Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What to do with the  preweaned calf that 
is not ready to move?

Ann Hoskins with Vita Plus put together a quick summary of alternative courses of action for the preweaned calf that "is not ready to move."

The summary is found HERE.

The actions are:
1. Hold them back.
2. Group by size
3. Use separate pen


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Computer-controlled or Automatic Feeder
Internet Links - Part 2

As part of her presentation, "Thinking about? Already Partnered with? Computer controlled calf feeders" at the 2014 Calf Congress in Rochester, NY on December 10, Dr. Chris Rossiter Burhans included an interesting list of internet links. Two more of them are below - happy hunting!

Dairy Herd Management articles in 2014

The first in a series of two articles written by Maureen Hanson addresses the question: "Automatic Feeders - How are they working?" The author pulls together ideas from a number of sources in this informative article. At the end is the link to the Iowa State University fact sheets:
1. - you can see the title - Designing an automatic feeding system.

2. this fact sheet summarizes the results of an Iowa State survey of 20 farms using automatic calf feeders.

3. this fact sheet pulls together many facts about automatic calf feeders, considerations for increasing the effectiveness of these feeders and reviews the costs and returns of their use.

If you are really into the economic analysis of auto feeder use this web site has a working spreadsheet and a guide for its use for your dairy. Click HERE to go to the site - then scroll down to FACT SHEETS and select the spreadsheet or guide to download.

The second in the series of articles is in interview format. Three calf managers share their experiences: Jeanne Wormuth from Elba, New York with 16 pens and about 320 calves on milk (her picture is the third one in the article), Debbie Feldpausch from Westphalia, MI with about 280 calves on milk,  and Bruce Telleen from Monticello, IA with 4 pens and about 30 calves on milk.

 Click HERE to go to the article.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Computer-controlled or Automatic Feeder
Internet Links

As part of her presentation, "Thinking about? Already Partnered with? Computer controlled calf feeders" at the 2014 Calf Congress in Rochester, NY on December 10, Dr. Chris Rossiter Burhans included an interesting list of internet links. Three of them are below - happy hunting!

2012 Progressive Dairyman articles:
What we still need to know? Four experts in the field were interviewed. These were the questions:
1. How do you think automatic calf feeders have changed the way producers develop their calf-rearing programs?2.  What’s your number one piece of advice for producers looking at the technology?
3. What has your recent research work in this subject area shown?
4. What have been challenges you’ve seen in operations with automatic calf feeders?
5. What have been the most noticeable improvements in an operation that installed automatic calf feeders?
6. What questions still need to be answered related to automatic calf feeders?

Click  HERE

What we have learned from our automatic feeders. The roundtable features five dairies with these questions:
1. Why did you begin looking at the technology? What factors did you consider?
2. What were some of your biggest learning curves with the automatic feeders?
3. What's the number one thing you wish you would have kown before putting in your automatic feeders?
4. What has been the biggest benefit for your operation with the feeders?

Click HERE

Which automatic calf feeder is best for you?  Five company representatives were interviewed for this article with these questions:
1. Most industry contacts state that the inner workings of these machines, regardless of the company, are inherently the same. What makes your system unique?
2. What data or reports does your automatic calf feeder provide for producers? What future plans do you have in that area?
3. What future plans do you have for your automatic calf feeder? What excites you most about automatic calf feeding?
4. What advice do you have for producers exploring the technology?

Click HERE

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Variation in Calf Starter Grain

Chester-Jones at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center summarized their research data on calf starter grain intakes. These data are for many trials over a number of years.

The intakes are reported for two-week intervals from day 1 to day 42.

Daily Intake during 2-wk period
Age Ave Oz. Low Oz. High Oz.
1 to 14 1.9 0.9 3.0
15 to 28 13.7 10.1 18.1
29 to 42  33.9 28.1 39.1
[See at bottom for these data in metric grams]

I changed these numbers into percentages so I could see more easily the amount of variation of the low and high calves compared to the group averages.

Percent of Average Intake for Low and High Calves
Daily Intake during 2-wk period
Age Ave Oz. Low Oz. High Oz.
1 to 14 100% 47% 325%
15 to 28 100% 73% 180%
29 to 42  100% 83% 139%

No wonder it is so difficult to answer the question, "How much starter are the two-week old calves eating?" Well, it depends on the calf!

Worthy of note in these data is that the percentage variation among calves does decrease as they get older. Still, if we wean a group of calves based on "average" intake there are likely to be a significant number of calves that are well below our threshold consumption level.

My take home message? 

Among individually-housed calves I continue to believe that it is worthwhile to observe the variation among starter grain intakes. When raising my own calves in hutches I always identified the "laggard" calves. 

Among the younger "laggard" calves, I checked them again for a navel infection. When I started the weaning process for 5-week-old calves by stepping-down the volume of milk replacer fed I often waited an extra week on full milk for the few "laggard" calves that were eating far below the average amount of grain.

Reference: Hugh Chester-Jones and Neil Broadwater, "Calf Starters", proceedings of Minnesota Dairy Days, 2009. p.9

For those who are more comfortable in grams, here is the first table in metric.

Daily Intake during 2-wk period
Age Ave Grams Ave Grams Ave Grams
1 to 14 55 26 84
15 to 28 389 285 512
29 to 42  963 798 1109

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Does Using an Automatic Calf Feeding System
Always Predict Success?

Bentley and Others collected data from 20 Iowa dairies ranging size from 179 to 880 cows.These dairies had experience with their automatic calf feeder system (sometimes called "computer feeders") ranging from 11 months to 60 months with an average of 2.6 years.

The measures of success include calves dying, sick calves and rate of gain.

Success                    Average     Lowest     Highest     DCHA Gold
Measure                   Value         Value       Value        Standard Value

Dead (mortality)      3%             1%            10%          5%

Sick - scours            14%           0%             80%         25%

Sick - pneumonia    14%            0%            50%          10%

Average Daily
Gain (lbs./day)         2.3              1.25          3.5            1.6 or double birth weight in 60 days

What a huge variation in these success measures among these dairies!

My consulting experience suggests that calving pen management, colostrum management and group housing environment might just be other variables in creating such a wide variation among the farms. 

The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA) Gold Standards for heifers is normally available at the website. Currently there is an update in progress so we have to wait to view these values until this resource is reposted. 

Reference: Bentley, J., K. Lager, L. Tranel, R. Lenth, L. Timms, and L. Kilmer, "Automatic calf feeding systems: Producer Survetys." Proceeding of 4-State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference, June 11-12, 2014. pp 90-92.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Calf Management Ideas from
2012 Alberta Calf Study

The study by Doepel and Bartier, University of Calgary, included 13 farms ranging size from 60 to 300 cows. The calves, 755 Holstein breed, were observed over the period from February through June.

First idea: Measure the quality of colostrum before feeding it. About 30 percent of the colostrum samples from the 13 farms were below the commonly accepted standard of 50g/L. Just feeding more low quality colostrum will not deliver the goods to newborn calves.

Second idea: When measuring colostrum quality with a Brix instrument, use at least 23 as the lower threshold for "good" quality, higher is better. My observation: when measuring colostrum quality with a Colostrometer when it is fresh from the dam ("harvest temperature") look for a reading as the lower threshold for "good" in the green range where the stem reads 70-80g/L.

Third idea: Forty-four percent of the 755 calves had passive transfer failure (defined as below 5.2g/dl blood serum total protein). Because this number is much higher than the 30 percent of low quality colostrum samples something else had to be going wrong in colostrum management on these farms. Remember that quality is only one leg on the three-leg stool supporting immunity - the other two legs are "quickly" and "quantity." Feed enough high quality colostrum as soon as practical after birth!

Fourth idea: Feed lots of colostrum. They found a direct relationship between volume of colostrum fed between 0 and 6 hours and the immunity level of calves. That is, 3 quarts of colostrum is better than 2 quarts. And, for colostrum fed between 6 and 12 hours the same connection is valid - feed more and get higher levels of immunity. 

Reference: Doepel, Lorraine and Amanda Bartier, "Colostrum Management and Factors Related to Poor Calf Immunity." Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, March 11-14, 2014. WCDA Advances in Dairy Technology 26:137-149.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

One or Two Colostrum Replacer Feedings?

Neave and Others reported on a study that compared two treatment groups: One group received one 3 -liter colostrum replacer feeding at birth receiving a total of 200 grams of antibodies (IgG). The other group received two 3-liter colostrum feedings, one at birth (200 grams of IgG) and a second at 6 hours after birth.

Here are the results for the two groups at 1, 7, 14, and 28 days of age:
[we like to see serum values above 15 to show successful passive transfer]

            Serum Levels (mg/ml)
Day of Blood      One Feeding     Two Feedings     Increase Due to 2nd Feeding
  Draw                                                                                   (percentage)
         1                       20                        28                                  40
         7                       13                        20                                  54
       14                       11                        16                                  45
       28                         8                        11                                  38

Not only does the second feeding result in a 40 percent increase in IgG levels at one day but this improvement persists.

For those dairies giving only one feeding of colostrum replacer with a total of 150 grams, these results should suggest that there would be a significant value in changing the protocol to include a second feeding near the 6 hour threshold.

Reference: H. W. Neave, Z. Cocker, and D. M. Veira, "Two Feedings of Colostrum within 6 Hours of Birth Improves Serum Immunoglobulin G Levels in Dairy Calves Up To 28 Days of Age." Proceedings of Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, March, 2014.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Using an Esophageal Tube Feeder
You-Tube Video
Dr. Sheila McGuirk

Make your day! Take 11 minutes to watch this great You Tube video. Dr. Sheila McGuirk made a presentation on esophageal tube feeders and their use at a PDPW meeting and that's the video - not the greatest video recording but dynamite content.

This video is found at Tube Feeder Dr. McGuirk .

This presentation is loaded with nuggets of calf management wisdom - honest, I've been working in this area for 26 years, I watched this twice, and I picked up several new insights.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vaccinating Calves - Guidelines

Dr. Amelia Woolums, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, prepared a short list of guidelines for vaccinating young calves that have circulating maternal antibodies [these are calves that received an adequate volume of good quality colostrum soon after birth]. 

" When developing plans to vaccinate calves with circulating maternal
antibody, keep in mind the following:

a. calves are more likely than adults to require booster vaccinations,
which should be given at least 2 to 4 weeks after the initial

b. intranasal vaccines may be more effective than injected vaccines in
calves with moderate to high concentrations of maternal antibodies;
however, immunity from intranasal vaccines may not last more than
a few months;

c. repeated doses of intranasal vaccines may not boost as effectively
as repeated doses of injected vaccines;

d. calves with very high concentrations of maternal antibody, such as
those found in the first month of life in calves with good passive
transfer, may not respond as well to vaccination as calves with
moderate to low concentrations of antibody;

e. vaccines should be administered so that the final dose is given no
later than 1-2 weeks before the expected exposure of the group to
infectious agents.

I was pleased to see that she emphasized booster vaccinations and final dose no later than 1-2 weeks before expected exposure.

The protocol failures that I turn up on dairies are mostly missing the booster vaccinations and giving the final dose too close to the expected exposure (that is, before grouping or re-grouping heifers).

[Reference: "Vaccinating Dry Cows and Calves: With what, when, and is it effective at protecting the calf?', Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, March, 2014.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Cow Factors that Influence Colostrum Quality

Dr. Fiona Maunsell, University of  Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, in her paper entitled, "Cow Factors That Influence Colostrum Quality" presented at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in March, 2014, isolated these nine Take Home Points: (text below is directly from the seminar proceedings - I added bold emphasis, however)

 “High quality” colostrum is first-milking colostrum that contains at least 50
g/L of the antibody immunoglobulin G (IgG), contains a low concentration
(<100,000 cfu/ml) of bacterial contaminants and is free of infectious
disease agents.

 Transfer of antibodies (especially IgG) from the blood of the cow into
colostrum starts about 5 weeks prior to calving, and is maximal in the last
2 weeks before calving.

 The older the cow, the better the colostrum – but there’s lots of individual
variation! On average, first-calf heifer colostrum is lower in volume and
IgG concentration than that from older cows. However, many heifers
produce very good quality colostrum. Don’t automatically discard heifer
colostrum; rather test and keep high quality colostrum from a cow of any

 Don’t automatically discard high volume first-milking colostrum if it was
collected within a few hours of calving; colostrum should be tested and
only discarded if low quality.

 Discard bloody colostrum, colostrum from sick cows, from cows with
clinical mastitis, from cows that are known to be infected with chronic
diseases such as Johne’s disease or Mycoplasma, and from cows that
leak colostrum extensively prior to calving.

 There is little evidence that nutrition, within the range of diets typically fed
to dairy cows, has much influence on either the volume or quality of

 Heat stress may reduce the quality of colostrum, especially in heifers.

 Dry period length should be at least 3-4 weeks to maximize colostrum

Vaccinate cows against the calf diarrhea pathogens E. coli, rotavirus and
coronavirus to maximize the amount of antibodies against these agents in
colostrum. Make sure that cows are vaccinated at the appropriate time to
optimize transfer of vaccine-induced antibodies into colostrum.

What a great collection of Take Home Points!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Colostrum Wins Yet Again

Good colostrum management wins yet again.

Windeyer and Others ("Factors associated with morbidity, mortality and growth of dairy calves up to 3 months of age" Prev. Vet. Med. 113(2):231-240 February, 2014) used blood serum total protein values from 2,874 calves from 19 dairies in Minnesota and Ontario to assess the degree of passive immunity transfer. In general these were well-managed calf enterprises averaging close to 2 pounds a day gain in first two months.

Among the six factors associated with risk of being treated for bovine respiratory disease (BRD) was failure of passive transfer of immunity. "A cut-point of 5.7g/dl was the most predictive of BRD before 5 weeks of age." Colostrum wins yet again if it is of good quality, fed ASAP and in great enough volume. 

Two other risk factors for BRD that caught my attention were the herd -level of incidence of BRD [Is there a lot of it going around?] and season of the year [Fall and Spring weather can be tough on calves]. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wood Pens and Calves

If there is one thing to say about using wood for calf pens it is "Don't."

The porous surface of wood favors the penetration of parasite eggs and bacteria. This same surface is supremely difficult to clean. Thus, it becomes an effective way to pass pathogens on from one generation of calves to the next. Maybe you can remember years and years ago when we tried making hutches out of plywood panels - the first 4 or 5 turns of calves did pretty well and then it was steadily downhill from there in terms of calf health.

I was effective in getting this idea across to a client that built a new calf barn. He agreed to use wire pens rather than the wooden boxes that were part of the original plan.

Yesterday I visited the new barn. He proudly showed me how it was about 1/3 full of calves in neat rows of wire pens. One row was against the west wall, two more rows in the middle and one row against the east wall. 

So far so good. BUT, rather than buying enough wire pens to provide a fourth side for the pens along the wall, my client decided to save money and use the wooden sidewalls as the fourth side. How did I manage not to get across that all wood is undesirable?

Well, we had a discussion about this. He agreed to purchase some of the wire panels and for the remainder of the  barn the calves will not be against the outside wooden walls.

As I completed the conversation it occurred to me to mention how far away from the walls the pens should be placed. He had not though that far ahead. "What is your recommendation," he asked. I told he to find out by trial and error.

Using his wire panels (recall they come with various size openings), place one 3 to 4 inches from the wall. Watch calves - can they lick the wall? No, then that distance is okay. Yes, then the pens need to be moved farther away.

Monday, November 10, 2014

If the Bacteria Count Gets High Enough Antibody Absorption from Colostrum is Depressed

Let colostrum sit at 68F for 2.5 to 3 days. Guess what? Bacteria counts can go up into the millions. Or, just let it sit for 12 hours at 90F. Sky high bacteria counts. When culturing for bacteria these are the plates in a lab that smell to high heaven after 24 hours in the incubator; the lab tech staff knows that they will be "TNTC" (too numerous to count). 

What happens when this "bacteria soup" is fed to a newborn calf?  

Let's see what happened in a trial done at Penn State [S.L. Gelsinger and Others, "Effect of heat treatment and bacterial population of colostrum on passive transfer of IgG." Journal of Dairy Science, E-Suppl 1, p578, #1166]. They did let colostrum sit at 68F for about 3 days.

The research team used a measure of antibody absorption called "Apparent Efficiency of Absorption" that is expressed as a percent of antibodies fed that end up in the calf's blood (Quigley, et al., 1998).

Unheated colostrum with low bacteria concentration  - 31%
Unheated colostrum with high bacteria concentration - 16%

Heat-treated colostrum with low bacteria concentration - - - - - - - - - - - 37%
Heated-treated colostrum inoculated with bacteria to get a high count - 14%

Thus, we conclude that high bacteria counts do depress antibody absorption. Resources that might be helpful in reducing bacteria counts can be found at These include a checklist for reducing coliform counts in colostrum (click HERE ) and a colostrum storage checklist (click HERE )

Friday, November 7, 2014

Even Calves Receiving Adequate Colostrum Can Benefit from Feeding Transition Milk

In a recently published article [M. Conneely and Others, "Effect of feeding colostrum at different volumes and subsequent number of transition milk feeds on the serum immunoglobulin G concentration and health status of dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, November 2014 97:6991-7000] the authors compared three feeding strategies for transition milk.

They used pooled second milking from the freshly calved cows for transition milk. It was fed at the rate of 2L (2.1 qts.) per feeding. The alternatives were
(1) No transition milk fed,
(2) 2 feedings of this milk at 8:00 and 15:00 hours, and
(3) 4 feedings of this milk at same times.
Recall that book value for 2nd milking fat is 5.4% - or about 36% fat - high energy stuff.

All the calves were fed very high quality colostrum within 2 hours after birth and received at least 300g of IgG. Blood serum IgG values were screaming high - all over 3000mg/dL. So, immunity levels were more than adequate at 24 hours.

Then, they fed transition milk either 2 or 4 more feedings.

Health of calves?

They used the health scoring system designed by McGuirk (click HERE to see this chart, be sure to scroll to second page for picture guide for scoring).

1. "Feeding the transition milk had no effect on the likelihood of being assigned a worse fecal score throughout the study period." p,6999

2. Feeding the transition milk ... "lowered the likelihood of being assigned a worse eye/ear and nasal score during the study period" p6999

During a much less well-designed trial that included about 1,500 calves while I was managing calves at Noblehurst Dairy I fed transition milk (2nd, 3rd, and 4th milking pooled fed within 30 minutes of collection) milk to all the youngest calves for about the first 7 days of life. In all the twelve years at this facility I never had lower scours and pneumonia treatment rates than when I fed transition milk. Completely undocumented, however, for these calves was their immune status - no blood serum total protein values. Compared to the research reported here I am certain not many of our calves had immunity levels nearly as high as theirs.

One nice benefit of feeding transition milk is its high energy value. Compared to feeding a 20% fat milk replacer my transition milk had about 75% more fat - thus, I was feeding not only the components unique to colostrum but also a lot more energy each feeding that first week.

Just a reminder, when feeding transition milk after the first day of life the antibodies are no longer absorbed into the calf's blood. The benefits from these antibodies are at the surface of the gut lining.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Does Intensive Milk Feeding Have to
Depress Rumen Development?

Using a slaughter study design a research team in Germany looked at the relationship between different milk feeding levels and rumen development. While not stated in the abstract it seemed clear that the calves were group housed and fed with a computer-controlled automatic feeder.

The low milk replacer feeding rate was 1 2/3 pounds of powder daily. The high milk feeding rate was unlimited milk replacer. These "unlimited-feed" calves increased their consumption of milk powder to well over 2.5 pounds per day with some calves peaking at over 3 pounds by 35 days of age.

The low-fed group continued at 1 2/3 pounds per day until slaughter at 60 days. The high-fed group was stepped down starting at 35 days to 1 2/3 pounds per day. By the end of the study they found that intensive milk feeding did not impair concentrate intake. 

Let me add here that from my experience with intensive feeding my own calves I found these calves came up rapidly on grain intake after I cut back their milk around 35 days. I achieved the most rapid increases in grain consumption by making an abrupt 50 percent drop in milk ration with an extended period between feedings rather than using an extended step down in small increments with a continuation of the regular feeding intervals.

On one hand, by examining the entire rumen tissue from the two groups of calves they found no differences in rumen empty weight and papillae length.

On the other hand, looking at the same rumen tissue they were able to find differences in papillae density in two of the rumen surfaces.

I conclude that when the step-down process from peak milk consumption is done correctly intensive milk feeding does not significantly depress rumen development in preweaned dairy calves. 

Nevertheless, it is easy to screw up the step-down process. You can calculate from the information above that the intensive-fed calves had their last 25 days on the lower milk replacer feeding rate. I regularly see calf operations that are trying to use a three to five day step-down from full feed rates with predictable poor results when intensively fed calves are weaned.

Source: H.M. Hammon and Others, "Intensive milk feeding in calves affects growth performance, metabolic and endocrine traits, but not rumen development" Journal of Dairy Science Vol 97, E-Suppl, #619, page 310. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Colostrum Cubes

Click HERE for a really short but thoughtful summary of cold weather care for calves. Karen Anderson, Extension Educator UMN, has a good bullet-list of to-do activities. 

One of her suggestions is feeding colostrum cubes to young calves. You will appreciate her practical advice from making to feeding these little cubes of liquid gold.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Umbilical Cords: What's "Normal?"

Just in case you ever wondered what is a normal size umbilical cord, as part of a trial on navel dipping a person did this work for you. 

The diameter of umbilical cords on 60 Jersey calves were measured within 30 minutes after birth and again at 24 hours of age.

At birth the average diameter was about 7/8"(22.8mm). Two-thirds of the calf navels fell between 3/4" and just over 1".

At 24 hours the average diameter was about 1/4"(7.64mm). Two-thirds of the calf navels fell between 1/8" and just under 1/2".

So, that gives us an estimate of the "normal shrink" rate. It also suggests that even though an umbilical cord is still 1/2" in diameter at 24 hours this size, while somewhat unusual, does not necessarily mean an infection has begun. I would just tag this calf to be watched over the course of the following week to see that the umbilical cord continues to shrink as it dries up.

A.L. Robinson and Others, "The effect of four antiseptic compounds on umbilical cord healing and infection rates in the first 24 hours in dairy calves from a commercial herd." Journal of Dairy Science Vol. 97, E-Suppl 1, p. 430.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Where is the Dividing Line Between Confidence
and Arrogance?

Is it confidence? That is, a attitude or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something?

Or is it arrogance? That is, having or showing the insulting attitude of people who believe that they are better, smarter, or more important than other people?

I believe it is possible to think of a "yardstick" with confidence at one end and arrogance at the other. In order to do a good job of calf rearing one needs to be confident - I am doing the right things to keep my calves alive, healthy and growing well. Maybe a little touch of arrogance is needed, too - I know what is best in this situation for my calves regardless of what is recommended "in general" for calf rearing.

Last evening at a calf raisers meeting during a discussion of feeding preweaned calves during freezing weather and ways to feed more milk a person near me said essential this,

"Well, I don't think any of these ideas are good. I know how to feed baby calves. Feed them all the hay they want and they will do just fine. And, everyone knows you can't feed water to baby calves; they won't drink their milk."

I had to bite my tongue. What planet was she living on? Hadn't she heard anything the speakers were saying about best management practices for raising calves in western New York State?

Now, was that confidence or arrogance?

I lean toward the latter. "I know what is right, don't annoy me with the facts." Previous speakers had emphasized the importance of milk/milk replacer for nutrition for calves less than one month of age. Feeding ad lib. water and calf starter grain was emphasized. 

As I drove home from this evening meeting I began to think about how hard it is to keep an open mind. It is so easy to slip into the frame of mind that "my way is the only right way." I have to admit that when answering questions at meetings in countries away from North America I am often challenged to think beyond my comfort zone. Calf raising practices in these countries are often very different from those with which I am familiar.  The temptation is to condemn the unfamiliar and recommend the familiar.

On one hand, like the person at the calf meeting, how often have I dismissed unfamiliar ideas out of hand simply because they did not agree with my present point of view? On the other hand, I think a certain amount of skepticism is good - it keeps me questioning and searching. I hope these BLOG posts help keep you thinking. 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Long Does It Take for Colostrum to Move Out of the Rumen?

This was the question I was asked last evening at a calf raisers' meeting. "If I feed a calf her colostrum with an esophageal tube feeder how long does it take for the colostrum to move out of the rumen into the abomasum?"

In 1978 a research project looked at stomach tubing calves (A. Molla, "Immunoglobulin levels in calves fed colostrum by stomach tube." Vet Record 103:377-380). Colostrum was fed at the rate of 81ml/kg live weight or about 3.4 quarts for a 90 pound calf. The report states that colostrum moved "efficiently" from rumen to abomasum. Bottle-fed and tube-fed calves achieve similar levels of immunoglobulins in their blood. Although this suggests fairly rapid emptying of the rumen the author did not specify a definite time.

Subsequently, Hopkins and Quigley (B.A. Hopkins and J. D. Quigley III, "Effects of methods of colostrum feeding and colostrum supplementation on concentrations of immunoglobulin G in the serum of neonatal calves." Journal of Dairy Science 80:979-983, 1997) compared nipple-fed calves with those fed with a stomach tube. All the calves were offered 4 quarts of colostrum; some of them were nipple-fed only and others were stomach  tubed. As part of their methodology they determined emptying rates for the rumen. They reported a 3-hour rate for the total volume of colostrum fed to move from the rumen into the abomasum.

Both of these studies fed greater than 3 quarts of colostrum.

What about smaller volumes? Two studies that fed variable amounts of colostrum (that is, 1.6 and 3.2 quarts) showed that when the smaller volume was fed with a stomach tube the delay in rumen emptying significantly depressed IgG levels in the calves.

Click HERE to read the November 2009 issue of Calving Ease newsletter, "Using a tube feeder: yes or no." The results of the two studies with different methods are shown. Enjoy. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where Does the Energy Come From
To Dry Off A Calf?

I think we all can agree that when born calves are wet. 

I think we all can agree that dams usually do an acceptable job of cleaning up calves and getting rid of a lot of the birth fluids. One way or another the hair coat of the calf gets dry enough so that the hair stands on end - I call that "fluff dry." Regardless what one calls this state we do know that the rate of heat loss is substantially lower compared to a wet, matted hair coat.

Now, the question is, "Where does the energy come from to complete the job of drying off the calf?" and "Why does this make a difference?"

Under warm and dry environmental conditions much of the "drying off" takes place without drawing heavily on the energy supplies of the calf.

Under cold and damp environmental conditions much of the "drying off" takes place by the transfer of heat from the calf's body to her body surfaces/wet hair coat.

Does this energy drain on the newborn calf make a difference for her subsequent well-being? I claim that using this energy (probably from the brown fat supply with which she was born) in order to get dry should be the subject of our management decision-making.

On my balance sheet I think it is a cost-effective decision to manually dry calves in cold, damp weather rather than put them at increased risk of either death or illness in the subsequent days as a neonate.

For methods and ideas for drying calves click HERE. You will find the Calving Ease newsletter issue devoted to practical tips for manually drying calves. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Use Caution When Reading Research Results

Yet again I came across research results that come from a study design that has at least one major flaw. 

Calves were assigned to either a control group or one of four treatments. On one hand, since the calves were born over six days the group assignment made sure calves in each group represented the same profile of birth dates. 

On the other hand, no mention was made of making each group equally representative by either birth weight or immunity status (i.e., blood serum total protein levels). Just saying, "... and randomly assigned to one of five treatments," in my mind leaves too much possible bias in group populations given that they were measuring health and rate of growth of the calves in response to the experimental treatment.

Thus, when presented with study results I recommend asking about the methods used to assign the calves to the various treatments in the research.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Another Note on Cross-Sucking

In addition to the Calving Ease newsletter on cross-sucking (September, 2013 or click Here) data from a New Zealand study suggest another tool to use when trying to suppress this problem.[Margerison and Others, "The effect of solid feed diet on the oral and cross-sucking behavior of pre-weaned dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science E-Suppl 1, #615]

They compared feeding solid rations to preweaned calves of low forage alfalfa TMR (LF), higher forage alfalfa TMR (HF) or perennial rye grass hay with a pelleted starter (HPS). Calves were followed out to 12 weeks of age.

Cross-sucking was highest for the low forage ration, intermediate for the higher forage ration and lowest for the grass hay/pelleted starter ration. The authors conclude, "While cross-sucking was not entirely eliminated, providing perennial ryegrass hay along with a pelleted starter resulted in the least non-nutritive sucking behavior."

Thus,we have another tool in group housing - providing a limited amount of palatable hay - not so much as to suppress calf starter grain consumption (remember how small the rumen is at the pre-weaned stage) but enough to promote lots of cud chewing.

By the way, the grass hay/pellet ration calves had the highest dry matter intakes (3.7 pounds/day compared to 1.8 pounds/day for low forage TMR and 2 pounds/day for high forage TMR). Since dry matter intake drives growth these grass hay/pellet ration calves had the highest rate of gain.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Post-Weaning Digestion Impaired Among
Intensive-Fed Rapidly Weaned Calves

We have suspected from field observations that intensive-fed preweaned calves have problems digesting solid feeds in the early post-weaning period.

In an abstract entitled, "Performance of and digestion in calves fed conventional, moderate, and aggressive milk replacer programs," [Hill and Others, J.Dairy Sci Vol 97, E-Suppl 1, #613] results are reported for intensively-fed calves that received 2 pounds of milk replacer daily. These calves were compared to those fed 1 lb. and 1.5 lb. of powder daily. Thus, there were three treatment groups.

The intensive-fed calves were fed the full ration of powder up to 49 days. In contrast the calves receiving the lower amounts of powder until 42 days. The method of weaning is not described - perhaps it was done by abruptly in one day.

Not surprisingly, the calves fed less milk replacer powder ate more calf starter grain than the intensively-fed calves. Though not included in the brief abstract we can almost be certain that the calves fed less milk replacer powder began regularly consuming grain earlier in life than the calves receiving more powder. These facts would lead us to the conclusion that the levels of rumen development would vary with the highest level being among the calves that began to consume grain earliest in life and among the calves that consumed the largest volume of grain. 

NDF digestibility was analyzed on fecal samples collected on days 51-55 on trial from calves in all three treatment groups. The values reported were:
Lowest milk replacer group = 54%
Middle milk replacer group = 51%
Highest milk replacer group = 26%

Thus, what we have seen on farms is documented. Intensive-fed calves that are not weaned with enough time to let their rumen maturation reach the "mature enough to feed me" level are at a severe disadvantage. 

These data showing a NDF digestibility level of only one-half of the other calves reinforce the need to carefully plan a "step-down" weaning program for intensively-fed calves.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Collect Colostrum Sooner rather than Later

Have you heard this one?

"If I wait to collect colostrum from my fresh cows I will get more colostrum."

Sorry, life does not work that way. Recent research reported in the article entitled, "Milk production during the colostral period is not related to the later lactational performance in dairy cows" (Kessler, E. C. and Others, Journal of Dairy Science 97:2186-2192, April 2014), showed no relationship between the interval between calving and the volume of colostrum collected at first milking for both heifers and cows.

Waiting to collect colostrum is not an effective method to increase the volume of colostrum at the first milking.

But, there is a strong negative outcome of waiting for this first milking. Morin and Others reported that the longer one waits to collect colostrum after calving the lower the concentration of antibodies in the colostrum. Compared to milking a dam within 2 hours after calving, the antibody losses in colostrum were reported to be 17% at 6 hours post calving, 27% at 10 hours post calving and 33% at 14 hours post calving. 

Collect colostrum sooner rather than later in order to harvest the highest quality colostrum from your fresh animals. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Early Identification of Pneumonia Calves

It seems to be pretty well accepted that early identification and treatment of calves with pneumonia is a best management practice.

The guide developed by Sheila McGuirk (Univ. Wisconsin College of Vet. Med) has been very useful for me. See THIS link to find that guide for observing individual calves. 

When observing calves in individual pens or hutches I just assign one row on a ruled tablet to each calf. As I look at the calf I mark down her nasal and eye score as well as a scour score. After I finish walking all the calves I make a crude summary at the bottom of the last page counting up scores for all calves. That is, how many 0's, 1's, 2's and 3's for the whole population.

Today I found the group observation sheet at this site. Click HERE for this sheet. That way one can summarize scores with one row per pen. Dr. McGuirk suggests counting the number of abnormal scours (2's and 3's) for each of four observation points. She suggests the goal of less than 25% abnormal scores on any point. 

These scoring guides have been helpful in my consulting work as a way to teach the calf care personnel to observe calves. Each time a person visits the individual pen or hutch they have the opportunity to spot abnormal eye or nasal discharge. Bedding is a good time to observe for the calves as they are active jumping around - which ones are coughing?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Effectiveness of On-Farm Tools for  Measuring Colostrum Quality

That is the title of a report given at the Western Canada Dairy Seminar by Amanda Bartier and others in 2013.

After examining the data from 572 colostrum samples one of the conclusions they reached was that the current cut points for "good" colostrum may be lower than desirable for achieving successful passive transfer of immunity.

Assessment                         Current                  Authors' Suggested
Tool                                    Cut Points              Cut Points

Colostrometer                     50mg/ml                80mg/ml

Brix refractometer              22                          24

They continue:
"Implications: The cut points for identifying good quality colostrum may be different than previous literature suggests. This study also indicates that although the colostrometer is a more accurate tool over a range of IgG levels the Brix refractometer is useful at confirming truly good quality colostrum. Overall, using either tool is more beneficial than not measuring colostrum quality at all prior to feeding."

Bottom line for me? Adopt a colostrum management protocol that includes measuring quality.

BTW, it is good to be back at the vet clinic after two weeks on the lecture circuit in UK and a full week of really bad jet lag. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Off to England and Wales

I leave for England and Wales on Monday, September 22.

I will be meeting with dairy farmers in Kent, South Wales, Cornwall, Cheshire and North Wales between September 23 and October 2.

I am unsure of internet access as I move about the UK. Thus, a warning that postings here may be a bit irregular. I will, of course, store up stories about my farmer contacts to share as I have an opportunity. 

You may be sure that I will participate in quality control sampling of Cadbury chocolate at each place I visit.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Iowa State Calf Care Site

I just spent nearly an hour browsing at the Iowa State Calf care site.
Click Here to go there.

There is a wealth of information there about a wide range of calf rearing topics. You will surely find at least one resource that is of particular interest.

It has to be a good site because it contains a link to our web site at! JK!

If you have a favorite calf rearing resource site feel free to drop me a line so I can browse there as well.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Calves: When is a Draft Not a Draft?

The September issue of my monthly calf rearing newsletter is now posted at Just click HERE to go to the newsletter.

Key points:
  • When is a draft not a draft?
  • Managing facilities to reduce drafts: hutches
  • Managing facilities to reduce drafts: barns
  • Managing calves to reduce the effect of drafts
Back issues are also available at the same location - click on "Calving Ease" in the left-hand menu at

Monday, September 15, 2014

Should I Switch to 3X Milk Feeding?
My client asked this question having read a online posting. We talked about their current preweaned management. Colostrum is collected in the calving pen from dams as soon as they are up and steady on their feet. The dairy feeds 4 quarts of quality-tested colostrum in the first hour of life - 100% compliance. All calves are blood tested; a test value below 5.5 is unusual.
Calves are housed individually. At present pasteurized waste milk is fed twice a day. They are fed in pails after the first few days. The milk is fed on a "step-up" schedule with the goal of the calves consuming 8 quarts daily by ten days of age. [Not all calves achieve this level, a few are 2 weeks old before drinking this amount.] They stay at this level until they are cleaning up at least 1/2 pound of calf starter grain a day. Then they are switched to once-a-day feeding [that means going from 8 to 4 quarts of whole milk a day.]. This step-down on milk happens around 35 to 40 days.

Their plan is to feed at roughly 8-hour intervals that would fit their labor supply. They plan to feed 3 quarts each of the 3 feedings. That is, to increase from 8 to 9 quarts a day. After we talked the owner told me she would think more about this. 

A month after this initial conversation I called to see what their decision was going to be. She replied, "Oh, we changed to 3X the next week after we talked with you. Calves are doing fine. We are feeding the full three quarts to even the youngest calves. A lot of them are drinking all of it by the end of the first week.The manure is a little more firm now that we are feeding less volume each time. [They fed 4 quarts 2X before and now feed 3 quarts 3X.] We didn't have health issues before and we don't now.

She said, "We have only been doing this for three weeks now. Call me back in September or October and I will have more to share with you." Well, it's time I made that call. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dairyman in UK: Should I feed my calves once or twice a day?
This dairyman had been approached by a salesman selling a special milk replacer designed for feeding calves once a day. He was told how much labor he could save by having to go the calf shed only one time a day to feed milk replacer. He was currently feeding a little over four quarts of milk replacer split into an AM and PM feeding each day. He showed me the cup used to measure the powder - it held 120g - that means he was feeding 480gday - just over a pound of powder daily.
So, the dairyman asked me, "Should I feed my calves once or twice a day?" Good question. I responded by asking a question. "What are your goals for your calf rearing program?"
Now, I had in mind the key performance indicators posted at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association website, They specify thresholds for mortality, treated sick calves and weight gain for the first two months of life. I encouraged him to put this goals into this key performance indicator framework.
It came out that his current death loss for the past couple of years was estimated to be between ten and fifteen percent. He guessed that more than half of his calves were treated for scours and about an equal proportion for respiratory illness. Weight gain? Not measured. We looked at both newborns (ballpark guess on my part of about 90 pounds, he said 40kg for newborns, two months old I estimated about 150 pounds, he said between 65 and 70kg. They were gaining roughly a pound a day or between 425 and 460g/day.
In addition to the milk replacer he offered beginning at the of the first week ad lib. water, pelleted calf concentrate and chopped straw.
Now, here are the key questions I asked, "How often are you in the calf shed now with your current feeding program?" and "How would your calf care routine change if you change to once a day milk feeding program?"
He explained that he currently went to the shed early morning to check calves, empty and refill water pails, mix and feed milk replacer (fed with nipple pails). Then later he came back to refill concentrate pails and straw feeders. He ducked in early afternoon to just "check on the calves" and see if they need more bedding. After PM milking he went there to feed milk replacer and see that all the calves had enough water.

I asked, "How will that change if you feed milk replacer once a day?" "Well," he said, "I just won't have to mix milk replacer in the evening." Get that? He still planned to be in and out of the calf shed at least three if not four times a day. Good animal husbandry was part of his lifestyle - good for him. None of this, "go to the calf shed once a day." This is the kind of guy with his very modest goals for mortality, morbidity and growth that I believe could change to once a day feeding with very few negative consequences.

He would increase his mixing concentration to 150g/liter from 120g/L. He would cut his volume from the current 4 liters (read quarts if liters bother you) to 3.5 liters. Continue free-choice or ad lib. water, concentrate and chopped straw.

We had a fine conversation. I am quite certain that my appeal to set his calf rearing goals higher fell on deaf ears. If it had worked well for his father and grandfather it would work well for him. End of story.

What do I conclude about once a day feeding? If you calf rearing goals are low enough and you will continue to look at the calves three or four times a day to monitor the well being of the calves your outcomes probably will change very little. I do not recall any research that compared feeding once a day with whole milk compared to a 20-20 milk replacer - I am guessing the whole milk calves with a much higher energy intake would do better. If a reader knows of such a research trial send the reference to me and I will post it. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We Wouldn't Have a Tube Feeder on the Dairy

"We wouldn't have a tube feeder on our dairy." That was the statement of the owner-operator of the dairy. While not referring to tube feeders as torture instruments the implication was that only those farms with incompetent help would need to impose tube feeders on their newborn calves.

I do not view an esophageal tube feeder that way. With my calves if there was a strong suckle response I started feeding colostrum with a nipple bottle. But, how about when the suckle response is missing as in hard-pull calves?  Some of these calves with go hours before they begin to respond. Should I have withheld colostrum from the calf simply because she could not suck?

I consider deliberately withholding colostrum from a newborn calf irresponsible behavior. When newborn cannot suckle it is good  animal husbandry to get that life-supporting first feeding into her to provide not only immunity from disease but essential energy and other nutrients. That is where an esophageal tube feeder in competent hands can be a life saver for these calves. 

What about calves that will begin to suckle and run out of steam? Our current recommendation is to feed enough colostrum in the first 4 hours (soon is better) to provide 200g of antibodies (IgG). If colostrum is of average quality (50g per liter) it takes roughly 4 quarts to provide this quantity of antibodies. How successful are we in getting calves to voluntarily consume 4 quarts in the first 4 hours?

In 2008 a group from the University of Missouri reported on a colostrum feeding experiment ( K Urday and Others, "Voluntary Colostrum Intake in Holstein Heifer Calves" The Bovine Practitioner, Vol 42, No. 2, pp198-200). Using Holstein calves that were able to stand at 2 hours after birth, they offered 3.2 quarts of colostrum via a nipple bottle for up to 15 minutes. This is what they found:

44% of the calves drank all that was offered, most would have continued to drink more.
25% of the calves drank between 2.1 and 3.2 quarts.
31% of the calves drank less than 2.1 quarts.

Notable is that fact that 16% of the calves consumed less than 1 quart.

My experience feeding colostrum to hundreds of calves supports these percentages. My recall numbers are about 1/2 would knock back two 2-quart bottles just fine. Another 1/4 would finish the first bottle and run out of steam on the second bottle. The last 1/4 just had a tough time finishing the first bottle and about half of them had a hard time drinking at all.

I made a practice to go back to many of these calves as I had time to get them to drink more. Some of the more eager eaters did consume more but the laggards didn't improve their eating behavior. Our dairy's policy was then to use a tube feeder for these "laggards."

I consider it good animal husbandry to use the techniques we have on hand to be sure we get colostrum into these babies. If the farm has the labor to offer 2 or more feedings and can get 4 quarts of colostrum into the calves that way, go for it. 

But, time is of the essence here. I do not recommend going beyond 4 hours in achieving the 4-quart colostrum consumption goal. If she has not come close to the 4 quarts by them the dairy needs to have a tube feeder, persons adequately trained to use it  properly, and provide the proper amount colostrum.

By the way, in this study there was no observed connection between the size of the calf and the amount of colostrum voluntarily consumed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Weaning Dairy Calves Resource

Great review of what we should know but may not be practicing when weaning dairy calves!

See the September Kentucky Dairy Notes issue.  Click Here for Dairy Notes

In this issue Mickayla Myers and others makes these points about weaning dairy heifers:
  • Weaning off milk/milk replacer and changing feed: take your time - make changes slowly.
  • Housing: think carefully about grouping to reduce competition, give careful thought to ventilation
  • Nutrition: she has reminders about water, hay feeding, and feed bunk accessibility.
Good to be reminded in a quick survey of these essential management points. 

If you have not been to University of Kentucky Dairy Notes before this is your chance to visit this interesting site with a minimum of effort. Enjoy.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Young Calf Volume Settings for
Computer Feeders

Remember the definition of a dilemma? It is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable.

Here we are with our computer feeder. We  have a pen of young calves. On one hand, they should be fed enough to meet their increasing nutritional needs. That may mean we schedule a high enough volume for each feeding  as well as enough feedings to meet this standard.

On the other hand, we are using the records from the computer to identify calves that are not eating their full allocation of milk replacer. We find that a significant number of calves are coming up on the "Didn't eat my allocation - check me" list. This means in this pen of youngest calves we check for unhealthy calves. This uses up quite a bit of our time and we are not finding a significant number of "sick" calves in spite of the fact they showed up on our "check calf" list.

The problem here is the extra labor used up checking calves that are not consuming their full allocation of milk replacer ("full" is defined as a threshold we chose, in this case 90 percent). We could solve this "problem" by reducing the allocations by changing the volume settings on the computer-controlled automatic feeder. Thus, fewer calves show up on the "check calf" list. But, maybe we will increase the number of calves that would be willing and able to eat more; thus, artificially limiting intakes.

Or, we could change the threshold for putting calves on the "check calf" list. Just change the setting from 90 percent to some lower number. However, this has the potential of increasing the chances of missing a calf that should have been checked to see if her health is okay.

Thus, the dilemma. We don't want calves to go hungry and we don't want to miss checking for a sick calf. But, this is the story of all our animal husbandry decisions. Not too much and not too little. Just the right amount. 

My opinion is that the solution is in the eye of the calf care person - frequent and consistent observation of the calves. With experience and the desire to build good observational skills a good calf care person knows when a calf does "not look right" and needs to be given a health exam.

By the way, a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science about using calf daily intake data to identify sick calves demonstrated what is to me a very important relationship. They found that on the basis of daily examinations of calf health, calves showed symptoms of illness one to two days BEFORE their milk intake became either inconsistent or declined. This reinforces my point of the importance of frequent and consistent observation of calves, especially during what I consider the critical first three weeks of life. Timely diagnosis and treatment of illness results in the optimum rate of recovery and the lowest cost of treatment.