Monday, January 27, 2014

$$$$ to Raise a Heifer
During a presentation last Friday (January 24, 2014) Dr. Dave Combs from the Dairy Science Dept at Univ. Wisconsin presented some numbers about the cost of raising heifers. He quoted from Vanderwerf et al.,"Survey of 32 dairy farms and custom heifer raising operations (no pasture based farms)" 2013 UW-Extension.

The 2013 total cost was $2,274. This included feed ($1,274 - 56%), labor (16%), bedding (5%), veterinary, breeding, electric and fuel, interest, death loss, and management. This may be compared to 2007 when the total cost was $1,323. At that time feed cost was $683 (52% of total).

Much of the $951 increase from 2007 to 2013 was in feed cost - $591.

These feeds costs were broken out by stage of growth. 
                                               2007     2013   Percent increase
Birth to 10 weeks                   $314     $340     8%
10 weeks to freshening          $370     $934     152%

Notice how little the feed cost increased for the early stage in life.

My take on this? If one is looking for a way to reduce the cost of raising heifers the period from birth to 10 weeks is the wrong place to look. Keep feeding them to realize their genetic potential to grow. And, their feed conversion efficiency will be better later in life.

How to save $ on heifer costs? Raise only the number of heifers needed on the dairy - but that is another topic all together.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Getting More Energy Into Babies
What a challenge. Very cold weather and cold housing for calves. When this happens calves more than four weeks old just eat more - offer them more milk, give them free-choice calf starter and make sure they have access to water.
How to get more energy into babies? How to meet the nutritional needs of calves less than ten days old when temperatures drop to near zero F?

Drawing on my calf work at Noblehurst Dairy and consulting contacts I have observed very large differences in eating behavior among young calves (less than ten days old). Perhaps up to half of my calves this age would drink even 2.5 to 3 quarts in twice daily feedings. These animals were not my problem.

In contrast I had to struggle to get maybe up to a third of them to get them to drink four quarts fed in two feedings about 9 hours apart. For a couple of winters I fed whole milk (dry matter fat level above 30%). That way about four quarts just barely met maintenance needs. 
Other years I was feeding 20-20 milk replacer. During very cold weather that takes at least five quarts to barely meet maintenance requirements for a 90 pound calf. This is when I started feeding these youngest calves three times a day. That was 7:00 am (2 qts),11:30 am (1 qt), and 5:30 pm (2 qts). This strategy worked better when I increased the powder concentration to about 15% solids (10 ounces of powder makes 2 quarts of milk replacer).

One of my clients feeds 15% solids 20% fat milk replacer with three-quart nursing bottles. They offer a full bottle to all calves twice a day. The young calves that do not clean up their morning bottle are offered an additional quart at mid-day. Most of these "laggards" will drink the noon-time bottle. Just like in the morning, these "laggards" will only drink 2/3 to 3/4 of the PM bottle as well. Their experience is that by around 7 to 10 days these "laggards" come around and start cleaning up both bottles daily.

In sum, it takes extra attention to get the "laggards" among the youngest calves to drink enough to meet even their maintenance energy needs during very cold weather. For a review of ideas for cold weather feeding click HERE .


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Too Much Challenge, Too Little Immunity
The conversation this morning in the vet clinic kitchen was about pneumonia among weaned calves. Initially the primary focus was on one farm. Yet, as we discussed the nature of the problem and possible solutions similar issues on other farms emerged. These were all farms that raise calves in individual pens until about two months and, after weaning, move them to group pens.
The nearly universal situation of overcrowding in transition heifer pens is the most common source of challenging stresses. Also, at this time heifers are making the transition from individual to group housing. Thus we have immuno-suppressed heifers that are being exposed to a new profile of pathogens as they are mixed with other heifers for the first time in their life.
On this farm calves are vaccinated with an intra-nasal vaccine on day two of life. Then the vaccination protocol calls for an injectable modified-live vaccine around four months of age. But, the spike in heifer pneumonia is happening around two to three weeks after the calves are moved into these pens - well before the scheduled second vaccination.
In the long-term, additional heifer facilities are on the planning board. But, the heifers are getting sick now! In the short-term, we talked over ways to boost immunity among these heifers. As we broke up and went off to get ready for today's farm calls the consensus was that the vaccination protocol needs to be modified to add an intra-nasal vaccination.
The farm vet and owner will meet today to talk over this change. They have to decide which vaccine to use, when and where to vaccinate and who will be responsible for getting the job done. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What is "Normal" calf starter intake?
Calf care persons frequently ask me what amount of calf starter intakes they should expect when feeding high volumes of milk or milk replacer.
For example, in a recently reported research project [Cobb, C.J. and Others, "Improved performance and heightened neutrophil responses during the neonatal and weaning periods among outdoor group-housed Holstein calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 97:930-939, February 2014]
calves were fed 5 quarts of milk replacer in two feedings a day to get 1.6 pounds of powder daily for days 1-14, the next week intakes were increased gradually to arrive at abut 2.2 pounds of powder daily at 21 days (roughly 4 quarts fed twice daily). Free-choice water available.
So, start out slowly, ramp up to full feed, stay there until day 46, drop the afternoon feeding and somewhere between 7 and 8 weeks when starter intake comes up consistently over 2 pounds a day drop the remaining morning milk replacer feeding. 
What did they see for calf starter intake (averages for 22 calves housed individually in hutches):
Week 1 - no measurable intake
Week 2 - about 1/2 cup, 2 ounces
Week 3 - more but not yet 1 cup a day
Week 4 - about 1 cup daily, 4-5 ounces
Week 5 - about 1.5 cups daily
Week 6 - less than 2 cups, maybe 7 ounces
Now here is where at 6.5 wks the afternoon milk feeding is stopped.
Week 7 -  between 3.5 and 4 cups a day, just under a pound
Week 8 - most of the calves off milk replacer - around 2.5 pounds a day - more than 2 qts.
Week 9 - about 4 quarts/ 4 pounds daily
What really matters is that these calves began regular starter consumption around 3 weeks of age. Give them about 3 weeks for enough development of rumen lining (6 weeks of age) and they are ready to depend on nutrients absorbed through the rumen wall.
The critical characteristic of this feeding program was dropping the afternoon milk replacer feeding at 46 days. The calves still consumed 1.1 pounds of milk replacer powder in the morning feeding - a big contribution toward maintenance. The data show an initial doubling of grain intake in about 4-5 days when the afternoon milk replace feeding was dropped.  The next seven days showed an average increase of grain intake from less than a pound a day to over 2.5 pounds daily. At 12 weeks old calves averaged 6.6 pounds a day (note: no hay fed in this trial to avoid confounding effects of roughage).

Monday, January 20, 2014

Yet another milk replacer mixing screw up
Sorry about being away for so long. Two weeks of family celebrations over the holidays combined with the last two weeks of federal income tax training to be a volunteer tax preparer at senior centers took all my energy.
Had a great phone call today. Calves dying. Calves with pneumonia that do not respond to antibiotic treatment. Posted a dead calf - could not find one particle of fat anywhere on the poor little creature's body.
So, the farm vet goes into the milk house and has the calf care person mix up a batch of milk replacer. Warm water into pail up to the 5-gallon mark. Two coffee cans of powder added. Mix with a piece of lathe.
Two coffee cans of powder when weighed on a scale turned out to be 63-64 ounces or about 4 pounds. When mixed up the bucket contained approximately 5.5 gallons of m.r. mix or about 47-48 pounds.  Hmmmm.
So, he had just under 48 pounds of mix (47.3) and he used 4 pounds of powder. 
What do you get when you divide 4 by 48? Yes, .08 or 8 percent dry matter.
These calves received 2 quarts of this mix twice a day. Okay, 4 quarts per day = 8.6 pounds of m.r. mix per day times 8% turns out to be 0.7# or 11 ounces of m.r. powder daily.
11 ounces a day? A calf will starve on that little. Yes, you are correct. That was what was the problem here.
1. Start using three instead of two cans of powder for each 5-gallon bucket of mix.
2. Change the mix routine: 1/2 full of water, add powder, mix, fill to the 5-gallon mark.
[Now we are using 96 ounces (6 pounds) of powder and we end up with only 5 gallons of mix (43 pounds).   Instead of the thin 8% mix we are now feeding a 14% mix.
3. Continue to feed 2 quarts twice daily. [Now calves receive 1.2# daily rather than 0.7#.]
4. Start drawing blood on calves on day 2 to monitor immunity - farm has no history these data - we want to see 90% at 5.0 and higher and 75% at 5.5 and higher before we start pushing more powder per day.
5. Collect 15ml samples of "as-fed" colostrum for all calves for a week. We will culture these to monitor bacteria contamination levels. Before we start feeding more powder we want to see all of these below 5,000 cfu/ml coliforms and 50,000 cfu/ml total bacteria.
6. Collect 15ml samples of "as-fed" milk replacer for every feeding for a week. Same purpose - monitor cleanliness of feeding procedures. 
I will call back in a couple of weeks to see what is happening. With a recent upsurge in calf mortality (over  20%) this is the right time to make some changes - motivation is really high and the changes of highly visible success are great. 
Have a great day.