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

Have you visited this site? is the URL or click HERE.

The drop down menus include:
  • Newborn care
  • Colostrum management
  • Feeding
  • Housing
Recent posts?
  • Neonatal calf diarrhea
  • Conditions for Management Group Housed Calves
  • Is bloat causing sudden death in  your calves?
  • Is your colostrum management working? (tips for using refractometers)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Late Winter-Spring Scours in Calves

This is the title of April 2018 calf management newsletter. Click HERE to go to the newsletter. Enjoy.

The main points:
·        Wide variation among dairies during late winter – spring season for scours treatment rates among preweaned calves.
·        How can management affect scours treatment rates?
·        What is the right scours treatment rate among preweaned calves for my dairy?

If you know of a person that would like to receive a monthly e-mail when the new issue is posted on-line send an e-mail to to be added to this service. If a dairy wants to receive a hard copy to share with calf care folks send the mailing address to the same e-mail address. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

When to Introduce Calves into Automatic Feeder Pens?

If one wishes to reduce the treatment rate for bovine respirator disease (BRD) among neonatal calves that will be group housed for automatic feeders when should the calves be introduced to the autofeeder/group pens? 5 days, 7, 9, 11, 13 days old?

The evidence seems to be inconsistent and somewhat confusing. One study will show earlier will result in lower BRD rates while another will show later has the same outcome.

A recent study seems to point at another factor tied to BRD rates. That is, when calves receive the same amount of milk (between 6 and 8 liters per day) in  the first two weeks of life the rate of BRD does not seems to differ regardless of when the calves are moved from individual to auto feeder group pens.

This evidence points at reduced milk intake at the key factor in higher BRD rates among neonatal calves. Often calves being held in individual pens before moving into the auto feeder group pens are only fed limited (usually 4 liters per day) milk. The longer calves live on a restricted ration the higher the chances of being diagnosed and treated for BRD. 

Thus, the authors conclude,
"Therefore, we suggest that if introduction to the group (that means to the automatic feeder) is going to be delayed, calves should have access to high milk allowances immediately after colostrum feeding." (p2306)

I might add from my experience trying to bring neonatal calves up on milk that the passive immunity of the calves seemed to make a big difference in my success. Calves that had plenty of clean good quality colostrum soon after birth drank like there was no tomorrow. The calves that missed out on colostrum (I bled calves at 48 hours for blood serum total protein testing - ones that tested 3.5 - 4.5 on a clinical refractometer I called "missed out") took what seemed for ever to come up on milk. And, these calves with poor colostrum management were much more likely to have scours, too.

Reference: Medrano-Galarza, Catalina and Others, " Associations between management practices and within-pen prevalence of calf diarrhea and respiratory disease on dairy farms using automatic milk feeders." Journal of Dairy Science, 101:2293-2308. April, 2018.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Why the Rush to Feed Colostrum?

A recently reported study fed colostrum at 45 minutes, 6 hours and 12 hours after birth. All colostrum was tube fed. The calves received 7.5% of their birth weight in colostrum. 

For example, a 90 pound calf received about 3.25 quarts of colostrum. At 62g/l concentration of antibodies in the colostrum this 3.25 quarts came to 190g of antibodies in this feeding. The average for all calves was right around 195 to 200g at first feeding. 

From blood sampling they determined the efficiency of absorption of the antibodies (IgG).

The average efficiency of absorption of antibodies were (by time of feeding):

45 minutes     52%
6 hours           36%
12 hours         35%

In case you didn't want to figure out the amount of improvement, the 52% efficiency of absorption for 45 minutes represents a 44 percent improvement compared to the 6 and 12 hours feeding procedures.

Fisher, A. J., and Others, "Effect of delaying colostrum feeding on passive transfer and intestinal bacterial colonization in neonatal male Holstein calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:30299-3109 April 2017.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Abomasal Bloat, Abomasal Emptying, & Feeding Programs

It would be nice to report that there is one simple fix to promote gut health and avoid abomasal bloat. The authors of "Invited Review: Abomasal emptying n calves and its potential influence on gastrointestinal disease", however, after 12 pages of  scientific review offer this summary:
"Ultimately, the exact etiology of abomasal bloat is unknown, but it likely involves both bacteria that produce gas as well as something that slows abomasal emptying." (p29).

So, given that we have only a partial understanding of why abomasal bloat happens, do the authors have any helpful ideas?


They observe that we can follow a few management procedures that avoid slowing down the rate of abomasal emptying.

1. For milk replacer, be cautious when mixing at densities greater than milk. Rates of bloat seem to go up as total solids go well above 15%.  Thus, careful and consistent measurement of water and powder can avoid undesireable fluctuations resulting in very high solids levels.

2. For milk, monitoring solids levels seems to be a very sound practice. Especially when adding additional powder to achieve a fixed solids level (e.g., 15%) careful and consistent measurement of powder can avoid undesireable fluctuations resulting in very high solids levels.

3. The authors observe, "Another strategy to limit the effect on abomasal emptying is to feed smaller volumes of milk more frequently. [They mention that automatic feeders now make this a workable option.] ... Maintaining regular feeding schedules and making sure milk or milk replacer is warm also anecdotally appear to help reduce the incidence of abomasal bloat." (ps30).

Given that consistency of feeding management may be significantly related to regularity of abomasal emptying you may want to review the resource, "Consistency: Calf Care Checklist" found HERE or if you need the URL,

Reference: Burgstaller, J., T Wittek, G. Smith, "Invited Review: Abomasal emptying n calves and its potential influence on gastrointestinal disease" Journal of Dairy Science 100:17-35 March 2018 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hose Maintenance Pays for Automatic Feeders

Does hose maintenance have an influence on bacteria counts in milk replacer coming out of automatic feeders?

In a study of 17 dairies in southern Ontario samples were collected both from the mixing bowl and at the end of the hose connecting the mixing bowl on the automatic feeder to the mixing bowl.

By season visit the bacteria counts at the end of the hose (% pens over 100,000cfu/ml:

Season         Percent over 100,000cfu
Fall                     85%
Winter                83%
Spring                88%
Summer             74%
Thus we see that high counts at the end of the feeding hose is a common issue.

But, what role did the hose play in these high counts?

They found that, on dairies with lower mixing bowl bacteria counts, in 7 out of 8 measurements the bacteria count actually went down between the bowl and end of hose.

In contrast, they found that, on dairies with higher mixing bowl bacteria counts, in 7 out of 8 measurements the bacteria count went UP between the bowl and end of hose. 

What are my conclusions from these data?

1. If the dairy is doing a good job in sanitizing the mixing bowl they are probably doing an equally good job in keeping bacteria counts down in the hoses as well. Thus, farms with low mixing bowl counts tend to have clean milk replacer coming out of the hoses.

2. Although this study did not report cleaning frequency for the mixing bowl, cleaning frequency for hoses and hose replacement for individual farms, my on-farm experience suggests these good practices tend to cluster - folks that do a good job on one tend to do all of these three jobs well.

3. Because of the long time interval between farm visits (every three months) the "snapshot" observations of calf diarrhea may not have reflected actual occurrence of this intestinal disorder. Further, we have data that show calf care persons generally tend to under-diagnose and under-treat calf diarrhea - missing about 40% of the cases that a trained veterinary observer would find. Thus, we cannot connect cleaning practices in this study to actual calf diarrhea rates.

4. All of us that use automatic feeders need to be sensitive to the need for cleanliness monitoring. At least quarterly (I prefer monthly ) samples need to be collected and sent to a lab to monitor both how many and what kinds of bacteria are present in the milk replacer the calves are drinking.

5. Given we often feed 8 liters or more of milk replacer per day, remember how to translate lab data into daily bacteria intake for each calf:
     CFU/ML (total bacteria)           CFU/Day/calf(8 L/da)
     50                                              400,000
     500                                            4 million
     5000                                          40 million
     50000                                        400 million
     100,000                                     800 million (26 out of 34 pens had this level of contamination!)

Friday, March 9, 2018

What are the "Signals" that a calf is not feeling well?

What do I look for when doing my wellness check on calves?

This note contains very practical "look for" information when walking calves. 

It is HERE or at this URL

Great job by Ann Hoskins.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Adding Bacteria to Milk with an 
Automatic Feeder?

The recipe seems to be fairly simple.

Start with clean milk replacer powder, put warm water into mixing jar, add powder to jar, mix. Sample the milk from the jar. Presto! Contaminated milk replacer ready to feed calves!

In the study reported by Medrano-Galarza and Others in the March issue of the Journal of Dairy Science from 17 dairies in southern Ontario (Canada) using automatic feeders  roughly 3 out of 4 dairies managed to add more than 100,000cfu/ml bacteria to the milk replacer before it left the mixing jar.

Then, the same milk replacer was sampled coming out of the hose connecting the mixing jar to the nipple. Now 4 out of 5 farms elevated the bacterial contamination to over 100,000 cfu/ml.

I cannot believe these dairies were trying to make their calves sick. The study included calf diarrhea rates for these calves in all four seasons of the year. The rates were:

Fall      = 23%
Winter = 27%
Spring = 25%
Summer = 16%

In my opinion this shows that calves are very tough critters - in spite of this continuous exposure to bacteria in all their milk replacer ration most of them still neither died or were observed with diarrhea. [Mortality was reported at 4% - lower than most values for both USA and Canada.]

Also reported were contamination levels with coliform bacteria in samples coming directly from the mixing jar. These rates of over 10, coliforms were:

Fall         = 12%
Winter    = 17%
Spring    = 12%
Summer = 17%

Calves are tough critters.

How much better could their feed conversion have been without the constant drag of bacterial exposure in their milk?

Reference: Medrano-Galarza, Calalina, S.J. LeBlanc, A. Jones-Bitton, T.J. DeVroies, J. Rushen, A.M. de Passille, M.I. Endres, D.B. Haley. "Associations between management practices and within[pen prevalence of calf diarrhea and respiratory disease on dairy farms using automated milk feeders." Journal of Dairy Science 101:2293-2308 March 2018.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

High Coliform Counts in Colostrum, Again

Our lab here at the Attica Vet clinic often cultures colostrum samples for bacteria. Plates came out of the  incubator on Monday morning (they were plated on Saturday for a 48-hour incubation period).

Overgrown with coliforms!

Is it "normal" to have a high coliform count in colostrum? NO  NO  NO!

Is it possible to achieve low (under 5,000cfu/ml) coliform counts in colostrum? YES  YES  YES!

Here is the link to a case study for a dairy experiencing high coliform counts in the colostrum. And, YES, this dairy was successful in dropping their high counts to really low values. Most importantly, the counts are still low 5 years later!

Link is HERE.
If the link does not work for you the URL is


Friday, February 23, 2018

Are Standard Operating Procedures Useful?

This is the title of a short article by Ferando Diaz, DVM, published in the Farm Journal's MILK magazine, February issue, p 12.

He emphasizes the finding of a study involving 248 dairy farms:
  • 34% of the farms using SOPs did not have SOPs available in writing.
  • 48% of the employees did not have free access to the SOPs at all times.
  • 70% of the dairies did not use SOPs in their training program.
  • 63% of the farmers did not check the validity of their SOPs on a regular basis
  • 44% of the dairies did not involve employees in the creation of the SOPs
He concludes:
"In my experience, to overcome these issues, bilingual SOPs should be available to every worker in common areas and posted in the areas where the tasks are performed.

In a successful dairy management program, SOPs are the main tool for training and retraining employees.

Moreover, SOPs should be updated frequently with inputs from employees, managers and farm advisor.

In conclusion, SOPs can be a great system for improving employee performance when they are efficiently implemented."

Dr. Diaz and I are on the same page. Make 'em and use 'em!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bleach: Using it to Clean and Disinfect

I just revised this resource in the calf management resource library [click HERE to access]. It reviews critical points about using this popular and inexpensive chemical. 

  • Shelf life for bleach
  • Tables for bleach dilutions for washing, sanitizing and soaking when using household concentration bleach.
  • Sanitizing equipment 
  • Sanitizing milk – does not work 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ever Bucket Train a Calf?

Many calf feeders use buckets rather than bottles to feed milk to young dairy calves. All of us who have bucket trained calves know that it is a labor-intensive procedure.

This study of 1,235 calves observed the bucket training process.

They found these rates of "Adoption" by the calves:
(percent drinking by themselves)
Day 2 = only 10%
Day 3 = up to 55%
Day 4 = up to 85% drinking by themselves
Day 5 = up to 92%

Now here is the tough part:

Day 6 = 92%
Day 7 = 92%
Day 8 = 92%

This is getting old - these "holdout" calves are breaking my back!

By day 14 this study still had a few calves that were still requiring some kind of assistance. 

Remember, however, by day 8-14 we could easily have calves that have been drinking by themselves  that now have health issues., maybe a little dehydrated. You know, they are alert, lying on their belly but need encouragement to get up to drink and then need me to fuss with them to finish their milk meal.

Maybe it is not realistic to expect 100% of the calves in the first three weeks of age to dive into their milk bucket and lick it clean.

Reference: Mandel, D. and Others, "Predictors of time to dairy calf bucket training." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9769-9774 December 2017.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jim Dickrell's Case Study on Calves

Jim Dickrell, Editor Emeritus at Dairy Herd Management magazine, has this fantastic 2-page case study of a calf enterprise.
It is HERE.

The dairy has about 600 replacement animals. Jim's case study report is divided into these parts:
  • Step One: Nursery Barn
  • Step Two: Weaning Barn
  • Step Three: Grower Barn
It is a quick read full of possible ideas for a successful calf enterprise. 


Friday, February 2, 2018

Consistency Matters!

"Consistency Matters" is the title of the February issue of the calf management newsletter.

 In brief:
  • Consistency promotes better health and growth.
  • Calf care people are the base for consistent care.
  • Consistent time, especially for feeding.
  • Consistent feeding, especially temperature, volume and solids level.
  • See the Calf Care Consistency Checklist HERE.
The letter is HERE.
Or, paste this URL 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Drying Off a Calf
Link fixed

Thanks to folks that send me an e-mail that the link in the Drying Off a Calf post was not working.

As of 1:45 pm on Tues Jan 30 it should be fixed. If all else fails use this URL

Thanks for your patience. 

Brix for Milk Replacer Solids?
Questions about Accuracy with MR

In this article posted online on January 29 in Progressive Dairyman
click HERE
Dr. Vermeire presents findings that suggest significant bias when  using a Brix refractometer to estimate solids content of milk replacer.

He notes that variations in protein sources as well as in added fats from batch to batch of milk replacer can lead to unpredictable solids values.

His advice is to be sure to have a really good mixing protocol - especially measuring the milk replacaer powder accurately - he suggests weighing when mixing in volumes other than whole bags.

I will watch carefully in the next few months to see if additional data become available to support those presented by Dr. Vermeire.

By the way, the author makes a point to assure us that this technology, Brix refractometer, continues to be a reliable method of estimating solids in both colostrum and whole milk.

Monday, January 29, 2018

How high can bacteria counts get in colostrum?

I came across a study that included analyzing the colostrum samples for total bacteria counts and coliform bacteria counts.

They did a series of dilutions in order to get reasonable estimates of very high numbers.

What were the highest counts?

total plate count - highest value 400,000,000 cfu/ml

coliform count - highest values 170,000,000 cfu/ml

Do you suppose with these bacteria counts the colostrum was a thick as yogurt?

Reference: Mandel, C. and Others, "Predictors of time to dairy calf bucket training." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9769-9774 December 2017.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Comparison of Colostrum Replacer and Maternal Colostrum: Jersey  & JerseyXHolstein Calves.

"The objective of this study was to determine the effect of feeding a commercially available colostrum replacer versus pooled maternal colostrum on immunological status, growth and health in preweaned calves." (p1345)

Bottom Line - colostrum replacer works if you don't have clean maternal colostrum to feed.

Colostrum management - all the calves (N=1215) were fed at least 150g of IgG within 1 hour of birth. And both the colostrum replacer and maternal colostrum had either no or very very low bacteria counts. 

Note here that these calves were only fed colostrum once. And they were limited to only 150g of IgG. I recommend to my clients to include 200g IgG first feeding and to consider a second feeding 6 to 12 hours after the first feeding of another 100-200g IgG. So, consider these calves as getting the "basic" volume of IgG. 

Efficiency of absorption of antibodies - GREAT! If you feed enough high quality colostrum (or replacer) within an hour after birth the body does a good job of moving antibodies from the gut into the blood. Both colostrum and replacer had efficiency rates in the range of 34 to 36%. Those are good numbers.

Total protein values? Both averaged above 5.0.  Colostrum replacer average value was 5.2 and maternal colostrum average value was 5.8. These are good numbers considering that IgG intake was limited to only 150g IgG. 

Calf Growth  The calves were limited to only 4 quarts of non-salable milk per day. The growth rates were 0.7#/day for colostrum replacer calves and 0.8#/day for maternal colostrum calves. These calves with a limited supply of nutrients from milk increased their weight from birth to weaning by 62% for colostrum replacer and 65% for maternal colostrum.

Note here as an industry growth standard I  have adopted the national Dairy Calf & Heifer Association goal of doubling birth weight in 8 weeks. My clients that feed 2 pounds of milk replacer powder or 4 gallons of whole milk daily routinely average 1.7#/day gain at 56 days. 

Health Including diarrhea, respiratory disease and fever there were no differences between colostrum replacer and maternal colostrum calves. 

Mortality - The national standard from the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association for mortality under 8 weeks is less than 5%. Maternal-colostrum treatment calves had a 7.1% death rate while the colostrum-replacer treatment calves had a death rate of 9.4%. We can only guess that there were stressful circumstances (for example, weather, hygiene) that resulted in these elevated mortality rates.  

Reference: Lago, A. and Others, "Efficacy of colostrum replacer versus maternal colostrum on immulogical status, health and growth of preweaned calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:1344-1354 February 2018.                                                                                                              

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Overcrowding Wins Again

Overcrowding heifers has been shown over and over again to depress rates of gain and increase variability in growth within pens. This study reported over a 9% drop in average daily gain as overstocking increased. 

In this 91-day research with 900# heifers the stocking rates were 100, 125 and 150 percent. The comparisons were made on average daily gain, within pen variations in gains, and hygiene scores.

Depending on the two rations  (one included short straw and the other included long straw) the drop in rate of gain took place at different stocking rates.

For the ration including short straw the rates of gain dropped 9.4% as stocking went up from 100 to 125% with no change between 125% and 150%. [Actual change was from 2.2#/day down to just over 2# per day] The level of variation of gain within pen went up progressively from 100 to 125 to 150 percent stocking.

For the ration including long straw the rates of gain dropped about 5% as stocking went up from 125 to 150%. The level of variation of gain within pen went up progressively from 100 to 125 to 150 percent stocking.

I did not try to do an economic comparison using the value of rate of gain vs. cost of housing. The study did not place a value on the decrease in uniformity of rates of gain as overcrowding rates went up.

Dirty legs and flanks - the rate of soiled animals went up as soon as the stocking rates in all pens was greater than 100%.

Reference: Coblentz, W. K. and Others, "Effects of straw processing and pen overstocking on the growth performance and sorting characteristics of diets offered to replacement Holstein dairy heifers." Journal of Dairy Science 101:1074-1087.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Dehydrated Calves often = Dead Calves

During periods of hot weather we seem to be quite aware of the threat of dehydration among our calves. However, it is easy to overlook the dangers of dehydration during periods of below freezing weather. 

You may want to look at this resource: or click HERE.

The main point here are:

Why do calves get dehydrated? 

Preventing dehydration is more cost effective than treating it. 
     1. Reduce pathogen exposure.
     2. Increase immunity to pathogens. 
     3. Feed free-choice water.

Treating it requires timely measures appropriate to the degree of dehydration.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Timing Blood Draw for Checking on Passive Transfer of Immunity

It is possible to get too eager to draw blood for checking on passive transfer of immunity from colostrum feeding.

With my own calves I had a routine of collecting blood the second day they were with me. All the calves born in the previous 24 hours were delivered to my calf hutches late every morning. They then received a PM milk feeding that same day and another feeding the next morning.

After cleaning up all the milk feeding equipment I went back to the calves to feed calf starter grain. It was convenient time to draw blood on the new arrivals from the previous day. All of them had at least 24 hours since they were fed colostrum. Blood antibodies levels should have peaked.

What can go wrong?
Not waiting at least 24 hours between colostrum feeding and drawing blood.

Let's say I drew blood every afternoon, 1 or 2PM. What if a calf was fed colostrum at 6AM, moved to her hutch at 11AM and I drew blood the same afternoon?  The antibodies would not have a chance to fully migrate into the blood in that short time between 6AM and 2PM. Test results would be invalid.

The resource, Passive Transfer of Immunity: When to Test, goes over all these points. You can go to it by clicking HERE.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Cold Weather Calf Care Checklist

What is easier than a checklist?

Zip down through the items on the list - ok, ok, ok, ok, oops - forgot about that. That is the beauty of a checklist.

If you are in a climate where it is cold this time of  year this quick checklist might help you find the weak link in your calf management. 

Click HERE for the checklist. 


Monday, January 8, 2018

Dry Calf? Good Cold Weather Management

If you do not already have a routine procedure in place to get newborn calves dry maybe you need one. 

This resource, "Drying Off a Calf." reviews:

When to dry off the calf? 

How dry is “dry”? 

Calf coats go on dry calves! 

Towels and their care.

 Drying the calf – techniques that work.

While getting a dry haircoat may not seem to be important during warm summer weather, it may make the difference between a live and dead calf in cold winter conditions.

Click HERE to go to the resource.
Or, paste this url in your browser