Monday, November 20, 2017

Cold Weather & Colostrum

Dr. Bob Corbett describes the issue of adequate energy intake by closeup dry cows and its impact on the volume of colostrum produced.

Click HERE for the full article.

On the point of adequate dry matter intake he has this to say:
"The biggest reason for a reduction in intake is overcrowding on the close-up pen. Use only 80% of the available bunk space. Separating first-calf heifers from older cows will also improve intake of the younger animals."

He reminds us:
"Obviously, antibody content of the colostrum and cleanliness is necessary to maximize antibody levels in the blood of the calf, along with administration of 10% of the birth weight in colostrum as soon as possible after birth."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

STOP! Don't Cut that Nipple
[Bottle Feeding Tip]

This short bottle feeding tip gives advice about NOT cutting nipples to speed up milk flow. Feeders are encouraged to check and, as needed, open the air vent hole to allow easy milk flow.

It is available HERE in English and HERE in Spanish.

If this helps with the problem of cutting nipples please drop me a note at

Colostrum: Lowering a High Coliform Bacteria Count
 A Case Study

This is a new post at the web site. Click HERE to go to the post.

The key points:

High coliform bacteria counts in colostrum should not be normal. 
 It is possible to feed colostrum with low coliform bacteria counts. 
 Efforts to reduce coliform bacteria counts in colostrum must be a team effort – everyone has      to buy into the goal of clean colostrum. 
 It is most cost effective to focus on key critical control points: 1. Clean teats on fresh cows 2.       Clean collection equipment 3. Feed quickly or cool rapidly for stored colostrum 4. Clean              feeding equipment 
 Monitor, monitor, monitor with sampling and lab cultures.

Enjoy the pictures of the floating thermometer and ice jug floating in a bucket of colostrum.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Weaning with Less Stess

This is the title of a new posting in the calf management resource library at Click HERE to go to the posting.

The main points are:

  • Weaning stress can be managed.
  • Weaning is less stressful when calves meet three criteria for rumen maturity.
  • Grain pail management and daily observation for the weaning-ready calves is the key in assessing duration and regularity of grain intake.
  • We often underestimate the volume of calf starter grain needed to adequately meet a calf’s needs for both maintenance and to continue to grow 1.7 to 2 lbs./day.

Friday, November 10, 2017

When to Test for Passive Immunity in Calves

This is a new post in the Calf Facts resource library. Click HERE to visit.

The main points are:
  • ·        Exposure rates are likely to be high.
  • ·        Don’t fall behind – reduce exposure of newborn and older calves.
  • ·        Managing infections – building immunity.
  • ·        Preclinical use of the additives is recommended.
  • ·        Tips for reducing severity of clinical infections.
   You may also want to look at the resource "Passive Transfer: How to Test For" at this location - click HERE.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Don't Fall Behind with Coccidiosis

The November 2017 issue of the calf management newsletter has these main points:
  • Exposure rates are likely to be high.
  • Don't fall behind - reduce exposure of newborn and older calves.
  • Managing infections - building immunity.
  • Preclinical use of the additives (medications) is recommended.
  • Tips for reducing severity of clinical infections.
The link at or is HERE.
The URL if you need to paste into your browser is

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Training Employees to Follow Protocols: A Checklist

This is the title of a newly edited post in the Metric Calf Facts section. 

The key points :

1. Focus on just one skill
2. Keep training short
3. Train on location
4. Demonstrate the skill
5. Practice the skill
6. Evaluate performance

To get there you can go to and click on Resources. Click on Calf Facts Resource Library, click on Metric Calf Facts.

The direct link to this resource is HERE.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Fixing Passive Transfer Failure

This is the title of a new post at Click HERE for the post [click HERE for the metric version]
[also can be accessed at under Resources, Calf Facts]

Key points:
  • How soon after birth is the first colostrum feeding?
  • What quality of colostrum is being fed at first feeding?
  • What quantity of colostrum is being fed for first feeding?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Extended Weaning Influences Digestion Efficiency

How long is the weaning period? Three days, 7 days or 10 days or 14 days?

The authors suggest that when calf starter grain intakes increase rapidly from  100-200g/day to more than 1,000g/day in 5 to 7 days (short weaning period) digestion is compromised. They conclude the digestion rates are low enough to leave the heifers short on energy and protein to maintain preweaning rates of structural growth.

"A recent comparison of weaning over 7 or 14 days to complete weaning by 8 weeks reported greater organic matter digestibility at 12 weeks for calves weaned over 14 days." (Dennis, 2017 abst.)

"It is known that calves fed a large amount of milk replacer will have lower digestibility of starter postweaning than calves fed moderate amounts of milk replacer and this difference in digestion appears to persist for at least 4 week." (Dennis 2017 p9003) [emphasis added]

Evidence is piling up that longer weaning periods for calves fed large amounts (for example, 2 pounds or 1 kg MR, 8 to 10 quarts of whole milk daily) of milk replacer/milk need time once they begin consuming calf stater grain (concentrate) to develop efficient digestive processes in their rumens. Dennis, Hill and others are suggesting 2 weeks rather than 7 days as a more appropriate step down period.

I used 2 week-long weaning period with my own calves (roughly 35-49 days). I did not observe negative trends at the end of milk feeding. I kept them in individual housing for one more week. for close observation. During the first week post-weaning I wanted the weaned calves to be active, bright-eyed and actively eating their calf starter grain and eager to eat the small amount of hay in their grain bucket. Then around 56 to 60 days they moved into group pens (5 per pen). 

Dennis suggests a 4 week adaptive period is required to full adaptation of the rumen to a grain-based ration. I did not have that long. I don't know if I should have seen some issues the last week in individual housing and the  first 3 weeks my calves were in transition pens. But, I treated very few calves for pneumonia, they spent a lot of time running around in their out-door pens (16' x 32') and ate well over 5 lbs (somewhat more than 2kg) grain daily. Unfortunately, although I had weaning weights I was not collecting any measurements (weight, height) after weaning - that is, in the transition grower phase. 

Refernces: Dennis, T.S., and Others, "Effects fo egg yolk inclusion, milk replacer feeding rate, and low-starch (pelleted) or high-starch (texturized) starter on Holstein calf performance through 4 months of age." Journal of Dairy Science 100: 8995-9006. Dennis. T.S. and Others, "Effects of previous milk replacer feeding program on calf performance and digestion through 4 months of age." Journal of Dairy Science 100 [E-suppl 2:301] Abstract. 2017.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Do You Need to Monitor Bacteria Levels for Your
Automatic Milk Feeder?


Well, I know you expect to have the post contain more than one word.

In recently reported research  these were only the coliform bacteria counts, not the total bacteria counts.

Location of sample                       Median (cfu/ml)  Lowest    Highest
                                                         [coliform counts, colony forming units per milliliter (cfu/ml)]

Exit from mixing vessel into the         336                   0        25,621,330
feeder tube

End of feeder tube at the nipple      10,430                45        28,517,000

For my clients we use the goal of no greater than 1,000cfu/ml coliforms in milk/milk replacer. That means among study farms most of them failed to keep their equipment clean enough to deliver wholesome un-contaminated milk to their calves. Is it surprising that 54% of the calves in the study require treatment for scours?

Look just at the median values, 336 coming out of the mixing vessel going into the feeder tube and 10,430 coming out of the feeding tube into the nipple. I consider this 3,000% increase pretty good evidence that changing those tubes regularly and often could be one way to lower this contamination rate. Clearly, it is possible to screw up keeping feeding equipment clean.

Look at the variation between the "cleanest" (lowest) and "most contaminated" (highest) dairies. Where would you want to be a calf?  On the dairy with 45cfu or the dairy with 28 million cfu/ml coliforms in milk?

(Jorgensen, M.W. and Others, "Mortality and health treatment rates of dairy calves in automated milk feeder systems in the Upper Midwest of the United States." Journal of Dairy Science, 100:9186-9193)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Link Between Disinfecting Navels and Mortality

Over a decades long period of time I have been advocating disinfecting navels on newborn calves. In the Calf Facts library at our website I have three posts about navel dipping - one of them is Dipping Navels: Dollars and Sense [click HERE to go there].

A newly published study of dairies with automated milk feeding systems (26 dairies from the US Upper Midwest) collected data on mortality and disinfecting navels.

Here are the results: [average rate of mortality]

No navel disinfecting [22% of farms] = 7.3% mortality
Yes, navel disinfecting [78% of farms] = 3.0% mortality
57% of the farms reported mortality rates less than 3 % with one dairy having a 13.4% death rate.

We suspect that there are other best management practices that go along with disinfecting newborn navels that, in part, are also connected to calf mortality.

Reference: Jorgensen, M.W. and Others,"Mortality and health treatment rates of dairy calves in automated milk feeding systems in the Upper Midwest of the United States." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9186-9193 October 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

16% of Calf Mortality Tied to Antibody Levels in Newborn Blood

Yes, that is what the title says, By following best colostrum management practices you should be able to drop your calf mortality rate by 16%. 

Well maybe that is an overgeneralization. But, recently reported research on 26 Upper Midwestern US dairy farms using automated milk feeding systems examined the connection between rate of mortality and the successful transfer of passive immunity via colostrum. 

They checked blood serum total protein [BSTP] levels on the calves that were in group housing for the automatic feeders. [BSTP is a measure of blood antibody levels] Depending on how you define passive transfer failure here are the BSTP results:

Below 5.0g/dL - 23.3% of all the samples in the study
Below 5.2g/dL - 36.0% of all the samples in the study

The goals I use with my client farms are
Below 5.0 = 10%
Below 5.5 = 20%

Thus, there were lots of calves in this study with less than desirable passive transfer of immunity. They found that they could explain 16% of the variation among the calf population mortality by knowing the BSTP of the calf. 

Reference: Jorgensin, M.W. and Others, "Mortality and health treatment rates of dairy calves in automated milk feeding systems in the Upper Midwest of the United States." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9186-9193 October 2017

Friday, October 20, 2017

How Clean is Your Colostrum Handling Equipment?

Let's look at some data from 52 dairy farms from the Province of Ontario that were supplying bull calves for two veal calf operations. They had a range of 35 to 520 cows in the herd, 73% housed in free-stall barns. Colostrum handling equipment (nipple bottles, tube feeders and pails) were selected  randomly for testing on each farm. Only 1 item in each category was checked on each farm.

They used 15ml sterile water samples to rinse the interior surfaces on each piece of equipment. Each sample was split into 2 parts - one part was send for laboratory bacterial culturing and one part was checked using luminometry.

Lab culture results - total bacteria count

                                             <100,000cfu/ml     >100,000cfu/ml     >1,000,000cfu/ml
Nipple bottle (n=49)                    39%                        61%             Of the 49, 20% over a million

Esophageal tube fdr (n=18)         28%                        72%             Of the 18, 44% over a million

Pail (n=6)                                    100%                     None                         None

That's right -the rinse samples from two out of five tube feeders had total bacteria counts over 1,000,000cfu/ml.

One out of five nipple bottles had rinse sample total bacteria counts over 1,000,000cfu/ml.

What are the chances that one or more pieces of your colostrum handling equipment is as contaminated as those on these farms?

If you are still interested, similar lab culture results for coliform bacteria were

                                             <10,000cfu/ml     >10,000cfu/ml          >50,000cfu/ml
Nipple bottle (n=49)                    80%                        20%             Of the 49, 8% over 50,000

Esophageal tube fdr (n=18)         83%                        17%             Of the 18, 17% over 50,000

Pail (n=6)                                    67%                         33%                           33%

Reference: Renaud, D. L. and Others, "Validation of commercial luminometry swabs for total bacteria and coliform counts in colostrum-feeding equipment." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9459-9465 October 2017.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Checking for Cleaning via Luminometer

Interesting data from University of Guelph research team on the connection between luminometer readings and laboratory bacteria culture results are found in this report:
"Validation of commercial luminometry swabs for total bacteria and coliform counts in colostrum-feeding equipment." (Journal of Dairy Science, 100:9459-9465 October 2017).

Using the test equipment available to the general public (Hygiena luminometer and various test swabs) they conclude that the Aqua-Snap Total and Microshap Coliform swabs are an acceptable alternative to traditional bacteria counts to evaluate cleanliness of colostrum-feeding equipment. About 59% of their surfaces has bacteria counts of at least 100,000cfu/ml - so they had plenty of dirty surfaces to check.

Note that they used rinse samples (15ml sterile water rinsed the surfaces to be tested).

At our vet clinic we use the Ultra-Snap testing swaps (direct collection from dry surfaces with moistened swabs). The data below are from a commercial dairy June 2016-July2017. Note the up and down pattern at certain sample sites. Acceptable ATP values were selected by the dairy.

Sanitation Audit Data
Acceptable ATP values: Feeding equipment <100, Environment<250
Location Sample Site Swab Site 14-Jun 14-Sep 13-Oct 10-Nov 22-Dec 30-Jun 26-Jul
2016 2016 2016 2016 2016 2017 2017
Milk room milker bucket newer inside 1/3 down 48 46 56 6 10 7 80
milker bucket older inside 1/3 down 259 45 17 11 10 11 121
plastic lid underside, under gask. 741 5298 118 93 34 41 58
Utility room Tube feeder inside bottle 2" - refrig 33 10 0 66 77 20 & 6 2&7
(calving) Tube feeder (ss) inside tube - top 2" 11 1404 0 4 59 3592 1
Tube feeder (ss) inside tube - ball 2" 995 3458 0 60 0 340 44
Holding pen plastic side - 1 ft.up 443 1167 555 1150 548 577 389
Garage Past. Milk discharge inside hose 2 inches 0 9 1 3 44 115 19
Gator Trans. Tank inside top 21 101 0 0 0 7 6
Trans. Tank end of hose 2 422 5 0 2 10 156
Trans. Tank feeding hose outlet 2 0 2 0 0 3 19&95
Nursing bottle inside bottle 2 inches 83 3027 n/a n/a 0 n/a 131
Nursing nipple inside surface 7 7976 n/a n/a 1363 n/a 208
Hutches Fdg. Pail 1 wk.(new) inside 1/3 down 144 2719 41 623 1 Rain 179
Fdg. Pail 1 wk.(old) inside 1/3 down 76 1919 24 500 0 Rain 33
Fdg. Pail 4 wks. inside 1/3 down 91 1020 213 225 90 Rain 1159*
Hutch surface 1 wk inside across from fdr 26 5989 925 289 209 Rain 621
Kane Grain fdr. 1 wk. front edge tray 41 240 74 30 191 Rain n/a
Kane Grain fdr. 4 wks. front edge tray 132 1158 428 54 59 Rain 1458
Bold = Needs Improvement *second pail = 2347

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

4 Tips to jump start your winter calf feeding program

This short note by Tom Earleywine of Land 'O Lakes includes:
  1. Increase nutrition levels
  2. Transition to a seasonal milk replacer
  3. Keep starter fresh
  4. Avoid frozen buckets

This is the link, click HERE

or if the link doesn't work this is the URL

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Risk Assessment Checklist
[New for UK/Metric library]

The latest revision of the Risk Assessment Checklist is now posted at in the Resource section in the Calf Facts section. 

Click HERE to access the checklist.
Or paste the URL in the search window of your Internet browser:

The four sections are:
1. Calving area
2. Colostrum management
3. Housing
4. Nutrition

Friday, October 6, 2017

Caring for Calves Can Be Painful

This is the title of the October issue of the calf management newsletter. To go to the letter click HERE. If the link does not work here is the URL

The letter talks about calf care persons and their problems with painful backs and elbows. The outline is:

  • Chronic pain
  • Sources of stress
  • Can we reduce chronic back pain?
  • Lifting
  • Can we reduce elbow and shoulder pain?
  • Practical calf care examples we identified
Best wishes for finding a solution that works for you!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

"My advice for our future calf feeder"

What a great down-to-earth article by  Kelli Woodring, a dairy producer and calf care person from Pennsylvania, USA.

It is HERE or you can search for Progressive Dairyman, October 1, 2017 issue and find page 164,

Kelli has 9 very sound points to make for any and all calf care persons - a really fun read. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Nursing Consumption of Colostrum

In a small sample (N=44) of Holstein calves with unassisted births the colostrum consumption was measured. Their average birth weight was 42.8kg [94lbs].

The dams were milked at  the next regular milking shift (2x) and the calves were fed the colostrum from their dams. This resulted in intervals from birth to colostrum feeding time that varied from 20 minutes to 17.8 hours.

All colostrum was fed warm from the dam in a nipple bottle. All the calves were offered 4L (4.2qt) initially. If they drank all 4L then 2 more liters were offered.


"Eighty-four percent consumed >3 L of colostrum. Of the calves consuming <3 L of colostrum, the average colostral intake was 2.7 L [2.9qts] and ranged from 2.4 L [2.9qt] to 2.7 L [3qt]." p6610

The average consumed was 3.6 L [3.8qt] with a low of 1.5 l [1.6QT].

These data support my experiences feeding colostrum with a nipple bottle. For my Holstein calves with an unassisted birth fed in the range of about 2 to 10 hours after birth well over half of them drank two full 2-quart bottles of colostrum and many more drank one full bottle and half or more of the second one.

I used the time while bottle feeding as an opportunity to do a health and vigor assessment on calves. I have to add that on one day when I also was trying to do regular calf feeding and we had 13 newborns I did not bottle feed colostrum to all of the newborns.

A side note on bottle feeding. I always had two nipples with me. One nipple had an "average" opening - that is, small enough to prevent colostrum from running out of the bottle when held upside down yet large enough to permit easy flow for a vigorously nursing calf. One nipple had a "small" opening - that is, small enough so that a calf had to work at getting colostrum from the bottle.

Why two nipples? Most, probably 9 out of 10, calves did just fine with the "average" nipple. However, a small minority had choking problems - as a newborn they could not swallow well enough to clear the back of the mouth consistently when breathing. I found the "small" nipple was quite effective in solving this issue. And, it prevented aspiration of colostrum. My part-time helpers called them the "fast" and "slow" nipples.

Reference: Osaka, I. and Others, "Effect of the mass of immunoglobulin (Ig)G intake and age at first colostrum feeding on serum IgG concentration in Holstein Calves." Journal of Dairy Science 97:6608-6612 2014

Monday, September 25, 2017

How Many Antibodies We Feed End up in the Blood?

A standard method is used to estimate the proportion of antibodies fed to a calf that end up in her blood. It requires knowing:
  • calf body weight
  • volume of colostrum fed
  • IgG concentration in colostrum
  • IgG concentration in blood serum
100 calves were in the study. "After a normal calving, the heifer received either 4 or 5.6L of colostrum within 4 hours of birth, [a sample was taken of the "as-fed" colostrum] and a blood sample was collected between 24 and 36 hours after birth." p3282

The measure is called "apparent efficiency of absorption" or abbreviated as AEA.

The AEA values:
  • Average = 28.1%
  • Median = 27.5%
  • Minimum = 7.7%
  • Maximum = 59.9%
Most of the calves (70%) had values between 21% and 40%.

BOTTOM LINE? Using "average" conditions, in order to end up with at least 5g/dLantibodies  in the calf's blood we need to feed roughly 180g total in the first feeding (28% AEA). [This uses 5g/dL as an acceptable threshold for successful passive transfer of immunity. Excellent quality colostrum (80g/L) will deliver this in 2.7 quarts. Poor quality colostrum (30g/L) would require 7 quarts to equal 200g of antibodies.]

As a side note, one of the dairies fed 4 quarts as first feeding within 4 hours of birth and then an additional 2 quarts before 12 hours of birth.

The two- feeding protocol (total of 6 quarts) resulted in both an increase in AEA and a 68% increase in circulating antibodies in the blood compared to the single 4-quart feeding. These data agree with one of my client dairies that has a two-feeding colostrum protocol - they have well over 90% of the calves testing at 5.5g/dl blood serum total proteins.

Reference: Halleran, J. and Others, "Short Communication: Apparent efficiency of colostral immunoglobulin G absorption in Holstein heifers." Journal of Dairy Science 100:3282-3286 September 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

More Data on Variation Among Jersey Calves for Passive Immunity

Blood samples from ninety-seven 1 to 3 day-old Jersey calves from a three-state project in the United States of America were used to assess successful passive transfer of immunity from colostrum.

Overall, 90% of the calves had successful passive transfer of immunity.

Using blood serum total protein as a measure (cut point for success was 5.5):
Average     = 5.8
Minimum  = 3.7
Maximum = 8.4

Using Brix as a measure (cut point for success was 7.3):
Average     = 8.9
Minimum  = 6.5
Maximum = 12

The objective of the study was to validate a cut point for Jersey calves using the Brix refractometer. In contrast to the Holstein standard of 7.8, this project suggests using 7.3 as the threshold for measuring successful passive transfer of immunity for Jersey calves. 

Reference: McCracken, M.M. and Others, "Technical Note: Evaluation of digital refractometers to estimate serum immunoglobulin G concentration and passive transfer of Jersey calves." Journal of Dairy Science 100:8438-8442 October 2017.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Measuring Colostrum Quality

Measuring colostrum quality is a best management practice. It's not difficult to do and the equipment is inexpensive. Guidelines for using a Brix refractometer are found HERE.

A recent report on a survey of dairy farms in Michigan and Ohio included information from 449 farms (56% <100 cows, 39% between 100-499 cows and 5% 500 cows and greater). 

They were asked if they measured colostrum quality before feeding it to newborn calves. 

Results? The percent measuring were:

>500 cow herds      = 25%
100-499 cow herds = 18%
<100 cow herds      = 3%

These same producers were asked this question:
"Measuring colostrum quality is useful to make decisions on feeding calves colostrum: (responses were Strongly agree, somewhat agree, neither agree or disagreee, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree).

Of the 43 producers that regularly measure quality 41 agreed with this statement - their attitude and behavior matched. 

Of considerable interest to me was that finding that 39% of the farms NOT measuring colostrum quality agreed that measuring quality is useful in making decisions on feeding calves colostrum. 

Of those of the opinion that measuring colostrum quality is not useful, 53% also felt that the process of measuring quality was time consuming. That makes me wonder if they had actually observed the use of a Brix refractometer for colostrum quality measurement.

Reference: Pempek, J.A. and Others, "Dairy calf management - a comparison of practices and producer attitudes among conventional and organic herds." Journal of Dairy Science 100:8310-8321.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Every Time I Try Feeding My Calves More 
They have Scours

This past week I talked with some calf care folks. One of the practices I recommended was feeding calves more than the out-of-date four quarts a day of 20-20 milk replacer. 

The reaction of some folks was captured in the words of one calf care person, "Every time I try what you suggest of feeding more, my calves have scours."

So, I spend about half an hour explaining that we control the conditions that either increase or decrease the chances of calves having diarrhea when fed more that 4 quarts of milk/milk replacer a day. The greater the number of best management practices we follow the lower the opportunity for calves to have diarrhea.

You may want to review this list of 10 factors that I think probably are most likely to make a difference in how calves respond to increased feeding rates. Click HERE for the list (2 pages) or if the link does not work for you try pasting this link in your browser: 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

How Often Do I Need to Check My 
Colostrum Bacteria Count?

It depends. Well, that is not a very helpful answer.

The national Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards thresholds for bacteria counts in colostrum are <5,000cfu/ml coliforms and <50,000cfu/ml total plate count. For an expanded discussion of bacteria in colostrum click HERE

If the farm has not sampled and cultured "as-fed" colostrum for bacteria you can find a sample collection protocol HERE (or in Spanish HERE). I like to see a minimum of 5 samples each time. If the dairy is large enough to have different shifts of workers handling and feeding colostrum then 2 samples from each shift is a good idea.

When the results come back compare them to the standards above. By the way, when ordering the culturing from a lab you often have to specify that you want both speciation (which bacteria are present) and quantification (how many of each species). I usually tell the lab I do not want them to use techniques to get exact counts when the number of colonies on the plate are too numerous to count (often abbreviated as TNTC).

If the farm sample results look good (below standards) I recommend extending the sampling interval to every 3 months. This quarterly interval follows the seasons of the year along with changes in labor availability that go with cropping cycles. 

If the farm sample results contain one or more high count samples I recommend taking corrective action and resampling each month until the results come back in below the farm's goals. If coliform counts are high you may want to review my checklist for reducing these counts (click HERE).

Monday, September 11, 2017

Passive Transfer Failure: It's Hard to Hit Zero!

In research study Holstein heifer calves received their first colostrum feeding at 4 or less hours after birth. They were fed 4.2 quarts of colostrum in one feeding that averaged 58g/l quality - so on the average they received around 240g of Ig's. 

In spite of this exemplary care they still had 2 percent passive transfer failure. The average efficiency of absorption (percent of antibodies fed that end up in the calf's blood) was around 23 percent. However, the range of efficiency was from less than 10 to over 50 percent. 

Another part of the study included calves fed 4 quarts as first feeding (less than 4 hours old) and another 2 quarts before they were 12 hours old. This colostrum averaged nearly 70g/l. With the combination of two feedings of excellent quality  colostrum (added up to 390g of Ig's) a higher level of passive transfer was  achieved.   

Bottom line? If you have a calf now and then that has passive transfer failure don't beat yourself up over it. Genetics always will play a role when you roll the dice and once in a while you will lose. 

Despite the wide range in apparent absorption efficiency demonstrated in this study it was clear that feeding 4 quarts (10% body weight) of good quality colostrum within 4 hours of birth will result in an excellent program for calf immunity. Other research has shown that at this volume similar results will be achieved with either one or two feedings and feeding either by bottle or tube feeder. 
[Click HERE for more on this.]  

Reference: Halleran, J. and Others, " Apparent efficiency of colostral immunoglobulin G absorption in Holstein heifer." Journal of Dairy Science 100;3282-3286. Osaka, J. and Others, "Effect of mass of immunoglobulin intake and age at first colostrum feeding on serum IgG concentration in Holstein calves." Journal of Dairy Science 97:6608-6612.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Guidelines for Storing Colostrum

The September 2017 issue of the calf management newsletter offers guidelines for doing a good job of storing colostrum. Whether refrigerated or frozen, having a backup to fresh colostrum is a best management practice.

The key points are:
·       Start with clean colostrum
·       Reduce growth of bacteria
·       Monitor effectiveness of storage methods


Friday, September 1, 2017

More on Transition Milk
"Transition Milk is Too Valuable to Sell"

This article [click HERE to go to it online] by Maureen Hanson quotes Dr. Jeremy Schefers from the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, If the link does not work, try this URL 

He is quoted as saying that transition milk is easily worth $30/gallon or $300/cwt because of its value in  promoting good gut health. 

This blog reinforces my transition message in my June 15th Blog on the value of second milkings - about half of the samples tested 50g/L (that is the national threshold for acceptable first feeding colostrum). 

Monday, August 28, 2017

My Ruminations about Rumen pH Among Weaned Calves

By using intensive data collection methods a research team was able to monitor rumen pH in  calves before, during and after weaning. Because of practical limitations (equipment, rumen canulas) the number of calves was limited to six.

"Pre-weaning the average daily pH was low (5.6 ) implying rumen acidosis. The pH reached its lowest levels during the week after weaning (wk 7) with a mean of 5.5 and did not increase before wk 11. Furthermore, ruminal pH was below 5.5 and 5.2 for approximately 745 and 220 minutes daily during wk 7 and 8, respectively. The pH increased significantly in wk 11 and 12 with a mean pH of 6.1."

Even when calves were not eating very much calf starter grain the pH levels were low. I did not expect that finding. In addition to 900g of milk replacer powder daily these calves had free-choice access to chopped straw - supposedly that ration should modify the rumen environment to achieve more favorable pH conditions. Among these few calves clearly the addition of straw did not improve pH conditions pre-weaning.

I noted that rumen pH dropped to 5.2 during weeks 7 and 8 for 220 minutes a day. Those prolonged low pH times suggest a depression of the favorable rumen microbial populations. The article did not mention whether or not  fresh concentrate was provided  before these periods of low pH. If calf "slug fed" on concentrate (usually due to not having a consistent supply 24/7) I would expect depressed pH conditions post feeding.

When feeding my own calves I thought that feeding a big handful of palatable alfalfa hay daily to my older calves would lead to more favorable rumen conditions - the fiber would form a stabilizing mat in the rumen, the calve would be encouraged to spend more time chewing a cud thus delivering more pH neutralizing fluid for the rumen. 

Now ,I wonder about feeding the hay. How well did this dietary rumen adaptation post-weaning work to manage rumen pH? My intent was to start building the appropriate rumen microbial population for fiber digestion (alfalfa hay). I didn't even think about rumen pH.

 I do know that I tried to be sure that after the calves had a milk step-down as part of weaning they always had access to plenty of clean water and palatable calf starter grain - never let either of those run out. At the time I thought that this was a best management practice. I wanted to prevent "slug" feeding (that is, eating an excessively large volume of grain at one time).

I recall that a few of my calves would cycle in their grain intake during weeks six and seven - up and down, up and down over a period of three to five days.  Maybe these were the ones where the rumen pH was very low for prolonged periods of time - perhaps they "went off-feed" because of this - then after recovering they dug into the grain, often eating six or more pounds of grain for the next several days. Then, off-feed again.

Perhaps the take-home message from this research is that we need to pay closer attention to the dietary transitions from weeks 5 through 12 to gradually ease the rumen into the most favorable pH conditions. 

J.K. van Niekerk and Others, "Ruminal pH in Holstein dairy bull calves from pre-weaning to post-weaning." Journal of Dairy Science, 100:178 July 2017

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pair Housing of Preweaned Dairy Calves

There is a growing body of evidence that housing preweaned calves in small groups (for example, pairs) results in higher rates of gain and more positive social behavior when placed in larger groups. They tend to have less stress when weaned and moved into larger pens. These paired-housing studies have been done in barns.

But, if the farm is raising calves in hutches that will not work. Right?

Well, maybe no so impossible.

Research compared (only a small number, however) raising calves individually in hutches and along side them placing 2 hutches next to each other with a common run. Same farm, same calf care procedures, just that some  hutches were paired.

Now, these findings are from a small number of calves (14 individual housed, 16 calves housed as 8 pairs). So, the results should be considered more exploratory rather than conclusive.

The dairy fed milk twice daily. Calves started out at 6L per day and worked up to 10L per day (until 35 days) and then back down to 6L per day (until 56 days). 

Starter intake:
Up to 35 days (period of high milk intake) no difference in calf starter grain intake between individual and paired calves. Figures below are averages for each type of housing.

Between 35 and 56 days (milk cut back to 6L a day)
     Individual-housed calves = 2.2 lbs daily (1.02kg)
     Pair-housed calves = 3.8 lbs daily (1.72kg)

That is 68 percent more starter intake!

In the post-weaning period (days 56 through 67)
    Individual-housed calves = 3.8 lbs. daily (1.71lg)
    Pair-housed calves = 7.7 lbs. daily (3.51kg)

That is 105 percent more starter intake!

Interesting outcomes from a very small sample.

L. Whalen and Others, "Pair housing of dairy calves in modified individual calf hutches." Journal of Dairy Science 100:227 July 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Take Time to Care for the Dystocia Calf

The August 2017 calf management newsletter is now posted at or click HERE to directly to the letter. 

The key points:
·  Calving difficulty, often called dystocia, affects between 13 to 15 % of Holstein calves.
·   Treatment rates are higher for dystocia calves (scours 17%, pneumonia 70%) compared to calves experiencing unassisted births.
·      Providing special care, both in the first few hours and first two weeks, can cut both death losses and treatments for scours and/or pneumonia.
·        Give lots of stimulation during first few hours.
·        Be sure to follow up for the next two weeks.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pneumonia Among Preweaned Calves Cuts
1st Lactation Production 1,155#

These were the findings of a research project completed involving 215 animals from 3 southwestern Ontario herds.

Calves were assessed using thoracic ultrasonagraphy weekly for the first 8 weeks of life. At least one diagnosis of lung consolidation was found in 57 percent of the animals. They were followed through their first lactation.

"The presence of lung consolidation [evidence of bovine respiratory disease] at least once in the first 8 weeks of life was associated with a 525kg (1,155 lbs) decrease in first lactation."

Given this study population, preventing pneumonia (bovine respiratory disease) was an important factor in allowing the animals to express their genetic potential for milk production. 

T.R. Dunn and Others, " The effect of lung consolidation, as determined by ultrasonography, on first lactation milk production in Holstein dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 100:194 July 2017.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Yes, Air Quality Can Make a Difference!
Increased BRD Among Group-Housed Calves

Seventeen dairy farms in southern Ontario, Canada, using automatic feeders for preweaned calves were visited 4 times over a year.

Sharing air with cattle 5 to 8 months of age was a significant risk factor for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) (p<.01) 

The range of BRD among the 17 farms was from 0 to 28 percent (median 17%). 

Air quality can make a difference for group-housed calves on automatic feeders. Once weaned, the calves belong in another barn - not mucking up the air for the younger ones. 

The authors also found that frequently cleaning of the feeder and pen helped reduce both scours and BRD.

Reference: Medrano-Galarza, C. and Others, "Association of Management practices and calf health on dairy farms using automatic milk feeders in southern Ontario." Journal of Dairy Science 100:340 July 2017

Thursday, August 10, 2017

How Long Does it Take for Antibodies from Colostrum to Reach their Maximum Concentration in Calf Blood?

Using blood drawn from 20 calves received one feeding of 3 liters of colostrum at or less than 2 hours after birth they found this: (this delivered at least 200g of antibodies)

Average time to maxiumum concentration:

Colostrum fed with nursing bottle = 786 minutes (13.1 hours)
Colostrum fed with tube feeder     = 966 minutes (16.1 hours)

The variation was from an estimated low of 625 and estimated high of 1127 (18.8 hours).

Given the small number of calves in the study the difference in these times was not statistically reliable and could have been due to chance variation among calves.

Practical conclusion if we want to estimate maximum antibody blood level?

Wait to draw blood to assess effectiveness of passive transfer of antibodies until at least 18 hours after the last feeding of colostrum.

Reference: Desjardins-Morrissette, M. and Others, "The effect of nipple bottle vs. esophageal tube feeding of colostrum on absorption of IgG and plasma glucagon-like peptide-2 concentrations." Journal of Dairy Science 100:215 July 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Timing of Colostrum Feeding Makes a Difference

A study reported efficiency of absorption of colostral antibodies. The research team claimed that all 20 calves were fed colostrum at 2 hours after birth.

They reported efficiency of absorption of 54%. Most of the literature reports values around 30 to 35%.

Why so high in this study compared to the other reported data? In my opinion it was due to the timing of feeding. None of the calves went more than 2 hours before the first feeding of colostrum of 200 grams of antibodies (IgG). 

The much lower efficiency of absorption values reported in the literature includes data from calves receiving their first feeding of colostrum anytime before 24 hours.

I really like the protocol followed at the Cornell University Ruminant Research Center in Dryden, NY. They have a collect and feed protocol. The cow is milked as soon as practical right in the calving pen. After the colostrum is tested to be sure it meets the minimum antibody concentration the calf care person feeds the calf. Collect and Feed. No delay.

Timing of colostrum feeding makes a difference. Sooner is better.

As a side note, the research objective was to compare bottle and tube feeding of colostrum. They fed 3 L of adequate quality to provide at least 200g of antibodies. No differences were found in blood serum total protein, time to maximum concentration of BSTP, and efficiency of absorption.

Desjardins-Morrisssette, M. and Others, "The effect of nipple bottle vs. esophageal tube feeding of colostrum on absorption of IgG and plasma glucagon-like peptide-2 concentrations." Journal of Dairy Science 100:215 July 2017.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pelleted compared to Textured
Calf Starter Grain
[Yet, another chapter]

A research project run between August and October 2016 in Minnesota had the objective of comparing starch levels in calf grains to see if there would be differences in rates of gain and feed conversion efficiency. Calves were fed 20-20 milk replacer at the rate of 1.25# of powder daily.

The comparison grain was a textured calf grain with 30 percent starch. The pelleted grains had starch levels of 18, 24 and 30 percent.

Gain findings
1. There were no significant differences in gains among calves fed the three pelleted feeds that contained different levels of starch.

2. The textured starter gains among calves were 1.5 #/day compared to 1.3 #/day for the pelleted feeds. That is a 17.5% difference when comparing textured to pelleted feeds.

Feed conversion findings
1. There were no significant differences in feed efficiency among calves fed the three pelleted feeds that contained different levels of starch. 

2. The gain-to-feed ratio (measure of feed conversion efficiency) was 0.57 for textured-starter fed calves compared to 0.52 for calves receiving the pelleted feed. That is a 9% reduction in feed efficiency when pelleted is compared to textured feed.

Other observations: No differences in health costs and daily fecal scores among the four feeds.

Conclusion by authors:

"Under the conditions of this study, calf performance was reduced with a complete pelleted starter regardless of starch level compared with the textured starter with 30 percent starch." (p116)

They continued, "Cost savings with a complete pelleted starter may still provide economical gains over a textured starter with 30 percent starch." (p116)

Sam's observations:

I checked our local mill (in July 2017) for prices. For a 20% protein product, the textured feed delivered to our vet clinic cost was $351 per ton bulk [minimum 3 T) compared to $327 for the pelleted product. 

The choice of product may have more to do with the on-farm facilities for storage and feeding rather than either the rate of gain and/or price of feed. 

When caring for my own calves I chose to feed the textured product until calves were about seven weeks old, fed a 50:50 blend of textured:pelleted for a week, then grower pelleted feed from then on. Recall that I was feeding milk replacer at a maximum of 2.2#/day from weeks 2-5 so getting calves to eat starter before 5 weeks was challenging.

Reference: Zeigler, D. and Others, "Pre- and post-weaning performance and health of dairy calves fed complete pelleted calf starters formulated for three different starch levels." Journal of Dairy Science 100:116 July 2017.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Greater Feed Conversion Efficiency with More Gradual Weaning of Intensively-Fed Calves

More evidence that gradual weaning is preferred for calves on an intensive-feeding program is reported by the Nurture Research Center run by Provimi North America. 

Calves in the study were fed selected levels of milk replacer varying from a low of 1.4 lbs/day to a high of 2.2 lbs/day. They had weaning programs as short as 7 days and as long as 18 days. 

Feed efficiency (gain per pound of dry matter intake) was highest for the high feeding rate calves weaned over the longest (18 days) period of time.

As I look back at my own weaning practices for intensively-fed calves there were two trends that were significant for me:

1. Although my goal was to complete my step-down weaning in one week nearly all my calves took two weeks to arrive at my goal of calf starter grain intake. Thus, rather than calves completing weaning between 42 and 49 days, most of them were completely weaned between 42 and 56 days - thus the weaning took two weeks. 

2. I participated in a feeding trial involving these intensively-fed calves. We had rates of gain for each week up to when they were completely weaned. The majority of these calves taking two weeks to wean gained over two pounds a day between 42 and 56 days. It seems to me that we were getting very acceptable rates of feed conversion among these calves even though I admit I did not have dry matter intakes for them.

Dennis, T.S. and Others, "Effects of milk replacer feeding rate and age at weaning on calf performance and digestion through 8 weeks of age." Journal of Dairy Science, Supplement 2, 100:301 July 2017.

Monday, July 31, 2017

What to do When the Train Falls off the Rails?

We did a routine check on effectiveness of cleaning procedures on colostrum handling equipment. The previous check results were really good.

Oops! The train fell off the rails.

I use the Hygiena SystemSure Plus unit (luminometer) to do adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring. The ATP test is a process of rapidly measuring actively growing microorganisms through the detection of adenosine triphosphate. An ATP monitoring system can detect the amount of microbial contamination that remains after cleaning a surface (for example, calf feeding equipment). 

Here is where the train fell off the rails: (this farm set their standard for an acceptable clean surface is 100rlu)

Sample site                                                                    Previous          Current
                                                                                       Reading          Reading
Milker bucket used to collect colostrum                             5                    46
Plastic lid for milker bucket                                                0                5298

Tube feeder inside the bottle                                               0                    10
Tube feeder inside tube at top where screws on bottle       0                 1404
Tube feeder inside tube at ball end                                    12                3458

These tests were run on-farm with the maternity pen supervisor at my elbow. He was not a happy camper. 

We checked out the sink where the milker bucket and lid were washed. Chlorinated detergent supply was okay, brushes were there. The plastic lid reading appeared to be a breakdown in protocol compliance. He was going to review cleaning procedures with the two employees that had responsibility for that cleaning job. 

We checked out the sink where the tube feeder was washed. Supply of hot water was okay, chlorinated detergent supply was okay, brush for tube feeder bottle was there but the one for cleaning the inside of the tube itself was missing - just gone. A phone conversation with the guy that feeds and cleans this equipment turned up the fact that the brush had been missing for a week. [Note that the employee did not tell the maternity pen supervisor about the brush for a whole week!] I supplied a new brush from my truck.

Now we had a better idea why the calf care person had been using so much electrolyte solution for scouring calves the past couple of weeks.