Sunday, May 26, 2013

Italy, 2nd day, May 23, 2013
What a nice evening on the 22nd eating pizza with old friends from Cremona. On to the on-farm seminar on Thursday with a focus on the young calf (birth - 4 months). 
Again a large dairy milking over 600 cows with high production. The group of 30-plus farmers had larger farms  - my best guess is the range was from a low as 100 or so to over 1,000. A very open group with just one question after another as we moved from calving pen to milk fed calves to transition heifers. 
Limited feeding of colostrum when the fresh cows were milked twice daily. No checking for bacteria in colostrum and no use of blood serum total protein for monitoring success of colostrum management program. Lots of discussion of the value of both of these practices. 
Calves are raised in elevated crates for eight weeks (plus or minus depending on calving pressures). They are fed 2 litres of milk replacer mixed at 125g/L twice daily (just over one pound of powder a day) for the first seven weeks.  We talked some that this point about the advantages of feeding at higher rates during the first four or five weeks of age. Also had a good discussion about 1X, 2X and 3X feedings - advantages and disadvantages of these feeding systems. 

Ad lib water is provided and calf starter grain is fed ad lib until they reach a maximum of 1.2kg per day (about 2.6 pounds). Then milk feeding is abruptly ended for all calves eating at least 2.2 pounds of grain daily. Calves remain in the pens for one more week on maximum of 2.6 pounds of grain and ad lib water.
Calves go from individual pens into group straw-bedded pens in groups of about ten. They are abruptly changed to a TMR consisting of chopped hay and a protein pellet. I forgot to ask about frequency of feeding - if I had to guess it would be two or three times a week. 
 I asked about health and gains among calves during week eight in the individual pens - no information on gains but calves were said to be strong and healthy. I asked about the health and growth in this first group pen. Calves "stand still, no growth" and many are treated for pneumonia. A number of other farmers echoed the same situation - grow well when on milk/grain ration and slump in the first transition pen. 
We had quite a discussion about rumen development and the processes the calves go through to adapt to a ration made up primarily of roughage compared to one exclusively concentrates. I think the farm will change to feeding ad lib concentrates in the individual pens and then continue that for the first week or two in the group pen. I suggested adding a handful of the TMR to the grain feeder for the last week the calves were in the individual pens. Then for the first week in the group pens feed  just enough of the chopped hay on top of the pelleted grain that the calves would clean up the hay in one hour. The second week feed twice as much hay. The goal was to gradually introduce the roughage rather than go ad lib in one day. 
Several farmers said they were adding small amounts of chopped hay to all the calf starter mix that calves received from day 2 at their farms - they did not feel they had the problems with ad lib hay feeding to transition heifers experienced on this farm. 
The farm visit was followed up at a nearby trattoria or tavern. We did a quick review of the colostrum management principles. Then, a hearty lunch. A regional dish of rice and local sausage, spiced pears, local hard cheese, wonderful bread, and a local wine. 

Off to Milan for a short night and a 5:00 am departure for Frankfurt, JFK and home. 

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