Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gone to hell in a handbasket

 Another saying for this situation is, "The wheels fell off the wagon."

Everything is going along great. Bacteria counts in colostrum  way below thresholds. Blood serum total protein values look good - well under 5 percent below 5.0. Treating two out of the 140+ calves with electrolytes. No calves currently being treated for pneumonia. Have not lost a calf since November.

WHAM!  Within five days we are treating the better part of a whole row (15 calves) for scours. Three dead calves in the past five days.

What to do next?
Choice #1: Chicken Little response - The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Engage in lots of finger pointing, casting blame on anyone and everyone. Not my favorite choice.

Choice #2: Pound on my favorite nail - assume that everytime something like this happens the cause is the same. Take out my favorite tool, a hammer, and pound on my favorite nail. For example, jump on the persons feeding colostrum and hammer away on feeding time and quantity fed. Still not my favorite choice.

Choice #3: Review the list of factors most likely to be connected with scours and check out each one. Start with calving pen management, go on to colostrum management, on to calf housing, on to feeding, and so on. Clearly, this is my choice. This process takes time and persistence; not a lot of fun.

In the case I am working on one of the factors was bedding. The summer protocol of using 1/2 a small bale of straw as the initial hutch bedding continued to be used as fall and winter came on. As long as the weather remained mild this practice did not stress calves too much. When a ten-day long cold snap arrived (highs in single digits, lows below 0F at night) hypthermia began to stress out young calves. Their ability to prevent clinical infections dropped off. Scours treatment rate jumped up with the weakest calves unable to maintain core body temperatures.

Most likely solution? Go back to using a full bale of straw to prepare hutches for calves. Be sure calves are "fluff dry" before they go out into the hutches.

Please don't give into the impulse to shout, "The sky is falling."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The greater the time with the dam, the greater the pathogen load in the calf gut

We have known for some time that the longer newborn calves spend in the company of adult cows the greater the risk for scours in the next week or two of life.

In a study just published in the Journal of Dairy Science researchers analyzed fecal samples from 382 calves from 100 farms. (JDS 96:1203-1210 D. Klein, and others "Prevalence and risk factors for shedding of thermophilic Camppylobacter in calves with and without diarrhea in Austrian dairy herds.")

"To define control strategies to reduce Campylobacter in calves, we identified on-farm risk factors." One of the four risk factors identified was "time of cow-calf separation following birth."

Findings?  "Herds in which calves were left with their dam for more than 1 hour had a 2.6 higher risk of being Campylobacter positive than herds in which calves were separated from the cow immediately after birth." (p<.05)(p1205). This finding held up regardless of whether or not the herd had been identified as having a calf diarrhea problem.

Bottom Line? The longer calves spend in the company of adult cows (including the dam) the higher the exposure to all pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites).

My rule of thumb is to let the calf remain with the dam as she licks it off. As soon as the calf can stand and starts to walk, out she comes! I feel comfortable using behavior as a guide to remove the calf rather than using a specific time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Freezing Colostrum

While at a two-day dairy producer conference in Minnesota this past Thursday and Friday I was asked about frozen colostrum.

After asking a couple of questions for clarification of the producers' questions I discovered the real question was "What is the best way to THAW colostrum?"
The producers already knew (1) that it was possible to freeze colostrum without damaging the antibodies and (2) that frozen colostrum could be stored for a long time without damaging the antibodies. They also knew that they did NOT like to thaw frozen colostrum.

As the discussion progressed I discovered that the most common way to package colostrum for freezing was in a rigid plastic container such as a two-quart nursing bottle, a two or four-quart plastic jug similar to those in which fresh fluid milk is sold in markets. 

So, I stopped my planned presentation and told them this:
  • Make every effort to harvest colostrum without inoculating it with bacteria.
  • Check for quality before freezing - no need to freeze low quality (low concentration of antibodies) colostrum.
  • Chill the colostrum to 60F (16C) before it goes into the freezer - this slows bacteria doubling to once every 2.5 hours rather than once every 20 minutes at cow-body temperature.
  • Package the colostrum in self-sealing freezer-quality plastic bags - load 1-gallon bags with just one quart of colostrum.
  • Freeze these bags in a flat position - think of making "leaves" of colostrum.
Then, I recommended for thawing:
  • Use a water bath with water between 120 and 130F - not too hot to dip your fingers into it.
  • If you put 4 of the flat plastic bags containing 1 quart each into a five-gallon bucket of 130F water it is okay to dump the water after 5-7 minutes and refill with more 130F water.
  • Expect the colostrum to turn into slush in 10-14 minutes and be ready to feed at 105F within 20 to 25 minutes.
If you pour the colostrum into a nursing bottle for final warming try snapping on a nipple and inserting a rapid-read thermometer through the vent hole in order to monitor warming.                        
For a quick check list on storing colostrum Click Here .

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Yet another link to visit
If you are into cold and crisp this is your day in western NY State. Currently 5F with wind chill of -19F. Made me think of the newsletter I read yesterday
The January news from has a nice summary of ideas for cold weather care for calves. 
Click Here  to go to this issue.

You may want to check out this resource on calf blankets: Blanket Link

Monday, January 21, 2013

Healthy Calves are Possible

On Friday morning, January 18th, I walked 250 preweaned calves on two dairy farms in central New York State. Both farms house calves in hutches well away from cow barns. Brrr. Wind chill in single digits. 

When I walk calves I use the observation criteria in the University of Wisconsin School of Vet. Med respiratory risk scoring system   Click here to see UW scoring system pdf .

Of the 123 calves on Farm One, I found one calf with cloudy nasal discharge, eyes and ears looked fine (score = 2). She had already been identified by the calf care person and treated. This was the only hutch calf treated for pneumonia since the first of the year.

Of the 127 calves on Farm Two, I found two calves with risk symptoms - one with unilateral cloudy discharge (score = 1) the other with bilateral cloudy discharge, no cough (score = 2). 

Farm One has 140 hutches on a crushed stone base. Hutches are cleaned and remain empty for 7 to 10 days before the next calf. Farm Two has 150 hutches on a crushed stone base. Hutches are cleaned and remain empty for 10 to 14 days before the next calf. Both hutch locations are far enough away from adult cow housing to avoid the pathogen plume of air from them. 

Both farms follow calving/newborn protocols that minimize pathogen exposure. They both feed liberal amounts of pasteurized milk.

Moral of the Story: Exceptionally good respiratory health is possible among preweaned calves.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ventilation, Ventilation, Ventilation

A client and I talked yesterday about remodeling a calf barn from individual calf pens to group pens. The  4 group pens will be stocked with calves on an "All-in, All-out" basis. They are switching to an acidified milk replacer while the remodeling is going on while the calves are still being fed individually. So far, so good.

I asked about ventilation. "Well, we have curtains on three sides. Of course, with the cold weather things are pretty well buttoned up." [Building is rectangular twice as long as it is wide with axis running east - west. Third curtain faces north.]

"How cold has it been in the barn so far this winter?" I asked. "Has the water in the buckets frozen?"
I knew there has been at least a week with overnight temperatures around 20F in late December, early January. If there was good air exchange there should have been at least a film of ice on the buckets.

"No, no ice in the water pails so far this winter." Well, it really is "buttoned up."

Is this a catastrophe waiting to happen when they switch to group housing? In my opinion, the level of air exchange is too low to be healthful now with individual pens. What will happen when they group calves together in four pens and they depend on care takers inexperienced in monitoring calf health in a group setting? Likely outcome is nearly all the calves treated one or more times for pneumonia before weaning.

My recommendations?

1. Start getting experience now managing curtains to take advantage of any natural ventilation available any time the outdoor temperature warms up close to freezing (taking wind into consideration, as well).

2. As part of the remodeling get the building measurements and work with the farm's consultant to design a positive pressure ventilation system to supplement the natural ventilation.  Get this installed BEFORE moving the calves into group pens with the ad lib feeders.

3. Use the guide for observing calves at risk for respiratory illness in order to identify and treat pneumonia cases very early. See Observation Guide Respiratory Risk
Note that the picture guide is the second page at this site.  I use this guide regularly as I walk calves on my clients' farms.  


Monday, January 14, 2013

Keeping feeding equipment clean

Yet another calf scours case today. All equipment for mixing and feeding milk replacer has a visible biofilm. Nearly all the calves are receiving some kind of treatment for diarrhea by the time they are 7 to 10 days old.

No rinsing of equipment before going into the  lukewarm wash water. Only household dishwash detergent used to wash with no brushing - only a sponge used to wipe easily accessible surfaces. Bottles and tube feeder left in sink to dry; washed buckets stacked inside each other.

If the deficiencies in the cleaning procedures do not jump out at you in the description above try reviewing these resources:

Equipment cleaning checklist - an explanation of the rinse:wash:rinse:dry procedure
Equipment cleaning protocol - English    a one-page protocol that can be laminated and posted at a cleaning station (i.e., sink in utility room).
Equipment cleaning protocol - Spanish   same protocol as above in Spanish
Equipment cleaning protocol - French     same protocol as above in French

P.S. Yes, I did recommend culturing samples of "as-fed" colostrum, "as-fed" milk replacer and taking blood samples from calves 1-7 days old for blood serum total protein testing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Are you listening?
Coccidiostats don't solve scours problems in week-old calves!
I had a conversation this morning with a producer suffering from wide-spread diarrhea among calves between 7 to 10 days of age. I believe the purpose of the phone call was to confirm the conclusion already reached by the client.
The question posed to me was, "Which coccidiostat should I be using for this problem of scours with my calves. Nearly all of them have scours along about 7 to 10 days of age."
I tried to divert his attention to basic questions about calving pen cleanliness, how soon calves are moved to their pens, basics of colostrum handling and feeding, and calf pen cleanliness. Diverting his attention from coccidiosis was like trying to shut off Niagara Falls with a cork.
He had already decided that coccidiosis was the problem (remember calves generally show clinical signs of coccidiosis around 21 days of age) and my questions were nothing more than an annoyance. "Just answer my question!"
Why do I mention this experience? I believe we all suffer from starting to analyze problems with one or more pre-conceived solutions in mind.  I include myself in this population. Keeping an open mind to other than "the usual suspects" is a challenge.
This is why using "critical control points" associated with calf management has the potential for helping us not overlook possible solutions to problems. I heard Dr. Shelia McGuirk give a talk on Managing Calf Diseases over a decade ago. Just for an exercise I took that talk and reformatted into a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) format. Her work provides a fresh look at "critical control points." See Managing Calf Diseases: HACCP approach. Enjoy.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Murphy's Law and Colostrum Bacteria Counts
If anything go wrong, it will!

I just finished an analysis of about 340 colostrum samples from 18 dairies that are under the management of one company.

It is hard to believe that there can be so much difference in bacteria counts in colostrum. At one end of the spectrum five of the dairies had really low counts all the way from teat end to "as-fed" going into the calves.

At the other end of the spectrum several dairies had bacteria counts over 100,000cfu/ml in all their samples. If anything can go wrong, it will!

The top issues? In order of frequency of occurrence they were:
#1 Contaminated milker buckets used to collect the colostrum.
#2 Colostrum not chilled rapidly enough once collected and before being frozen.
#3 Contaminated feeding equipment - bottles, tube feeders.
#4 Too long a delay from the time colostrum was thawed and warmed until it was fed.

Can you identify with any of these issues? You might want to consider training or retraining to get higher levels of compliance to your cleaning protocol.

If training or retraining is needed you may find this checklist helpful.

This list of calf management resources may be accessed at

Friday, January 4, 2013

Little Gems - Newsletters
Do you receive a newsletter that has "just the right information" in it every issue or two? I receive one of these. It is the monthly newsletter from the W. H. Miner Institute in Chazy, New York. This month it has a nice summary article on how to avoid flunixin (most common brand Banamine) residues in dairy animals. Since dairy calves are frequent sources of violation it is most timely. 
The newsletter is found at
If you want to get a pdf of the entire letter just click on the words Farm Report at the top center of the screen. To subscribe write to Rachel Dutil at or you may call 518-846-7121 x115. There is no charge for the e-mail version.
Do you have a favorite newsletter dealing with dairy calf care that you would like to share with others? Let me know - 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Oh, NO! Not another meeting!

 Shannon Linderoth has prepared a checklist of 6 key points to observe when planning a team meeting. Following this advice may improve the productivity of your meetings as well as making them more interesting for the team members. Go to:

 Just to remind you that there are good guidelines for communicating with employees, Gregorio Billikopf has this short one-page review:

Do you have any tips for making meetings productive that have worked for you?