Sunday, May 26, 2013

Italy, May 22, 2013
My flight was to Milan in northern Italy where nearly one-half of all the milk in Italy is produced. The actual city was Cremona, south of Milan on the Po River. Really old city founded by Romans before 200 BC. Lots of large flat fields, much of this land is irrigated from snow-melt water from the Alps. 
Our first farm to visit was milking over 600 cows (large but not unusual for the Cremona area). This was one of the top genetics herds in Italy. We met with both the calf care person and the herd veterinarian. They were starting calves out on 2 litres of freshly-collected colostrum. This means that colostrum was fed twice a day when fresh cows were milked. 

The farm did not check for bacteria in colostrum even though a central lab was located nearby. Blood serum total protein to check on the colostrum management program had not been done in the past year.

They were housed for the first two weeks in elevated crates or pens. They were limit-fed milk replacer (2 litres mixed at 125g/L twice daily = just over one pound of powder a day), no water or concentrate.

Calves moved from crates to group straw-bedded pens around 2 weeks depending on calving pressure. They switched to pasteurized waste milk fed in troughs at the rate of 4 litres a day. Each pen had enough trough space for all calves to eat at one time. The pens also had long troughs full of what appeared to hay - I was told it was a TMR (chopped hay with protein pellet mixed in - today I could not find any pellets - they feed TMR twice a week).

I could not see that there was a lot of growth until 5 or 6 weeks of age. There was an increasing difference among calves as we went from 3 weeks to 8 weeks - smaller ones fell farther behind and larger ones surged farther ahead. 

Our second farm was a bit smaller but also had very elite genetics. We found a very similar colostrum management system - delayed milking of fresh cows, delayed feeding of colostrum, no checking of colostrum quality,  limited colostrum feeding, no checking on bacteria in colostrum and not blood serum total protein testing. 

Our third farm was milking about 250 cows. Their colostrum program was to feed 2 litres when the fresh cows were milked twice a day. The calves were housed in elevated crates for the first 8 weeks. The milk replacer feeding program provided a little over one pound of powder per day. This farm was having difficulty getting calves to consume very much of the calf starter grain. As I walked the calves in late afternoon (around 6:00 pm) the calves had not had their afternoon feeding. None of the buckets contained water - yet the owner said that was where the water was fed. Although the feeder was providing water he was making sure that there was no water to dump when it came time for the next feeding of milk. Amazing how a little thing like limiting water can suppress grain intakes - the 6 and 7 week old calves were eating less than one pound of grain a day!

What a challenging day.

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