Monday, August 20, 2018

Colostrum Yields and Photoperiod

Nearly all dairies have frustrating times when their supply of good quality colostrum runs short. In an investigation involving one 2,500 cow Jersey dairy they observed a connection between photoperiod and volume of colostrum harvested.

The average colostrum yield was 14.5 pounds (6.6kg) in June and 5.5 pounds (2.5kg) in December. The subsequent May colostrum yield was back up to 10.6 pounds (4.8kg). Up and down and back up again pattern.

The seasonal (photoperiod variation) differences were greater for second and later lactation cows than first lactation cows (correlations ware respectively 0.84 and 0.53).

Genetics played a strong role in overall colostrum volume produced - but, aside from that there remained a strong seasonal effect. 

Thus, the authors summarized, "These data indicate that photoperiod, in some cow families, may be involved with seasonal low colostrum production in Jersey cows." p 154

Reference: Gavin, K. and Others, " Factors associated with low colostrum yield in Jersey cows." JDS Vol 101,  Suppl 2, ADSA 2018 abstracts # 99 p154.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Calf to Calving video

AHDB in UK has released an interesting video which "features our six top tips for heifer rearing." is the link to the video.

Featured are comments from dairy farmers that participated in AHDB's "Calf to Calving" program.

If you are not already familiar with their web resources on calf management try this link: 

Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the resource folders.


[AHDB = Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board]

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Think Seriously about Heat Stress on Dry Cows

Many dairies have adopted heat abatement programs for lactating dairy cows. But, what about the dry cows? Do you have the attitude, "So, who can afford heat abatement equipment for dry cows? How am I going to get paid back for making them more comfortable?"

Using data from Florida (the southern most state in eastern US) a research team looked at the consequences of heat stress on not only the cows but subsequent milk production of their daughters and grand-daughters.

They found significantly lower production among the daughters and even the grand-daughters of the heat stressed dry cows compared to cows that had experienced heat abatement during their dry period. 

Grand-daughters from heat-stress grand-dams produced in their first lactation 8 pounds/day (3.7kg) less milk when compared to their herd mates whose grand-dams had experienced heat abatement environments. when all other factors were accounted for. [63 pounds/day (28.5kg) compared to 71 pounds per day day (32.2kg)] 

During their second lactation these same cows from heat-stressed grand dams produced 14 pounds/day (14.3kg) less milk when compared to their herd mates whose grand-dams had experienced heat abatement environments when all other factors were accounted for. [75 pounds/day (34kg) compared to 89 pounds/day (40.5kg)].

Reference: Laporta, J. and Others, "Dry period heat stress reduces dam, daughter, and grand-daughter productivity." 2018 ADSA abstracts JDS Vol 101, Suppl 2 p151

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hot Weather and Hutch Management

During hot summer weather we are correctly concerned about calf comfort in our hutch housing. In recent research four different hutch treatments were compared. 

At one extreme design, the hutch had only one fixed size vent in the rear and was flat on the stone base. At the other extreme, the hutch had the fixed size rear vent and was elevated 6" (15cm) in the rear. Intermediate designs were flat on the stone base with greater vent areas.

The outcomes were:

1.  No difference in weight gain across 4 hutch types.

2. The temperature-humidity index inside the hutches did vary under hot conditions (for example, 92F-20% RH, 95F-10%RH) when comparing the two extreme designs. This suggests that calves may have been more comfortable in hutches that were raised 6" in rear compared to those flat on the stone base. 

But, management can influence the effectiveness of raising the rear of hutches in decreasing the temperature-humidity index. The below left picture shows the desired open area to allow air movement. The picture at the right shows how careless handling of straw bedding has blocked the opening at the rear of the hutch. In the center below, wood shavings have been thrown into the back of the hutch, again blocking most of the air vent.

(Reuscher, K.J. and Others, "Effect of calf hutch type on calf performance and calf hutch temperature-humidity index" Journal of Dairy Science Supplement 2, 101:18 July 2018)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Stretching Your Supply of High Quality Colostrum

By using Brix values for colostrum we can consider a strategy for stretching our supply of high quality colostrum.

Okay, just how to do this?

First, test colostrum to estimate concentration of antibodies. On a Brix refractometer if we get a reading between 22 and 23  we estimate that roughly 4 quarts (3.8L) of colostrum will deliver about 200 g of IgG's. 

Second, recent research suggests that overfeeding IgG's at one feeding does not improve circulating antibodies in the calf's blood. That is, once the threshold of IgG delivery is reached feeding more colostrum will not improve the calf's immunity status. 

Now, let's say we have colostrum that tests 25 or 27 Brix. Rather than feeding the standard 4 quarts these research findings suggest we can cut back that volume and have some leftover colostrum for the next calf. All we need is a tidy chart that tells us based on the Brix reading how much less colostrum needs to be fed.

Too bad. I don't know of any such chart. However, the principle is still valid. If we our high quality colostrum supply is really tight one workable solution may be to cut back our 4 quart volume to only 3 quarts for average size large breed newborn calves when we have extra-high testing colostrum.

In order to stretch our supply of high quality colostrum for first feeding newborn calves, when we have colostrum testing above 23 Brix consider reducing the volume fed from the "normal" 4 quarts to a lower volume to reach an acceptable threshold of IgG delivery.

Reference: Reiff, O.M. and Others, " Does considering immunoglobulin G concentration alone constitute a physiology-based colostrum management program?" Journal of Dairy Science 101:Supplement 2 Abstract M35, p19.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Getting Calves Off to a Good Start
with Acidified Group Feeding

One of my clients is feeding acidified milk. This is group housing. They want to get their youngest calves to eat well in the group housing.

Nursery Pen - Acidified milk feeding
As we can see in the picture of the special nursery pen at the right there are three milk feeding  nipples. Calves come to the pen from the calving area after they have received their colostrum feedings. 

About four to five times a day a calf care person comes to the pen to assist calves in finding the nipples. They stay in this pen only until they have learned to nurse. Turnover is fairly rapid.

Today there were four calves in the pen. The bedding is changed daily. The nursing station is cleaned and disinfected daily as well.

The destination pens, an example is shown at left, are filled from the nursery pen. In this group setting there is significant competition for nursing space. These calf care folks want the calves coming into the pen to be assertive and confident about finding the nipples and nursing. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Quality Calf Care Depends on Quality 
Communication Among Calf Care Workers

The August issue of the calf management newsletter is now posted on line HERE or paste this URL in your browser 

Key points are:
  • Providing consistent care for young calves is a significant condition for successful calf management.
  • The behaviors and health conditions of young calves are highly variable and can change very rapidly.
  • Reliable person-to-person communication is essential for quality calf care.
  • Pictures of on-farm examples.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Which Calf Gets How Much?

Many of us feed more milk as calves progress from newborn to weaning age. Decreasing amounts of milk are often fed as calves approach full weaning. 

With a computer-controlled automatic feeder the changes in volume fed usually are set in the machine with one schedule for all calves. Periodically the calf care person may review these amounts. However, day-to-day management does not involve these settings.

With these automatic feeders it is essential to monitor drinking behavior of calves (amounts consumed, drinking rates, day-to-day variation).

With manual feeding we may have a bottle or bucket feeding program. I often see calves progress from a base feeding rate to a greater volume. And, at weaning time volumes are cut back. These different feeding rates need to apply consistently to the correct calves. 

Which calf gets how much?

Some dairies use a dry-erase white board in the utility room. They post the calf numbers to be fed each volume. 

Some dairies use a daily feed sheet (paper) that goes to the barn or hutches.

How about this one? Starting with this calf the rest of this row is fed milk once a day. 
They used a discarded bucket lid, tag marker pen and a clip. This was a really cold day!

On this dairy I expected to find a sign with the message in both English and Spanish.

I was surprised to find that the person making the sign assumed that all the calf care persons could read both languages. Nevertheless, the day I visited these calves did not receive any milk.

A native Spanish speaker wrote this one and the supervisor added "o 1 Qrt" to make it bilingual.

The principles are simple:
1. Make the message short and simple.
2. Use the calf care person's language.
3. Make signs easy to move from row to row, from pen to pen, or calf to calf.
4. Make signs durable and weather proof.
5. Inexpensive is nice, too.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Good Communication = Quality Calf Care

Reliable person-to-person communication is essential for quality calf care.

If #782 only drank ½ her milk this afternoon she needs to be watched tomorrow morning. If it was just a onetime event, fine. If she does not finish her milk two feedings in a row I need to work with her to find out what is going wrong. HOWEVER, if I do only afternoon feeding and another person does morning feedings is #782’s abnormal behavior being passed between us?

All three of the pictures below show efforts to get key information from one caregiver to another.

Below, the afternoon feeder observed slow drinking and placed a yellow “warning” tag on the hutch. The morning feeder will know to give extra attention to this calf’s drinking speed and amount consumed.

The list of the dry-erase board in the picture below tells the afternoon feeder about problem drinkers – providing more information than just a yellow clip.

In the picture below note two white clips. This calf has not finished her milk for two feedings in a row – extra care is needed.

If you have a favorite tip of this nature, send me a picture at 585-356-0769 so I can post a collection of them. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Did we feed colostrum? Yes, No, Maybe?

As soon as a dairy gets large enough to have more than one person feeding colostrum to newborn calves this question comes up: "Did we feed colostrum? Yes, No, Maybe?

One of my client dairies uses these paint sticks as their record keeping method.

First feeding is one orange mark on forehead of newborn calf.
Second feeding is one blue mark on forehead of same newborn calf. 
Third feeding is on pink mark on forehead of same newborn calf. 

The calf carries her colostrum feeding history with her everywhere she goes - no need to check paperwork to know if she needs another feeding. 

The dairy also records the volume fed and feeding time on a dry-erase board in the utility room along with the initials of  person feeding colostrum. They take a picture of the board once a day so no paper is generated. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Why is it so wet in here?

Put  yourself in a calf barn with 100 preweaned calves between birth and weaning. It is summer. Curtains are wide open and doors on both ends are open, too.

Not much air moving today. Humidity in the calf barn seems pretty high. Floors are not drying out. Why is it so wet in here? Well, "Hello,  Don't be surprised!" Calves generate waste water and lots of it. 

Calves release about 0.2 pounds (91gm) of moisture per 100 pounds (45kg) body weight per hour into their environment via urine, feces and respiration. For example, the 100 calves in this barn averaging around 150 pounds (68kg) release between 80 and 90 gallons (303-341L) of water daily. 

Only by providing adequate fresh airflow can airborne moisture be removed and the humidity brought down to a level at which pathogens cannot survive.  Reducing noxious gases depends on airflow rates, as well.

When the ratio of calves to area open for natural ventilation is low we can get away without mechanical ventilation most of the time. The barn I had in mind originally had four rows of calves the length of the barn separated by two work alleys. With only natural ventilation most days, even with the curtains open, the ratio of calves to opening for ventilation was too high to exhaust the excessively humid air.

This calf barn was improved by adding tunnel ventilation (a row of large fans all across one end) so that even on a still day I could feel a draft from the open end toward the exhaust fans. 

What's the take home message? Calves generate a lot of waste water. Provide enough air exchange to get rid of it. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

How Cold is it Really in your Refrigerator?

Most of our vaccines suggest 40F (4C) as the most desirable temperature for storage. This temperature works very well for cooling and storing colostrum as well.

It's summer here in western New York State. The last two days we have peaked above 90F (33C). How well is the tired refrigerator doing in the utility room at the dairy?

Thermometers are quite inexpensive. Vaccines are expensive. Most of the vaccines we stock here at Attica Vet list 7C (45F) as the maximum recommended storage temperature in order to maintain the quality of the product.

This is a simple inexpensive [this one was free from a farm store] way to keep track of storage temperature inside the refrigerator. This one is in a good location toward the rear and upright. I like to see a nice big one like this that is easy to read - just a glance at it shows that all is well.

I have to admit that in our two vaccine storage refrigerators here at the vet clinic it is difficult to read the thermometers. In one the thermometer lies flat on a shelf - I had to pick it up this morning in order to read it. In the other the thermometer is taped to the inside wall. In order to read it I to lean into the refrig and crick my neck to see the scale.

If your refrigerator is having a hard time keeping the inside temperature below 45F remember to check the cooling coils - they need to be free of dust, dirt and trash for good air circulation.

Also, remember that the temperature in the door compartments can be substantially above that on the shelving. This suggests that vaccines are best kept on shelves in the body of the refrigerator - NOT in the door shelving. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Heat Stress in Dairy Calves

Penn State Extension has a well-written resource on this topic. This is a brief summary.

For a comprehensive review on heat stress in dairy calves use your phone or computer to enter this URL or if you are reading this on one of those just click HERE. This Penn State resource has this outline:
·         Introduction
·         How hot is too  hot?
·         Strategies to help calves beat the heat
o   Provide shade
o   Move more air
o   Offer plenty of water
o   Keep grain fresh
o   Consider inorganic bedding
o   Work calves in the morning
o   Consider feeding more milk replacer

Consider feeding more milk replacer! [Sam's commentary on this strategy]

If you are currently feeding two quarts of either milk or milk replacer twice daily your calves are being shortchanged! Dealing with heat stress uses up lots of energy. We do not have hard numbers to tell us exactly how much more to milk/milk replacer to feed.

Nevertheless, boosting their energy intake through milk/milk replacer can be a workable way to get more groceries into young calves. Practical ways to do this include:
·         Increasing volume of whole milk fed – move up 1 quart per feeding is an example.
·         For milk replacer, increase volume fed OR
·         For milk replacer, move up from 8 ounces of powder makes 2 quarts (12% solids) to 10 ounces makes 2 quarts (15% solids)

If, however, every time you try to increase the volume fed you observe an increase in treatable scours, then you need to check out this resource in our calf management resource library – “Feeding more milk without scours.” Click HERE if you are reading this on your phone or computer or enter this URL

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Weaning Readiness: Is it the daily calf starter intake level or the total amount of calf starter consumed?

A research team measured efficiency of digestion of calf starter grain (CSG) post-weaning. Efficiency of digestion was used as a measure of weaning readiness. Daily calf starter intakes as well as total amounts of starter consumed up to weaning were recorded.

The calves varied widely on daily calf starter intake levels beginning at three weeks of age - this was related directly to the volume of milk replacer (MR) consumed - one-half of the calves received about 1.5 lbs. of replacer powder daily while the other half was fed 2.4 lbs. daily.

These two different milk replacer feeding rates resulted in the moderate MR calves averaging 1.8# daily calf starter eaten and high MR calves consuming only 0.5#/day at day 42 when their milk replacer rations were cut in half. Then, they were both weaned at 49 days regardless of daily calf stater intake level.

By day 56 calf starter intakes accelerated up to 4.2#/day and 3.5#/day respectively for moderate MR and high MR feeding groups.

So, what did the efficiency of digestion numbers look like?

Calves that began eating calf starter grain (CSG) at a younger age and ate more total CSG had slightly higher levels of digestive efficiency at 8 weeks of age. [CSG was in pelleted form]

As I read the data reported in the research article it looks like both length of time eating CSG and total volume consumed contribute to desirable feed conversion rates in our weaned calves.

In practical terms, if larger volumes of milk/milk replacer are fed extra care needs to be taken to ease these calves into 100% dependence on CSG at weaning time. A good three weeks of at least 0.5#/day CSG may be a workable rule of thumb to observe before withdrawing all milk. Cutting the milk ration in half around 35 days nearly always results in an accelerated rate of CSG intake. These data suggest a full week at 3.5 - 4.5#/day CSG consumption is desirable at the time of full milk withdrawal.

Just a note from a recent experience, be sure to check that CSG contains some kind of coccidiostat - saving money by leaving it out of a CSG is ill advised. Weaning is always a stressful time and coccidia always take advantage of stress events to hammer our transition heifers.

Remember, also, at weaning to introduce hay slowly over a period of 2 or more weeks in order to allow time for the rumen microbial population to multiply enough to effectively digest this fiber. Abrupt introduction of "free-choice" hay is associated with weight loss, pneumonia outbreaks and coccidiosis.

Reference: Quigley, J.D. and Others, " Effects of feeding milk replacer at 2 rates with pelleted, low starch or texturized, high-starch starters on calf performance and digestion." Journal of Dairy Science 101:5937-5948. June 2018.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Colostrum: Yet another Update

The July issue of the calf management newsletter is now on-line. The URL is or just click HERE.

The summary points are:
  • How our management choices shortchange our calves
  • Role of colostrum on gastrointestinal tract development
  • Role of colostrum on immunity
  • Take home ideas for strengthening colostrum management

Monday, June 25, 2018

Is it Okay to Draw Blood After Day 2?

Drawing blood to check on the effectiveness of the colostrum management program is an increasing common best calf management practice. But, when should the blood sample be taken? A small research project drew blood samples daily for up to 10 days to answer that question.

1. Blood samples drawn up to 9 days of age will provide reasonably reliable estimates of passive transfer immunity.

2. Blood samples drawn 24 to 48 after first colostrum feeding do result in slightly more reliable blood serum total protein (BSTP) estimates than those at 8 and 9 days of age.  

3. But, for management purposes the variation between 2 and 9 day samples is small enough so that we should not hesitate to blood sample the older calves.

I recognize that not every dairy will find it possible to draw blood on all their calves between 24 and 48 hours like I did with my calves. These data support the practice of weekly blood sampling if daily blood draws are not practical. 

Alternatively, with a small herd with monthly or quarterly assessment of colostrum management blood sampling between days 2 and 9 may allow including enough heifer calves to give useful information. 

Just for Reminders:
A. Remember that blood samples are fragile - careful handling will result in fewer broken red blood cells and more accurate estimates.
B. Keep a supply of distilled water at hand all the time - it only takes a minute or two to calibrate your refractometer; reliable readings depend on calibrated instruments.
C. Lab practice suggests that blood samples that have been held more than one day may require some extra time in the centrifuge to get full separation of blood serum.
D. If using gravity method of separation, undisturbed samples held at room temperature for approximately 24 hours will have the closest match with samples spun with a centrifuge (i.e., between 95 and 98 percent agreement).

Reference: Wilm, Jensine and Others, "Technical Note: Serum total protein and immunoglobulin G concentration in neonatal dairy calves over the first 10 days of age." Journal of Dairy Science 101:6430-6436 June 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

Exploring Low Colostrum Yields

Colostrum yield data were collected from Jersey cows in a Texas herd. There were 1,143 first-lactation cows and 752 second-lactation cows and 1,003 cows of third lactation and greater (total records = 2,988)

Fact #1. Huge variation in colostrum volume among cows of all lactations
     1st lactation varied from 0 to 30.6 lbs. [17.5kg] (est. 18 quarts)
     2nd lactation varied from 0 to 53.2 lbs. [24.2kg] (est. 25 quarts)
     3rd & greater lactation varied from 0 to 58.5 lbs. [26.6kg] (est. 27 quarts)

Fact #2. No colostrum at all
     1st lactation - 3 out of 1,143 had no colostrum (0.3%)
     2nd and greater lactation - 105 out of 1,755 had no colostrum (6%)

Fact #3. Strong seasonal influence - December being the lowest volume month. Research  team suggests maybe a photoperiod influence. June-July yields were the highest.

Fact #4. Factors influencing volume but only a small amount included calving age, gender of calf, previous lactation 305ME, dry period length. Environmental factors (e.g., THI) and predigree had minor influence on volume. Note that this was only one herd in a Texas environment (2,988 Jersey cows).


1. Expect and prepare for wide variations among animals. Don't beat yourself up over the small percentage of cows with zero yields - they are going to happen. Adopt best management practices for calm and gentle animal handling to promote optimum let-down at first milking. 

2. Be prepared to take advantage of high-yielding cows - adopt best management practices for collection and storage of colostrum in excess of immediate needs. 

3. Remember that we continue to get the biggest bang for our buck when we feed enough high quality CLEAN colostrum ASAP after birth. When available and practical, second and third small feedings of colostrum in the first 24 hours do boost blood IgG levels.

4. If practical, calves benefit from feeding transition milk (that is, 2nd, 3rd and 4th milkings) - this milk can help us avoid treatments with antibiotics during the critical first two weeks of life.

Reference: Gavin, K. and Others, " Low colostrum yield in Jersey cattle and potential risk factors."
Journal of Dairy Science 101:6388-6398 June 2018.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Good Colostrum Quality from 2nd Milking

Is  it worth your time to check second milking from mature cows for antibody concentration? YES.

Dr. Noelia Silva-del-Rio, UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension specialist in Tulare CA, measured first and second milking from third or greater lactation Jersey cows. She had 134 first-milking samples and 68 second-milking samples.

43% of the second-milking samples contained IgG concentrations of 50g/L  (the industry standard for acceptable quality for first feeding).  

Given a shortage of first milking colostrum, Dr. Silva-del-Rio encourages producers to collect and test 2nd milking. 

I agree. These data suggest that nearly one-half of the time the 2nd milking will be suitable for the first feeding of newborn calves. 

Reference: California Dairy Magazine, May 2018, p16.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Feeding Hay with Calf Starter Grain

The June 2018 issue of the calf management newsletter, "Feeding Hay with Calf Starter Grain," is now available at or click HERE.

The summary bullet points are:
  • Achieve better outcomes feeding a mix of grain and hay compared to grain only.
  • If a “little” is good, would “more” be better? No!
  • Practical alternatives for including 5 percent chopped hay.
  • What if no chopped hay?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why Differences in Starter Grain Consumption Among Limit-Fed Calves?

"How much starter grain should a pre-weaned dairy calf be eating?' That is title of a Washington State University Extension publication (Dr. Dale Moore, A. Adams-Progar, W.M. Sischo). They tracked starter grain intake for 90 calves on each of 3 calf ranches in Washington state.

They asked the question, "Why differences in starter grain consumption?" 

 1. Different levels of milk/milk replacer feeding. There were not wide differences among the 3 ranches in milk feeding levels - they were all limit-fed. At this level of milk feeding it took about 2 weeks for intakes to get up to 1 cup per day on all 3 ranches. So, this question was not really investigated in this research. 

My reading of other research findings suggest that when feeding rates of 4 quarts of 20/20 milk replacer (12.5%solids) daily are compared to 8 quarts of the same product daily both age at initial grain intake and subsequent level of consumption are delayed at the higher feeding rate.

At the time I was caring for 100 calves on milk I subscribed to the idea that calves need to be eating some calf starter grain for about 3 weeks before I began to cut back on their milk ration. I still think that Heinrich's work at Penn State supports this guideline. It was this concept of rumen development turning around in my head that got me started closely watching grain intakes among the calves that  should be at the "start eating grain" age. 

My own calves fed at the lowest rate (4 qts daily) averaged about 7-12 days for initial intake (1 cup per day) compared to the highest rate (8 qts = 2.2 pounds of m.r. powder daily) averaged in the range of 15-21 days for initial intake.

My most important observation from my own calves was the very wide variation among calves drinking the same volume of milk replacer for age at initial grain intake. Among the intensive-feeding program calves there were as much at 10 days or more differences on initial intake ages. Stated a different way, once I began tracking grain intakes about 20% of them turned out to be what I called "laggards" - slow to begin eating grain.

I began dumping and refreshing grain for all these young calves daily until they began to eat it. Then, when they cleaned up a generous cupful of grain several days in a row I snapped a tag to their hutch - that told us we could start the 3-week count-down for beginning the weaning process.

What's the problem with using this 3-week guideline? In my consulting practice between 2000 and 2018 I have not found many calf managers willing to spend time monitoring calf starter grain intakes. The dominant pattern is to dump a quart or more calf starter grain in a pail when the calf goes into the pen or hutch. Then, just leave it there until it disappears in the next 2 or 3 weeks. So much for grain pail management - that kind of benign neglect is non-management in my opinion,

2. Different levels of gastro-intestinal health - either scours or not scours. This is the unique finding for this research report. 

This research found significant differences among the 3 ranches in the percent of calves with diarrhea by day of age. For example, at 12 days of age one ranch had 38% of calves treated for scours while for comparison another ranch was only treating 4%.

The study authors conclude, "The percent of calves with diarrhea could explain about 42% to 51% of the variation in average daily starter grain consumption." (p4)

Rather than grain intakes continuing to climb day-by-day, it appears from the graphs shown in the publication when calves don't feel well (that is, suffer from scours) their intakes flat-line for 3 to 5 days.

This drop in grain intake is valuable information for calf management.
What would I like to see calf managers do when they spot this "flat-line" of grain intake for a calf?

1. Dump those grain pails every day, add a handful of fresh grain.
2. Spend a little extra time to watch these at-risk sick girls.

If you  have many, many calves mark or flag these "at-risk" pens or hutches. They need extra daily attention in case this gastro-intestinal upset slides into a case of treatable respiratory illness.

Reference: To access this publication click HERE or paste this URL in your web browser  [accessed 5/21/2018]

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bacterial Regrowth and Sanitizing

None of  us create sterile equipment when we clean up from feeding colostrum, milk and milk replacer. Some bacteria remain on these surfaces. Regrowth is inevitable even when we try to suppress it with acid rinses and allowing equipment to air dry. 

In a recent article, "How to properly sanitize calf facilities," Drs. Ollivett and Sockett (Univ. Wisc.) comment on the need to sanitize calf equipment before using it to feed calves. 

"All colostrum and milk or milk replacer feeding equipment should be properly cleaned after use and sanitized not more than two hours prior to use." p73.

We all understand the part about "properly cleaned after use" - the most efficient way to minimize biofilms on buckets and bottles is to clean them ASAP after every single use. Click HERE for a practical on-farm 4-step cleaning protocol. 

What about their recommendation,
"and sanitized not more than two hours prior to use" [emphasis added]

Let's assume that we do a good job of brushing our bottles, nipples and tube feeder in a hot detergent solution, put them through an acid rinse and put them upside down on a rack to air dry until the next use - most likely to be more than two hours later.

How urgent is the need to sanitize them before the next use? 

Colostrum feeding - I felt pretty strongly about minimizing bacteria load for colostrum. I rinsed all my bottles, nipples and tube feeder with a strong bleach solution every single time before colostrum feeding.  No exceptions. All the evidence I have seen in the past decade or so emphasizes the need to feed clean colostrum.

Milk feeding - I was fairly lax about sanitizing bottles for milk-fed calves - the bottles were washed  after every use and put on a rack to drain and dry between feedings. At feeding time my nursing bottle nipples were carried in a 10-quart bucket filled with a strong bleach solution. We only bottle-fed calves until they could be bucket trained so there were not a lot of calves fed with bottles. Looking back it would not have been difficult to sanitize the few bottles - it just did not occur to me to do it. 

Milk feeding all calves with bottles - depending on the potential for bacterial regrowth many calf operations likely could benefit from a pre-use sanitizing rinse. This would depend on (1) how effective is the washing process, (2) is there an acid rinse to lower surface pH, and (3) do the bottles air dry between uses.

Milk feeding calves with buckets - buckets not washed between feedings is common - my calf consulting observations suggest that washing and sanitizing all the buckets is not going to happen when there are 100, 500 or 5,000 calves on milk. Nevertheless, where there are serious issues with scours among 7 to 14 day old calves I have seen cases where using a clean bucket (not sanitized) for every feeding for these youngest calves has led to a significant reduction in treatable scours.

I cannot recall a well-designed study that examined the hypothesis that sanitizing buckets before each milk feeding will improve calf health, feed efficiency and rate of growth among preweaned calves as compared to non-sanitized buckets.  I would really like to see an analysis that shows the extent that sanitation of all feeding equipment for all age calves has a positive cost effective value.

Refererence: T. Ollivett and Donald Sockett, " How to properly sanitize calf facilities." Progressive Dairyman, May 7, 2018, pp 73-74. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Normal" time for navel cord detachment?

I have to admit that I have not paid much attention to when navel cords detach or fall off. However, an excessively short or long time for retention possibly could be a signal that something is wrong.

In a study about navel dips 67 Holstein heifer calves with unassisted births were observed (general health, umbilical infections, umbilical cord diameter) for about 22 days. 

What did they find regarding umbilical cord detachment?

Earliest detachment was between 12 and 13 days.

Latest detachment was between 20 and 22 days.

So, I am guessing we should start looking for cords to start falling off just short of two weeks and all of them to have fallen off just over three weeks of age. 

I occurs to me today that a cord missing in the range of 5 to 7 days should trigger an examination - maybe an abcess?

A cord that is still there at 4 weeks of age? On one hand I cannot recall one on a calf that old. On the other hand I guess that is possible - maybe cause to take a look at this "abnormal" situation. 

Reference: Fordyce, A. L. and Others, "The effect of novel antiseptic compounds on umbilical cord healing and incidence of infection in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:"5444-5448

Monday, May 21, 2018

Electrolytes for dairy calves and Alkalizing Agents

In a summary Hoard's Dairyman article about calf electrolytes Geof Smith, D.V.M., recently discussed the role of alkalizing agents for raising blood pH.

He summarized the problem:
"The blood in virtually all calves with diarrhea becomes more acidic a the pH falls. This largely is responsible for the symptoms we see such as depression, loss of suckle reflect, inability to stand, and so forth."

In describing solutions to this problem he continued,
"Acetate, propionate, and bicarbonate are all considered alkalizing agents - meaning they work to raise the pH of the blood."

In his opinion, research shows considerable advantages to using acetate or propionate as alkalizing agents in calf electrolytes compared to bicarbonates.

He summarized by saying at the end of his comparison of three different agents,
"It is still critical that your oral electrolyte solution contain an alkalizing agent. ... Make sure the label of the oral electrolyte product you are using include either acetate or bicarbonate in the ingredient list."

A more general look at calf illness in this resource:
"What hits calves when ... Here's a look at the bacteria and viruses that affect our calves" by Robert Moeller, D.V. M.
Click Hoards Moeller or paste this URL in your browser

Reference: Geof Smith, "Choosing the right electrolyte." Hoard's Dairyman, April 10, 2018, p219

Friday, May 18, 2018

Buy a New Brush?

Buy a new brush? This one is not worn out yet!

In a recent calf management note, "How to properly sanitize calf facilities." Drs. Ollivett and Sockett (Univ. Wisconsin) commented on bottle, nipple and bucket brushes. 

"Bottle, nipple and bucket brushes should be hung for proper drying." This sure sounds like good advice. Bacterial regrowth is minimal on dry surfaces. 

I had a hanger mounted on the wall next to my wash sink that made it easy to do this. And, these brushes were right at hand when I needed them. 

"brushes should be ... replaced monthly or quarterly, depending on the frequency of  use." (p73)

"Depending on frequency of use" - Well, I had 100 calves on milk, I washed 50-70 feeding pails a day, all the bottles and nipples used to feed the youngest calves and colostrum, tube feeders, milk replacer mixing barrels, etc. I felt that my brushes got a lot of use every day. 

Nevertheless, I cannot recall  having a schedule to replace brushes. I must have replaced my brushes when they began to show signs of wear - maybe 2 or 3 times a year? 

We had a tendency of other dairy farm workers to stop by the calf barn to help themselves to my brushes when they needed one. Because of this I recall replacing "missing" brushes more often than getting new ones because the older ones were worn out.

However, as calf consultant I have seen some pretty well worn out brushes that really, really needed to be replaced. 

The main point I gleaned from Drs. Ollivett's and Sockett's note was that brushes are important.

Do you recall the second step in my washing equipment protocol? Click HERE for the whole protocol.

Use hot water. Add liquid detergent and bleach or a dry chlorinated detergent. Brush all surfaces. Scrub off remaining milk residue.  Keep water above 120° (49C) at all times.

Note the "Brush all surfaces" - scrubbing with a brush is the only way to get equipment clean when manual washing. 

Refererence: T. Ollivett and Donald Sockett, " How to properly sanitize calf facilities." Progressive Dairyman, May 7, 2018, pp 73-74. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Blood Sampling for Blood Serum Total Protein testing

"When it comes to on-farm calf management, the producer’s main goal is to have healthy, productive calves that will eventually become high-producing cows. To achieve this goal, certain techniques should be used on farm to ensure the calf can reach its full potential. In this issue of The Colostrum Counsel, producers can learn how to assess the quality of colostrum using a Brix refractometer, as well as how to blood sample young calves." I believe much of the content is from an Alta Genetic source.

SCCL publishes the "Colostrum Counsel" periodically - this issue contains picture guides for both refractometer use and blood sampling - very well done. 

Click HERE to go to the Colostrum Counsel publication.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Feeding Water to Calves

"Feeding Water to Calves" is the title of the May issue of the calf management newsletter. You may access this issue by clicking HERE or enter this URL in your browser

The key points are: 
  • Water as a nutrient comes in more than one form.
  • But, where does water go inside the calf?
  • Profitable rates of rumen development depend on water.
  • Tips for promoting water intake.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Calves Absorbing Sodium from Electrolytes

In a summary article about calf electrolytes Geof Smith, D.V.M., recently outlined facts about sodium absorption in preweaned calves suffering from diarrhea. 

"The calf must be able to absorb the sodium that you provide. Even in calves that have diarrhea and intestinal damage, there are three major pathways for sodium absoption: glucose, volatile fatty acids (such as acetate or proprionate), and neutral amino acids (such as glycine)."

He points out that you can check your electrolyte label for glycine or acetate.

Of the three electrolytes we stock here at the vet clinic all three contain glycine and one contains both glycine and acetate.

An interesting article, "Keeping Ahead of Calf Diarrhea" by David Rhoda, D.V. M. is available by clicking Hoards-Rhoda or adding this URL to your browser 
Reference: Geof Smith, "Choosing the right electrolyte." Hoard's Dairyman, April 10, 2018, p219

Monday, May 7, 2018

Requirements for an Effective Electrolyte for Calves

In a summary article about calf electrolytes Geof Smith, D.V.M., recently outlined four requirement for effective electrolytes:
" 1. Supply enough sodium to rehydrate the calf.
2. Provide glycine or acetate to help with the absorption of sodium in the intenstine.
3. Provide an alkalizing agent that wll correct the drop in blood pH (acidosis) that happens when calves develop diarrhea.
4. Provide energy, as most calves with diarrhea are in a state of negative energy balance."

A useful guide on scours (diarrhea) management in calves may be found here Scours - Hoards or use this URL in your browser 

Reference: Geof Smith, "Choosing the right electrolyte." Hoard's Dairyman, April 10, 2018, p219

Friday, May 4, 2018

Temperature of Colostrum

It seems so simple. Feed colostrum at calf body temperature (103F, 30C). 

Why bother with temperature? When the temperature is significantly below calf body temperature the rate of abomasal emptying is depresssed. Cold colostrum sits in the abomasum longer than it should and this lowers the rate of antibody transfer into the blood. Not good. 

Adding a simple probe-Taylor Precision Products Anti-Microbial Instant Read Thermometer (1-Inch Dial)type rapid-read thermometer to your tool kit (about $6-10) can make monitoring feeding temperature simple.
It' easy - fill nursing bottle with cold colostrum, put on the nipple, stick probe through the vent hole.

If you, like me, has to wear glasses in order to read the dial it may help to use a tag pen to make are mark at 103F so it is easy to read without one's glasses. 

Reference: Mokhber-Dezfooli, M.R. and Others, "Effect of abomasal emptying rate on the apparent efficiency of colostrum immunoglobulin G absorption in neonatal Holstein-Friesian calves." Journal of Dairy Science 95:6740-6749

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Weaning Age and Intensive Milk Feeding Programs

Field experience and research trials have demonstrated the effect of intensive milk feeding programs for dairy replacement heifer calves on the timing of calf starter grain intake. As milk intake goes up the starter grain intake is delayed.

The research reported here looked at delaying weaning of intensively milk fed calves from 60 to 75 days.  The intensive program for calves weaned at 60 days was 4 liters/day on days 3-10, 6 liters/day on days 11-20, 8.5 liters/day on days 21-55, decreased to 4/25 liters/day on days 56-60 (total of 411 liters).

The intensive program for calves weaned at 75 days was 4 liters/day on days 3-10, increased to 6 liters/day on days 11-70, decreased to 3 liters/day on days 71/75 (total 407 liters).

They compared these groups using these measures at 90 days:
Average daily gain
Feed efficiency
Final body weight

The 75-day weaned heifers when compared to the the 60-day weaned heifers were  higher on all three comparison measures.

In my reading of these results I see the advantage of getting more adequate rumen development in the 75-day heifers. This is one of the first studies I can recall that compared feed efficiency. However, few dairies will wait to wean at 75 days. 

A practical alternative would be to modify their 60-day protocol to look like this:
4 L/day on days 3-10
6 L/day on days 11-14
8 L/day on days 15-35
4 L/day on days 36-60

In order to save labor I fed the 4 L/day on days 36-60 once a day, with free choice water and calf starter grain.

My experience with this protocol regarding starter grain intake was initial grain intake greater than 1 cup (110-115g) daily did not start until about 21 days. With high milk feeding the grain intake stayed low until I dropped the milk back to 4 L/d at 36 days - then the calves had a steady upward trend on grain intake until they were eating 4-5 pounds (2-2.25kg) a day by 60 days.

Reference: M. Mirzael and Others, "Effects of preweaning total plane of milk intake and weaning age on intake, growth performance, and blood metabolites of dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:4212-4220 May 2018

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hay for Preweaned Calves

An interesting article in the Irish Farmers Journal, "Dairy Calf to Beef: Rearing Tips," included some advice regarding providing fiber for preweaned calves. 

Recall in this Irish tradition that dairymen have "always" fed straw to preweaned calves. In my experience this traditionally was fed a long straw in a rack in a group pen. 

The initial mention is in the context of housing:

"Calves should be housed on a clean, dry bed of straw and they should have access to a good fibre source like hay or straw and also have access to fresh clean water."

The author concludes:

"Hay and straw. A good fibre source like hay or straw should be made available to calves from three days of age. While feeding hay and straw is important, it's also important not to over consume roughage with a resultant decrease in concentrate intake. 

Chopped forage 3-4cm (1-1.5 inches) in length is ideal. Quality is also important as poor-quality, stemmy material will result in poor intakes and calves not being able to digest it."

[Emphasis added, ed.]

Reference: Wood, Adam "Dairy Calf to Beef: Rearing Tips" Irish Farmers Journal 28April2018 page 40

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

More Evidence on Tube vs. Bottle feeding of Colostrum

Work of a Canadian group focused on movement of colostrum through the G-I tract when feeding 3L of colostrum. They compared outcomes when colostrum was fed with a nursing bottle or an esophageal tube feeder.

The outcomes are summarized:

" Therefore, even if colostrum enters the rumen when fed with an esophageal tube, when a large enough volume of good quality colostrum is delivered, the IgG in the colostrum that reaches the small intestine could be sufficient to saturate the receptors and meet maximal absorption of IgG." page 4173.

As a by-product of their work the results emphasized that early feeding of high quality colostrum in adequate quantity can result in very desirable levels of antibody transfer. Compared to the "usual" levels of efficiency of antibody transfer (around 35%), these calves had 50% efficiency of antibody transfer.

Desjardins-Morrissette, M. and Others, "The effect of tube versus bottle feeding colostrum on immunoglobulin G absorption, abomasal emptying, and plasma hormone concentrations in newborn calves" Journal of Dairy Science 101:4168-4179 May 2018.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Calf Notes - A Site to Bookmark

The site URL is

Dr. Jim Quigley has been adding CalfNotes to this site for 23 years - lots of resources. Available in English, Spanish, Chinese and now he is adding notes in Portuguese.

The CalfNotes are grouped like this:
  • colostrum feeding
  • milk & milk replacers
  • calf starters
  • health management
  • weaning
  • housing
  • older heifers
  • primer in calf nutrition
  • entire list of 200 CalfNotes in numeric order

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Colostrum Council Post on Oligosaccharides in Colostrum

In their April 5 post the Colostrum Council [proprietary newsletter of Saskatoon Colostrum Company, Ltd.] Amanda Fischer
  • describes the naturally occurring oligosaccharides in colostrum
  • explains their role in gut health
  • describes the role of mannan-oligosaccharides in gut health and
  • cautions us about adding mannan-oligosaccharides to colostrum
Well-written review of technical content that also does a good job of explaining why feeding transition milk (2,3, 4th milking) promotes good gut health.

The post is at this URL if you want to copy it to your browser:,OLJ0,3XQH7V,2IOWM,1

or try clicking HERE