Thursday, October 11, 2018

Why Would Milk Feeding Method for Calves
be Related to Rate of Growth?

In a US national study of dairy heifer growing practices we find these facts:

                                                    Calves by Average Daily Gain(%)
Feeding method               Poor (<1.4#/da)   Fair (1.4-1.8#/da)   Excellent (>1.8#/da) Total

Bucket/ pail only                     23                       37                           40                            100%
Bottle & Bucket                      32                       35                           33                             100%
Bottle only                              42                       36                           22                             100%

To put the rate of gain in perspective let's add that in order to double birth weight in 8 weeks (56 days) a 90# calf needs to gain 1.6 pounds a day. If her average gain is 1.8 pounds a day for 56 day she will gain a total of 101 pounds - that is really good growth.

So, why is the percent "Poor" so much higher for bottle feeding compared to the other two methods?

This research was not set up to answer this question. Let's do some guessing.

Many of my clients that feed with buckets have "step-up" milk feeding programs. They start calves at 4 quarts a day (divided into 2 feedings). As soon as practical they ramp up milk volume with a goal of being at 8 quarts a day by 10 15 days of age. Most of these operations also have a "step-down" weaning process rather than just quit milk feeding "cold-turkey."

What happens with bottle feeding? Well, the traditional milk feeding bottle has a 2 quart capacity. The calves get fed a bottle twice a day. That sets an upper limit of 4 quarts a day. What are the chances that these calves will be in the "poor" (<1.4#/da gain) category? I am guessing the odds are pretty high - especially if freezing temperatures prevail during the milk feeding period.

I am guessing that the equation "dry matter intake drives growth" applies here. Bucket feeding provides the flexibility to easily increase volume of milk fed well above 4 quarts a day. Few calf operations have the ability to feed with 2 and 3 and 4 quart bottles as the calf grows from birth to weaning.

By the way, season of the year [environmental temperature] was associated with rates of gain - hotter weather depressing gains, cooler weather showing higher gains. In calf hutches, during freezing weather with my intensive-fed calves average daily gain was usually between 1.9-2.1#/day. During the hottest summer months our average daily gain was usually between 1.6-1.8#/day.

My experience with using both bottles and buckets:

I fed my calves with both bottles and buckets. Bottle fed for about the first 4-5 days (until nursing strongly). Switch to bucket - lots of wet clothing and spilled milk along here - I had one Brown Swiss calf that never did drink out of bucket.

Ramp up milk replacer (15% solids, 28-20) volume to match appetite with the goal of 4 quarts twice daily. At 5 weeks any calf eating one pound  (454g) of calf starter grain (20% protein) every day lost her PM milk replacer feeding - she had to "starve" on only 4 quarts (3.8L) a day.

Most of these calves were consuming more than 4 (1.8kg) pounds of grain daily by the time they were 7 weeks old. Somewhere between 45 and 49 days they began receiving a small "handful" of hay in their grain bucket three times a week. Most were full weaned around 50-52 days. Moved to group pen (5 to a pen) around 60 to 65 day (depended a lot on pressure for empty hutches).

Reference: Shivley, C. B. and Others, " Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operations: Part 6. Factors associated with average daily gain in preweaned dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101, 9245-9258. October 2018

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our Dairy Does Not Have
Cryptosporidum or Giardia!

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%

They did fecal testing to determine the presence of both Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

Do you really believe that your dairy does not have either of these parasites?

Guess again. Presence was - percentage of farms with parasite present:

94% Cryptosporium

99% Giardia

Or, on the basis of calves that were fecal sampled, percentage of calves with parasite present:

43% Cryptosporidium

30% Giardia

Important to note - these were not clinical cases of infection. These laboratory results were just presence/absence of parasites.

Reference: Urie, N.J. and Others "Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 3. Factors associated with Cryptosporidium and Giardia in preweaned dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9199-9213 October 2018.

If there are clinical symptoms here are a two basic resources on these parasites.

  • click  HERE for basic resource on Cryptosporidium - or this is the URL

  • click HERE for basic resource on Girardia - or this is the URL

Monday, October 8, 2018

Do Everything Right and Still Get Failures!
Colostrum Management

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They collected information on colostrum management:
  • Quality of colostrum fed
  • Quickly - time after birth when colostrum fed
  • Quantity of colostrum fed
What did they find?

  • When calves received excellent management (high quality, fed quickly, volume of 10% or more birth weight) - still 14% still had passive transfer failure (<10g/L).
So, how come this finding?
  1. One possibility is that the subject farms lied - they reported what the farm protocol was rather than what actually was being done. But, there were many farms and many calves - so maybe not such a good explanation for 14% PTF.
  2. A second possibility is sampling and testing error. Only one blood sample was taken from each calf with considerable variation in days between first colostrum feeding and when the blood was drawn. This could account for some of the failures but still 14% is lot to attribute to errors.
  3. A third possibility is genetic variation. Some calves have genetically determined ability to absorb antibodies very efficiently while others are at the other end of the spectrum - poor absorption ability. I not sure how I would go about measuring this. But, given natural variation on all other traits this might be a viable alternative. 
Where do I come down on this question?

While the first and second reasons might account for one or two percent of PTF it is my opinion (note lack of scientific evidence) that genetic variation could play a big role here.

On one hand, as calf care person it is not reasonable to beat ourselves up over wide variation among calves in passive transfer of immunity.

On the other hand, I have a client (130 calves on milk) whose colostrum feeding protocol includes feeding only Brix 23 or higher colostrum as first feeding, nearly all calves receive first feeding before 4 hours after birth and the calves receive 4 quarts at birth, 2 more quarts 6 hours later and another 2 quarts 6 hours after that. Their PTF rate last month (<5.0 g/L) was 5% with an average BSTP of 6.4 g/L.

Reference: Shivley, C.B. and Others "Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 2 Factors associated with colostrum quality and passive transfer status of dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9185-9198 October 2018.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Is "Waste Milk" Good for Calves?

The October issue of the calf management newsletter is now posted at

The content summary is:
  • What is “Waste Milk?”
  • Quality characteristics of nonsaleable milk
  • Strategies for getting the most growth from nonsaleable milk feeding
  • Special considerations for weaning when feeding nonsaleable milk

You can access the newsletter, just click HERE or if that does not work paste this URL in your browser

Monday, October 1, 2018

Watch Out for Poor Quality Colostrum

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%

They evaluated colostrum fed to calves. Using the threshold of 50g/L IgG based on 2,263 individual colostrum samples they found that 23 percent of the samples failed. 

That same information stated another way, nearly one calf out of four was fed inferior quality colostrum! I guess we should not be surprised to learn that so many preweaned calves have scours and pneumonia.

Based on the number of dairy operations, only 17% of the 104 operation had 90 percent of their colostrum testing at or above 50g/L. Ten percent of the farms (about 11) did not have even 1 sample that was acceptable (at or above 50g/L). Did that fact hit home for you? All of the calves on these farms (10% of the total 104 operations) were fed inferior quality colostrum.

Test - don't Guess! 

If you are not already evaluating your colostrum quality before using it for first feeding of newborn calves now is the time to make the change. 

Click HERE to go to a guide for using a Brix refractometer to assess colostrum quality. [If the link does not work here is the URL] Both optical and digital refractometers are available for on-farm use. In this study of 104 dairies only 17% were using a Brix refractometer to evaluate colostrum quality.

Note that other colostrum resources are at - just scroll down to the word colostrum.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Navel Dipping

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
What did they out about navel dipping? Seventy-nine percent of the enrolled calves had navels dipped. 

What happened to the other 21% of the calves?

Of the 103 operations reporting 21 of them never dipped navels. Never, nada, not at all. 

Is it profitable not to dip navels? There are good data to say, "No."

For a resource, "Dollars and Cents: Navel Dipping" click HERE.
[URL is]

There is plenty of data to show that overall the rate of omphalitis (infected navels) is lower on dairy operations that routinely dip navels at birth. This probably based on the fact that overall most operations have calving facilities and calf housing that expose calves to high levels of bacteria - high enough to cause navel infections.

At our 1,200 cow operation almost all the calves had navels dipped in the calving pen (tincture of iodine) and then were redipped after being moved into a hutch. We had omphalitis treatment rate of well under one percent - and I did routinely check navels between 10 and 14 days to be sure we were not missing infections. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Salmonella is hard to avoid

A research project was set up to to determine if pasteurization of nonsaleable waste milk influences fecal Salmonella concentrations and prevalence.

All the data came from one large dairy in southwest USA. They collected 1,117 fecal samples and found that 69% of the sample positive for Salmonella.

The percentage positive was the same for calves fed either non-pasteurized nonsaleable milk and pasteurized nonsaleable milk.

Nonsaleable milk samples were collected and cultured (6 of each pasteurized and non-pasteurized). Only one non-pasteurize sample was culture positive for Salmonella.

The authors speculate that Salmonella in the dairy environment was a plausible vector of transmission since the milk regardless of treatment was unlikely to the source of infection. 

I conclude that we must depend on control strategies other than pasteurizing our nonsaleable milk to lower our Salmonella infection rates. 

A case study of a Salmonella outbreak at a calf-raising facility highlighted two prevention:control stratgies.

(1) Monitor passive transfer immunity - in this case study calves with blood serum total protein levels less than 5.0 had twice the mortality rate as those with levels of 5.0 and higher (16% compared to 8%).

(2) "Do not depend on footbaths to kill pathogens, especially Salmonella. It was cultured from multiple footbaths on this raising unit during the outbreak."They found that "providing separate boots, clothing, and rubber gloves to be worn in each calf barn and adhering to traffic flow patterns that do not allow cross-contamination of multiple areas will likely be more effective for managing the risk associated with epidemic salmonellosis."

References: Edrington, T. S. and Others "Effect of waste milk pasteurization on fecal shedding of Salmonella in preweaned calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9266-9274 October 2018.
Gardner, C.E. and Others "Case Report - Management of an outbreak of salmonellosis on a commercial calf raising unit." The Bovine Practitioner 38:2 pp 147-154. June 2004.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Blood Serum Total Protein to
Evaluate Passive Transfer of Immunity

Researchers at the University of Guelph (Ontario) used a clinical refractometer with blood serum to assess passive transfer of immunity among calves delivered to a veal operation.

They had 149 Holstein calves in the population. They drew blood on arrival; samples were allowed to clot and by gravity separate the blood serum. Then a digital refractometer was used to read the blood serum total protein (BSTP).

They had a laboratory use the slower and more expensive test (radial immunodiffusion or RID) to arrive at "gold standard" values on the same blood samples - these were compared to the BSTP values.

The match between the values was good. In scientific terms, there were low levels of false negative and false positive values when RID numbers were compared with BSTP numbers. 

Thus, they confirmed once more that blood sampling during the first week of life is an effective way to monitor the overall effectiveness of the colostrum management program on a dairy. 

In an earlier report the same authors compared BSTP values for calves that died with surviving partner calves that arrive the same day from the same source. Again, calves that died had significantly lower BSTP than their partner calves that survived.  

At one of my calf-raising clients several years ago we compared BSTP for a year for calves that died and those that lived. He tested all calves at intake for BSTP. His overall rate of passive transfer failure was low - about 5% below 5.0. His mortality rate was slightly above 5%. However, we found that of the calves that died roughly 75% had passive transfer failure. Of course this was just one operation and one year so it's hard to generalize these findings to other farms. 

References: Renaud, D. L. and Others "Short Communication: Validation of methods for practically evaluating failed passive transfer of immunity in calves arriving at a veal facility." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9516-9520 October 2018.
Renaud, D.L and Others, "Clinical and metabolic indicators associated with early mortality at a milk-fed veal facility: A prospective case-control study." Journal of Dairy Science 101:2669-2678 2018.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Moving Calves into an Auto Feeder Pen

Everyone seems to agree that calves should only be moved into an auto feeder pen when they have a strong suckling reflex.

But, individual dairy circumstances seem to lead to a lot of variation. We know that we want calves nursing well from a bottle. After that is accomplished, how much time is available to train calves to drink from the auto nipple?

So, here are some reflections from my recent experiences.

One client moves calves in the morning when they would normally be fed by bottle. A calf care person is available to stay in the pen to be sure each calf goes into the feeding station. The idea is combine a hungry calf with an opportunity to suckle. They guess that at least half of the calves do not require even a second time being guided to the nipple - success!

Another client has their individual calf pens in the same large building as the auto feeder pens. As soon as a calf is aggressively nursing on a bottle the next feeding time she is guided to a "teaching station." This station is an extra auto feeder stall along one outside wall of the utility building. The calf is guided to the nipple, the calf care person manually triggers milk flow and, (we hope) presto, the calf nurses. As soon as the calf seems to have adopted robust nursing behavior she is moved over into the group pen that is being filled at that time. (all-in, all-out pen management) In general, nearly all calves move into the auto pens before 7 days old. However, they experience quite a wide age range in moving to the auto feeder pens with a few calves moving as early as 4 days and others taking as long a 2 weeks. As an aside, if they have a calf with severe scours she is held back in an individual pen and bottle fed along with electrolytes until she shows signs of recovery.

Based on calving rates and numbers planned per pen the length of time to fill a pen may vary very widely from dairy to dairy. One of my largest clients aims for a pen size between 15 and 20 and fills a new pen every 3 to 4 days - very narrow age range. Another much smaller dairy puts all the calves born over 2 weeks in one pen in order to limit the age range - over a year they average about 12 -15 calves per pen. Both dairies hand feed for 4 to 5 days before moving into the group pens.

Another dairy with two "all in all out" auto feeder pens has a 14-day hand feeding protocol for all calves. This protocol avoids all individual decision making - same routine for all calves. regardless of nursing readiness. The reasoning is that by 14 days most of the diarrhea episodes will have occurred in individual pens limiting transmission of disease. My observation is that most of the diarrhea is related to cryptosporidiosis (a parasite) and was going to occur regardless of the housing environment. Given that nearly all calves have scours between 7 and 10 days and on this dairy calf care personnel skills are limited, maybe it is best to use individual housing to make it easy to identify scouring calves eligible for electrolyte feeding. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 Not Enough Colostrum?
Test! Adjust Feeding Volume by Quality.

On Friday, August 10th, I posted "Stretching Your Supply of High Quality Colostrum." This suggested that feeding a somewhat lower volume of high quality colostrum may give adequate levels of circulating antibodies for newborn calves. This post expands on this idea. 

Research completed this past  year at Penn State University suggests a way to make a limited supply of colostrum go farther when feeding newborn calves. Test and adjust volume?

 They divided their colostrum supply into three categories: high, medium or low. 
Measuring actual antibodies (IgG) they found these quality differences:
high         92.5 mg/ml
medium   59.4 mg/ml
low          48.0 mg/ml

They fed the calves and tested blood 24 hours later.
The blood serum total protein levels went up as colostrum quality went up - no big surprise.
high          24.8 mg/ml
medium    22.2 mg/ml
low           18.0 mg/ml

Now, of special interest, was the efficiency of absorption of the antibodies fed.
When they compared the absorption results from calves fed the medium and  high quality colostrum they found the calves had absorbed about the same amount of antibodies regardless of  the volume of antibodies fed.

The calves fed medium quality colostrum had an efficiency of absorption of 38 percent while calves fed the high quality colostrum had a lower level of efficiency - only 25 percent. 

The authors suggest that "there may be an  upper limit to amount of IgG absorption in a given time period." (p277)

Bottom Line? If colostrum supply is low, using a smaller volume (for example, 3 quarts) of high quality colostrum for first feeding may work as well as a larger volume (for example, 4 quarts) of medium quality colostrum.

Reference: Saldana, S. L. and Others, "Effects of difference heating time of high, mediumj and low quality colostrum on IgG absorption in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 101, Supplement #2, p 277 #T175, 2018.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Colostrum Antibody Losses Minimal when 
Heat Treated

We know that heat treating colostrum what contains bacteria will lower the bacteria count.

We know that heat treating colostrum to lower bacteria content will reduce the concentration of antibodies, specifically immunoglobulin G (IgG).

How much reduction?

Well, it depends. In this work done at Penn State University they checked to see how much reduction in both bacteria and antibodies would result from heat treating at 60C (140F) for 30 minutes and 60 minutes.

First, bacteria results. Heat treating resulted in bacteria reductions of approximately 94 % and 95% times of 30 and 60 minutes respectively. So, heat treating works.

Second, antibody losses due to heat treating. At 30 minutes the losses were 9 percent. At 60 minutes the losses were 12 percent. So, while heat treating does reduce antibody concentration the losses are within an acceptable range.

One thing to remember - heat treating will not increase the antibody concentration of colostrum - it is still true that "garbage in - garbage out" applies to colostrum and heat treating. 

Reference: Saldana, S. L. and Others, "Effects of difference heating time of high, mediumj and low quality colostrum on IgG absorption in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 101, Supplement #2, p 277 #T175, 2018.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Summary Article on Forage Feeding
for Young Calves

This short article summarizes in readable form much of the biology of rumen development among young milk-fed calves.

The link is 

The bottom line at the end of the article is that forage feeding rates in the range of 5 to 10 percent of total intake is a workable goal.

Depending on  the size of the calf operation on an individual dairy different methods of including forage may be needed. 

With my calves (100 on milk most of the year) I did not have an easy way to get chopped hay. If I had calves consuming around 2 to 3 pounds of textured starter per day it only took 2 ounces of hay per day to equal 5 percent. Ever try to measure 2 ounces of hay?

My solution was to put a handful of good quality second-cutting alfalfa hay in the top of their grain pail three days a week (that made it easy to feed hay on Mon, Wed and Fri). As the calves approached full weaning at 49-52 days of age (eating 5 to 6# of grain daily) I was a little more liberal with the hay. 

I did not depend on relief workers to feed hay - they consistently overfed hay by a factor of 100 to 200 percent.

When my calves moved from individual housing to group housing (5 calves per pen) I limit-fed hay the first week to what they would clean up in around 1/2 an hour per day.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Testing Colostrum for IgG's

The September calf management newsletter with this title highlights:
  • Sick calves? Feeding low quality colostrum could be contributing to the problem!
  • Make colostrum quality testing part of the dairy's SOP for colostrum management.
  • Connect test values to colostrum feeding - keep it simple.
Think about these questions:
  1. What are the chances of having low quality colostrum?
  2. How can we identify low quality colostrum?
  3. Once we  have identified low quality colostrum, how do we avoid using it for first feeding for our heifer calves? 
  4. What can we do if colostrum supplies are low?
URL is or just click HERE.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Auto Feeder Weaning Method and
Rates of Gain When Feeding High Levels of Milk

Which weaning method should you use with an automatic milk feeder when feeding high levels of milk? A continuous gradual program - small equal amounts over 14 days? A multi-step gradual program with 2 or 3 L increments over 14 days?

Calves were offered 12L/day until day 43. Then they were enrolled on one of the two weaning programs (as above). Weaning was completed on day 57.

"Feed intake (calf starter grain) did not differ between treatments in the milk feeding, weaning and post-weaning periods." (feed was 95% mixed concentrate and 5% chopped straw)

"Growth rates did not vary by treatment during milk feeding and post-weaning periods."

Both groups of calves had an abrupt drop in gains right at weaning.
The gains for continuous gradual program calves dropped from 1.08kg/day (2.4#/day) to 590g/day (1.3#/day) the week they were weaned. The gains for multi-step gradual program calves dropped from 940g/day (2.1#/day) to 700g/day (1.5#/day) the week they were weaned. 

Before long (during days 57 to 70) the gains for both groups rebounded back up to about 1.2kg/day (2.6#/day). As best I can tell from reading the research report the calves remained on the same dry ration from days 57 to 70 as they adapted to being weaned (that is, they did no suddenly receive ad lib forages).

Regardless of the weaning program, final weaning represented a big short-time stressful event. Our management should avoid adding other stresses at the same time in order maintain good calf health and avoid the need to treat calves for pneumonia.

Reference: Parsons, S.D., and Others "Effect of type of gradual weaning program on intakes and growth of dairy calves fed a high level of milk." Journal of Dairy Science Supplement #2 2018 p260

Friday, August 24, 2018

Summary of Auto Feeder Success Factors

Data from 38 farms over 18 months were summarized. The research summary identified 9 factors associated with better calf health scores and/or lower mortality/ or treatment rates.

1. Reduced time to reach  peak milk allowance (minimum peak allowance suggested is 8L/d)

2. Feeding milk/milk replacer with low bacteria count (SPC less than 100,000cfu/ml)

3. Use of positive pressure ventilation tubes in the calf barn

4. Adequate amount of space /calf in the resting area (minimum suggested is 3.7sq.meters - 40sq.feet)

5. Small number of calves per group (suggested less than 15 calves)

6. Adequate farm average serum total protein concentration (an indicator of passive immunity transfer)

7. Use of drinking speed as a warning signal to identify potentially sick calves

8. Practicing navel and pen disinfection between calf groups consistency

9. Narrow age range within calf groups

They conclude: "It appeared that cleaning of the autofeeder and its various components was one of the most important keys to making these systems work successfully." (p162)

Reference: Endres, M. " What have we learned about automatic milk feeders?" Journal of Dairy Science 2018 101: Supplement: Annual Meeting Abstracts #117

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How Soon to Introduce Newborn Calves 
to Automated Milk Feeders?

"Effect of age of introduction to an automated milk feeder on calf learning and performance and labor requirements."

This article title caught my attention.

A few quick details:
Treatment: 1/2 calves introduced to auto feeder on day 6, 1/2 calves introduced to autofeeder on day 1
Housing: two group pens, continuous-flow with newborns and 5-day calves going into pen #1, all calves moving into pen #2 at about 30 days, 1 milk nipple per pen, up to 15 calves per pen (during the study the average pen #1 population was only 7 calves), excellent ventilation

Nutrition: 26-18 milk replacer, up to 9L first 4 days on feeder, next 27 days ad lib, days 32-37 drop allowance from 12L to 9L, hold at 9L days 38-46, gradually drop to 2L at 61 days.

Interesting Observations:

1. Weaning gains were the same for early and 5-day introduction treatment.

2. Calf enterprise had high treatment rate for diarrhea (as we might have predicted for a continuous-flow housing operation) - 82%. Authors suspect cryptosporidia as major pathogen involved.

3. Initial diagnosis with diarrhea was about 6 days after introduction to group pen regardless of age at introduction - it seems that the incubation period (6 days) was pretty uniform.

4. Recovery from diarrhea - the younger calves (ones introduced at day 1) seemed to have a harder time dealing with diarrhea than the older calves (ones introduced on day 6) - this seems to agree with our larger experience base that immunity among younger calves is not quite a strong compared to ones that are older. 

5. Age when calves were introduced to the auto feeder made a difference in milk intake only during the first week on the auto feeder - overall milk intake from birth to weaning did not differ. 

6. Labor requirements to achieve regular use of auto feeder were lower using newborn introduction compared to manual feeding for 5 days and later introduction to the auto feeder (40 minutes early: 146 minutes 5-day). BUT, this did not take into account some extra time working with some of early-introduction calves that had severe diarrhea.

Where does leave us in auto feeder pen management?

A. Continuous-flow management is a high risk management strategy - "all-in, all-out" housing management is clearly the preferred strategy for disease management

B. Lower pen populations are preferred to higher ones. My experience is that as pen populations get above 15 management challenges start to go up and at 20 health challenges go up rapidly.

C. Control pathogen exposure. These research pens were cleaned out regularly during the study. The auto feeder used both programmed cleaning during every day and then circuit cleaning daily. They did not report culture results for milk replacer. 

C. Dry matter intake drives growth. Whatever we do to get the babies up on full feed and keep the girls eating works.

Reference: Medrano-Galarza, C. and Others, "Effect of age of introduction to an automated milk feeder on calf learning and performance and labor requirements." Journal of Dairy Science 101: in press 2018.

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