Thursday, October 8, 2015

Putting Some Numbers to "Doing Better"

At a farm visit last week we talked about "doing better" with the calf enterprise. It was my first visit to the dairy. 

"So," I asked, "What can you tell me about calves dying or sick calves?"

The answers were disappointingly vague. "Well, we don't lose very many calves. We do have to treat some calves for pneumonia, but not very many."

When calves die their number is written on a calendar. Unfortunately, they stay there and are not added up.

When calves are treated for pneumonia the treatment is recorded in a spiral notebook. These treatments are not summarized.

"I see," I replied. "How well are the calves growing, are they doubling their weight by the time you wean them?"

Since we were standing in the calf barn the calf care person responded, "Well, they look okay, don't they?" It turns out they don't even own a heart girth tape to estimate calf weights. 

How do you help someone who does not know where they are now and does not have measurable goals for where they want to be in the future?

So, we agreed that the next step in our mutual search for "doing better" would be to take the calendar for 2014 and 2015 and list the calves that had died. Further, she was going to go through the spiral notebook for the same time and make a list of all the calves treated for pneumonia and treatment dates.

I left a kit with her (five sterile sample bottles and instructions for sampling) for collecting "as-fed" samples of colostrum. Since a national study showed that 40 percent of all colostrum samples contained over 100,000cfu/ml bacteria there is a pretty good chance she will have one or more badly contaminated samples out of the five. 

These lab data will give us a good starting place to see if improvements are needed in her colostrum management program. 

I also arranged to have her vet draw blood on all the calves between 2 and 7 days of age for blood serum total protein testing. This will give us some quantitative estimates about how well the process of getting mom's antibodies into her calf is working. 

I'm looking forward to our next visit later in October. At that time we will go over our summarized mortality and morbidity facts. And, we will have some lab data on colostrum bacteria counts and passive transfer effectiveness. I think it would be good for us to go through the "Calf Risk Assessment Checklist" [check HERE to access the checklist], too. That will help identify possible areas where improvement might be made for the calf enterprise. 

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