of efficiency - only 25 percent. 

The authors suggest that "there may be an  upper limit to amount of IgG absorption in a given time period." (p277)

Bottom Line? If colostrum supply is low, using a smaller volume (for example, 3 quarts) of high quality colostrum for first feeding may work as well as a larger volume (for example, 4 quarts) of medium quality colostrum.

Reference: Saldana, S. L. and Others, "Effects of difference heating time of high, mediumj and low quality colostrum on IgG absorption in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 101, Supplement #2, p 277 #T175, 2018.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Colostrum Antibody Losses Minimal when 
Heat Treated

We know that heat treating colostrum what contains bacteria will lower the bacteria count.

We know that heat treating colostrum to lower bacteria content will reduce the concentration of antibodies, specifically immunoglobulin G (IgG).

How much reduction?

Well, it depends. In this work done at Penn State University they checked to see how much reduction in both bacteria and antibodies would result from heat treating at 60C (140F) for 30 minutes and 60 minutes.

First, bacteria results. Heat treating resulted in bacteria reductions of approximately 94 % and 95% times of 30 and 60 minutes respectively. So, heat treating works.

Second, antibody losses due to heat treating. At 30 minutes the losses were 9 percent. At 60 minutes the losses were 12 percent. So, while heat treating does reduce antibody concentration the losses are within an acceptable range.

One thing to remember - heat treating will not increase the antibody concentration of colostrum - it is still true that "garbage in - garbage out" applies to colostrum and heat treating. 

Reference: Saldana, S. L. and Others, "Effects of difference heating time of high, mediumj and low quality colostrum on IgG absorption in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 101, Supplement #2, p 277 #T175, 2018.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Summary Article on Forage Feeding
for Young Calves

This short article summarizes in readable form much of the biology of rumen development among young milk-fed calves.

The link is https://extension.psu.edu/new-thoughts-old-question-should-we-feed-calves-forage 

The bottom line at the end of the article is that forage feeding rates in the range of 5 to 10 percent of total intake is a workable goal.

Depending on  the size of the calf operation on an individual dairy different methods of including forage may be needed. 

With my calves (100 on milk most of the year) I did not have an easy way to get chopped hay. If I had calves consuming around 2 to 3 pounds of textured starter per day it only took 2 ounces of hay per day to equal 5 percent. Ever try to measure 2 ounces of hay?

My solution was to put a handful of good quality second-cutting alfalfa hay in the top of their grain pail three days a week (that made it easy to feed hay on Mon, Wed and Fri). As the calves approached full weaning at 49-52 days of age (eating 5 to 6# of grain daily) I was a little more liberal with the hay. 

I did not depend on relief workers to feed hay - they consistently overfed hay by a factor of 100 to 200 percent.

When my calves moved from individual housing to group housing (5 calves per pen) I limit-fed hay the first week to what they would clean up in around 1/2 an hour per day.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Testing Colostrum for IgG's

The September calf management newsletter with this title highlights:
  • Sick calves? Feeding low quality colostrum could be contributing to the problem!
  • Make colostrum quality testing part of the dairy's SOP for colostrum management.
  • Connect test values to colostrum feeding - keep it simple.
Think about these questions:
  1. What are the chances of having low quality colostrum?
  2. How can we identify low quality colostrum?
  3. Once we  have identified low quality colostrum, how do we avoid using it for first feeding for our heifer calves? 
  4. What can we do if colostrum supplies are low?
URL is http://atticacows.com/library/newsletters/CESeptember2018.pdf or just click HERE.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Auto Feeder Weaning Method and
Rates of Gain When Feeding High Levels of Milk

Which weaning method should you use with an automatic milk feeder when feeding high levels of milk? A continuous gradual program - small equal amounts over 14 days? A multi-step gradual program with 2 or 3 L increments over 14 days?

Calves were offered 12L/day until day 43. Then they were enrolled on one of the two weaning programs (as above). Weaning was completed on day 57.

"Feed intake (calf starter grain) did not differ between treatments in the milk feeding, weaning and post-weaning periods." (feed was 95% mixed concentrate and 5% chopped straw)

"Growth rates did not vary by treatment during milk feeding and post-weaning periods."

Both groups of calves had an abrupt drop in gains right at weaning.
The gains for continuous gradual program calves dropped from 1.08kg/day (2.4#/day) to 590g/day (1.3#/day) the week they were weaned. The gains for multi-step gradual program calves dropped from 940g/day (2.1#/day) to 700g/day (1.5#/day) the week they were weaned. 

Before long (during days 57 to 70) the gains for both groups rebounded back up to about 1.2kg/day (2.6#/day). As best I can tell from reading the research report the calves remained on the same dry ration from days 57 to 70 as they adapted to being weaned (that is, they did no suddenly receive ad lib forages).

Regardless of the weaning program, final weaning represented a big short-time stressful event. Our management should avoid adding other stresses at the same time in order maintain good calf health and avoid the need to treat calves for pneumonia.

Reference: Parsons, S.D., and Others "Effect of type of gradual weaning program on intakes and growth of dairy calves fed a high level of milk." Journal of Dairy Science Supplement #2 2018 p260

Friday, August 24, 2018

Summary of Auto Feeder Success Factors

Data from 38 farms over 18 months were summarized. The research summary identified 9 factors associated with better calf health scores and/or lower mortality/ or treatment rates.

1. Reduced time to reach  peak milk allowance (minimum peak allowance suggested is 8L/d)

2. Feeding milk/milk replacer with low bacteria count (SPC less than 100,000cfu/ml)

3. Use of positive pressure ventilation tubes in the calf barn

4. Adequate amount of space /calf in the resting area (minimum suggested is 3.7sq.meters - 40sq.feet)

5. Small number of calves per group (suggested less than 15 calves)

6. Adequate farm average serum total protein concentration (an indicator of passive immunity transfer)

7. Use of drinking speed as a warning signal to identify potentially sick calves

8. Practicing navel and pen disinfection between calf groups consistency

9. Narrow age range within calf groups

They conclude: "It appeared that cleaning of the autofeeder and its various components was one of the most important keys to making these systems work successfully." (p162)

Reference: Endres, M. " What have we learned about automatic milk feeders?" Journal of Dairy Science 2018 101: Supplement: Annual Meeting Abstracts #117