Germany, May 21, 2013
The travel from Poland on May 20 gave me an opportunity to see the large relatively flat fields in northern Germany. Many fields of rape were in full blossom - quite a site of bright yellow in contrast to the green countryside.
Our goal was the city of Muenster located in the northern part of the North Rhine - Westphalia region of Germany (borders on Netherlands). We met in a rural area close to a large German dairy that agreed to let us tour their facility after lunch on the 21st.
The ten Alta Genetics staff attending the seminar on young calf management represented nearly as many countries. The English-language seminar this day allowed extra time for discussion that we did not have in Poland on Monday due to translation time.
The staff represented clients from under 100 cows to farms in the 1,000's of cows. Some were state-owned while others were owned privately. The only commonality was the challenge in keeping calves alive and healthy while growing well.
Our afternoon farm tour took us to a well-managed German dairy - I cannot remember the exact number of cows but close to 500-600. Calves here were fed 2 litres of colostrum twice-a-day at milking time when colostrum was collected from the fresh cows (note here that some cows waited over 12 hours for this first milking).
Calves were housed in outdoor elevated pens for the first couple of weeks. They were fed a pound of milk replacer powder a day, free-choice water and a handful of a TMR made up of chopped hay and a protein pellet. Milk replacer was fed with nipple pails that were washed only for a new calf. Then they went into group bedded-pack pens inside a large barn. They changed to waste milk fed at a higher rate (I think it was about 6 litres per day) and the same TMR mix until roughly 10 to 12 weeks. My perception was that the calves pretty well stood still for the first three weeks and then as they received more energy through milk they began to grow more rapidly. After they had enough rumen development to benefit from the TMR they did even better. At 3 months they looked quite good.
At that time they transitioned to a larger group with free stalls. This last facility had a major challenge in terms of air quality. I think I understood that this was the focus of many treatment for pneumonia cases.
This farm did not monitor bacteria counts in colostrum. Once in the past year they worked with a research project that measured blood serum total protein values - from my perspective they had an unacceptably high passive transfer failure rate but the owner was not inclined to make any changes in the colostrum feeding management as a result of those results. Maybe our visit might encourage him to consider checking for bacteria and increasing the colostrum feeding rate?
On to Italy for a day of visiting farm and the next day another seminar.