Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dehorning Calves - In Public View?

On the last page of the most recent issue of Dairy Herd Management magazine (July 2014) Fred Gingrich, DVM, wrote about welfare issues and in particular I appreciated his short paragraph on dehorning.

I have done my share of calf dehorning - almost exclusively using hot-iron cauterization. My spouse always knew when I arrived at the house for supper whether or not dehorning had been on my schedule that day. 

As we moved through the 1980's and 90's we gradually moved this event earlier and earlier in a calf's life. By the late 1990's we were pretty consistent in meeting our goal of three to four weeks of age. In my mind this was an improvement - get the job done early in life. And, yes, I know we could have considered using paste dehorning but we just didn't.

Have you every heard of "brutacain?" Back in the 1980's we used brute force to restrain 8-week-old calves and cauterized without any anesthesia. It got the job done but it was rough on both me and the calves. 

I cannot recall exactly which year I started using a  local anesthetic (Lidocaine) before cauterizing - sometime in the 1990's. What an improvement! Rather than this being a huge fight I was in danger of being licked to death.

The vet techs at our clinic use this procedure now. They have a whole bag of calf halters. They start by placing a halter on a calf to be dehorned. Then the Lidocaine is injected. On to the next calf until all ten or more calves are tied up and anesthetized. Normally, by the time this work is done the first calf is nicely numb. Recently research has demonstrated the benefits of additional medication to relieve post-cauterization discomfort as well.

This is Fred's take on the process from the consumer public point of view:

"If you cannot dehorn while being videotaped for the world to see, perhaps you should be doing it differently."

If you cannot meet this standard he advises talking with your veterinarian about improving your dehorning protocols.

Monday, July 28, 2014

BSTP Testing Using CR
(Blood serum total protein testing when feeding colostrum-derived colostrum replacer)

The question came up about what standards to use when checking for passive immunity when colostrum-derived colostrum replacer is being fed to newborn calves.

Calves are being fed within an hour or two after birth. They receive between 180 and 200g of IgG in one feeding. Blood is drawn on day two for blood serum total protein testing. When feeding maternal colostrum the dairy was using the goals of 90 percent of calves at or above 5.0 and 75 percent of calves at or above 5.5g/dl. 

Is it appropriate to use the same standards now the calves are being fed colostrum replacer?

Fortunately, this question has been investigated (J. Helz, S. Godden, D.M. Haines, K. Leslie, "Association between serum total protein and immunoglobulin G measures in calves fed a whole colostrum derived colostrum replacer" AABP Proceedings, September, 2009, p195.).

The research included 187 calves from three different studies. They measured IgG directly as well as obtaining blood serum total protein values. The value of 10mg/ml is used as the minimum standard for successful passive transfer. Both maternal colostrum (one half of the calves) and maternal-derived colostrum replacer had blood serum total protein values of 5.0g/dl when the IgG value was 10mg/ml.

The authors concluded, "Producers can use the same serum TP cutpoint of 5.0g/dl to estimate passive transfer (IgG of 10mg/ml) whether the calves are fed whole colostrum derived colostrum replacer or maternal colostrum."

The authors note that they did not investigate this relationship for plasma-derived colostrum replacer.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Naive Blogger

Inexperienced and unsophisticated, that's me.

Today the farm that rents the land next to my home in western New York State is combining wheat. Now, you have to remember my personal experience combining wheat started with a PTO-powered, narrow-cut combine on which I stood at the back to tie off large burlap bags of the grain. These accumulated in a chute that would dump three bags at a time to make picking them up convenient.

This year nearly the entire farm next door was planted to winter wheat that is now ready to harvest. Last evening two huge John Deere combines showed up. They have headers that are so wide that they have to be taken off the combine and pulled sideways on a wagon in order to go down the road. They started harvesting this morning as soon as the dew was off the wheat. The entire wheat crop will be combined before the day is gone. There is a regular parade of 10-wheelers going back and forth to carry the grain away.

Technology certainly has changed. I visited the Cornell University ruminant research center not too long ago. The calves look great. Automatic milk replacer feeders permit scheduling intakes based on the maturity of the calf. I have not see it yet but I'll bet that somewhere there is a unit like this that feeds information to a smart phone app - from anywhere you can check on little Susie-Q to see if she is drinking her allotted milk replacer today. 

I was not forward enough thinking to see these advances back in 1984 or even 1994. The challenge for this naive blogger (and maybe some of the blog readership) is to understand the potential for these emerging technical tools and adapt them to improve the profitability of calf rearing - more live, healthy calves that have grown to their genetic potential that will make milk when they walk into the parlor. 

If you have a favorite "tech" adaptation or idea you could send it to me - - and now and then I can pass ideas along in Calves with Sam.

Now, I've got to go watch these big machines - you know what they say about men and their toys. If I ask nicely maybe one of the guys will let me ride along in the cab for a round or two!

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Calving Ease" Monthly Newsletter

I forgot that some folks do not know about the monthly newsletter on calf rearing that I have been writing since 1998. Some of the recent issues are:
  • Putting the Brakes on Bacteria Growth in Colostrum
  • Planning for Success: We Can Feed More without Scours
  • Hot Weather and Calves
  • Spring Slip-ups in Calf Care
  • Buying and Using Household Bleach
  • Try Sleeping on Concrete
  • Wash Water Always Above 120 F
The electronic access is Click on Calving Ease. 

If you are trying to find a resource on a particular topic you may wish to use the search feature - see the search box in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Putting the Brakes on Bacteria Growth in Colostrum

  • In the United States we estimate that at least 45 percent of all colostrum fed to calves contains enough environmental bacteria to make calves sick.
  • About 77 percent of refrigerated colostrum has bacteria counts high enough to make calves sick (>100,000cfu/ml)
  • Warm colostrum is an ideal growth medium for bacteria.
  • Lowering colostrum temperature slows the rate of bacteria growth.
  • Adding a food-grade preservative slows the rate of bacteria growth.
These are the main points in the July issue of the monthly calf care newsletter, "Calving Ease."  This issue is available at our vet clinic web site, or just click July Newsletter.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You Would Not Eat Off of This Plate

At our house my wife and I wash our plates after each use. On one hand, our sanitation standards are not necessarily those to be used for calf feeding equipment. On the other hand, the use of effective sanitation practices for calf feeding equipment has been shown to be related to the need for treatments for diarrhea among calves.

As a dairy consultant working primarily in North America it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all the problems of calf rearing are exclusive to "us." In a recent article (D. Klein-Jobsti and others, "Farm characteristics and calf management practices on dairy farms with and without diarrhea: a case-control study to investigate risk factors for calf diarrhea" Journal of Dairy Science, August 2014 pp 5110-5119) two aspects of cleanliness were investigated in Austria.

One aspect was cleanliness of the calving area. Dairies with a separate place for calving that was kept clean had significantly fewer calves with diarrhea (scours) than those that had practices that allowed significant contact for newborn calves with dirty conditions. 

Another aspect of cleanliness was cleaning of calf feeding equipment. One one hand I was very interested to find that the problems these investigators found in Austria were the same as the ones I find regularly in North America.
  • Failure to wash feeding equipment after every use.
  • Frequent "washing" by simply rinsing with water.
On these farms a small number of buckets were used to feed milk to all the calves - that is, buckets were shared from one calf to another. Then, they were just rinsed with water on 7 out of 10 farms. I was puzzled that the scours rate among calves was not related to lack of feeding equipment sanitation the 100 farms they studied - maybe all the other farm conditions were more significant causes of diarrhea?

On the other hand, just because lax sanitation practices are common does not mean that they are desirable.

Just to remind readers, you can check HERE for a calf feeding equipment washing protocol that is both practical and effective.

What do you think about drinking milk from this bucket?


Monday, July 21, 2014

If All Else Fails, Read the All the Directions!

This was a case of many too many cases of passive transfer failure. The farm was facing a management challenge due to Johne's disease. One of the control measures adopted was to feed a colostrum replacer rather than maternal colostrum to newborn calves. The bag indicates the product should be mixed with 5 cups of 110-120F water and that feeding 2 bags is recommended for good passive transfer of immunity.

Following an extended episode of scouring calves the herdsman was convinced to check immunity levels among baby calves. The results revealed that too many of the calves had blood serum total protein levels below 5.0 - a commonly accepted threshold to determine passive transfer failure.

A review of mixing procedures showed that the water being used was both the correct temperature and volume. Since time of birth and time of colostrum replacer feeding were recorded for each calf it was easy to confirm that feedings were being done promptly after birth.

As we talked a worker came into the utility room to mix colostrum replacer for a newborn calf. She ran water in a pail, opened two packages of the colostrum replacer and proceeded to mix. 

You need to know that the dairy initially used a colostrum replacer with 100g IgG per package and fed 2 packages to each calf. Somewhere along the line the decision was made to switch to a colostrum replacer packaged with 60g IgG per package. Have you already guessed what happened?

Yes, you are correct. The new product's mixing instructions used the same temperature water but a different volume. That part got through to the folks mixing the product. However, the new product says, "To replace maternal colostrum feed calf 3 bags."  Ooops! Somehow that part of the directions was overlooked. Instead of feeding the recommended 180g IgG the calves were only receiving 120g.

The story does have a good ending. Once the protocol was corrected to use 3 bags of product per calf the blood serum total protein values improved and the proportion of calves needing treatment for scours went down. Amazing, reading ALL the directions does improve performance of a product.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The BVD-PI Test Can't be Positive!

A heifer aborted a late gestation calf. As part of our routine in this situation a tissue sample was sent for BVD-PI testing. The result was positive. The dairyman said, "The BVD-PI test can't be positive."

Let's step back for a moment. The  BVD-PI test is for an animal that was exposed to the BVD virus in utero during a window of time when the fetus incorporates the virus as a "normal" part of her body. Thus, she becomes "persistently infected" and though she is not ill she continuously sheds the virus as long as she lives.

Clearly we do not want BVD-PI animals on the dairy. This huge load of virus particles is a constant challenge to the immune system to all the other animals, both young and mature.

So, why did the dairyman exclaim, "Can't be positive" ?

He knew about  BVD and the challenge of BVD-PI animals. Before he buys springers he has them tested to be sure they are not PI positive. We had talked about testing heifer calves born to purchased heifers but he decided that he couldn't be bothered with that. Besides, he "knew" he would be able to tell by looking at a calf if she was a PI calf.

Our practice recommends that all replacement calves born to purchased dams be tested for BVD-PI status. This is not the first time a calf born to a purchased springer has come back positive at our practice. And, over the years we have seen heifers that look as normal as can be turn up positive when tested.

So where were the weak links in this situation. First, in spite of our explanation about how PI calves are created, he was so sure that if the dams were negative the calves had to be negative, too. False! Second, he was sure that even if a PI animal was born, he could reliably visually identify her. False!

What is this owner planning to do? The last I heard his regular vet and he are planning to collect samples for BVD-PI testing. Will they check all the animals? Just sample animals from purchased springers?

I have not had the opportunity to talk with this veterinarian this week to find out if this dairy has seen an increase in number of services per conception and abortions over the past year or two. If these have been increasing I would advise testing all the animals. There could be a "Typhoid Mary" out there in the freestalls!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What Percentage of IgG's End up the Blood?

This is just a reminder that all the antibodies that go into the front of a newborn calf do not necessarily end up her blood.

In a recently reported research project calves were fed 185g of immunoglobulins (IgG) using a lactation-based colostrum replacer in either one or two feedings. [Cabrel, R.G. and Others, "Colostrum replacer feeding regimen, addition of sodium bicarbonate, and milk replacer: The combined effects on absorptive efficiency of immunoglobulin G in neonatal calves." Journal of Dairy Science 97:2291-2296 April 2014].

Absorption Efficiency - that is a measure that compares the amount of IgG fed and the amount of IgG that ends up in the blood of a calf.

The different treatments for feeding the colostrum replacer (CR) were:
  • One feeding of the 185g IgG between 30 and 60 minutes after birth [They fed 3 packages of Calf Choice Total Gold brand colostrum replacer as 3L total volume]
  • Two feedings, 123g IgG between 30 and 60 minutes after birth and 62g IgG  six hours later. [same product split into 2/3 and 1/3 feedings]

Absorption efficiency - one-feeding treatment = 31.3% efficiency
                                   two-feeding treatment = 33.7% efficiency

Conclusion: Roughly about 1/3 of IgG fed are absorbed into the blood.

These values are similar to those reported in earlier research (e.g., Quigley and Others, " Absorption of protein and IgG in calves fed a colostrum supplement or replacer." JDS 85: 1243-1248, 2002. 

There was no significant difference between one-feeding and two-feeding treatments (only 10 calves per treatment so I have some reservations about the findings)

Blood IgG levels - one-feeding treatment = 15.9 g/L (above 6.0 refractometer reading)
                             two-feeding treatment = 16.5g/L (above 6.0 refractometer reading)

When absorption efficiency was compared between calves that were fed with a bottle and those fed with an esophageal feeder there were no significant differences in absorption efficiency.

1. Equal levels of efficiency of absorption of IgG's can be achieved with either one-time or two-time feeding given that the first feeding is ASAP after birth. This reinforces findings from earlier studies.

2. Good levels of immunity as measured by IgG's in blood can be achieved by feeding a sufficient volume of IgG's (in this case 185g).

Interpretation my part - I currently recommend feeding 200g of IgG soon after birth in either one or two feedings in order to achieve the goal of successful passive transfer of immunity to 95% of the calves (that is, 95% with blood serum total protein readings at 5.0 and higher).

Have you remembered to share with your friends how easy it is to access Calves with Sam? Just Google the blog name, Calves with Sam, to bring up the link. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Milk Yield at Second Milking

How good is your memory? Have you milked many fresh cows for their first three or four milkings? How much milk did you collect at second milkings compared to first milkings?

I milked all the fresh cows for a 800-cow dairy for about eight years. My memory for cows (compared to heifers) is that second milking yields were substantially less than yields at first milking. What, however, does a recent study say?

Study: 39 Holstein cows, milk weights recorded for first 10 milkings. [Kessler, E. C. and Others, "Milk production during the colostral period is not related to the later lactation performance in dairy cows." Journal of Dairy Science 97:2186-2192 April 2014]

  • As expected, lots of variation among cows in first milking (colostrum) yields varying from about 2 quarts and 21 quarts (about 46 pounds). Fully 75 percent gave at least 5 quarts.
  • The variation in first milking yield for cows second lactation and greater was not related to the amount of time between calving and first milking and was only weakly related to previous lactation performance. 
  • Average colostrum (first milking) yield was between 16 and 17 pounds.
  • Second milking for cows averaged nearly 14 pounds. Compared to first milking yield that is 82 percent.
Yes, that number at second milking was 82 percent. I fear that my memories from 20 years ago are not very accurate - if I had to make a guess based on my recall I would have come up with 50 percent yield at second milking compared to first.

Could I have a problem with selective memory? I recall very well the cases where the cow gave 20 plus pounds first milking and 10 or less pounds at second milking? All the cows that yielded 3/4 or more of first milking at their second milking all blurred together and I don't really remember them? 

True that these results are based on only 39 cows. However, these data are much more definite than my recall. I will keep watching for another study. 

BTW, the title of the article reflects the study's main findings, milk production during the first 10 days in milk is not a good predictor of later production performance.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

To Buy or Not To Buy a Digital Refractometer

Digital refractometers are now available in the price range of $350 to $450 that can be used to assess the quality of colostrum, estimate dry matter content of milk and evaluate blood serum total protein.

A question that came up today is whether or not these digital units are more accurate than the hand-held style analog refractometers. Part of the answer is found in the specifications of the unit that is purchased. The digital units will specify resolution and precision (+/-). 

Another part of the answer when you compare the two styles is whether or not the units are automatically temperature compensated. And, how recently have the the units been calibrated?

Another part of the answer is user-related. All of us that have used the hand-held analog units know the challenge of interpreting where the boundary line crosses the scale divisions. My experience is that blood serum total protein samples have fairly sharp boundary lines, milk samples for dry matter are more fuzzy and colostrum quality sample boundary lines are very fuzzy. 

The values assigned for a sample get more and more subjective as the level of fuzziness goes up. Thus, if more than one person at the dairy is taking readings the potential for variation among persons is much higher with analog units than with digital ones. That is, with a digital unit the readings are more consistent and less dependent on who takes the reading.

Maybe the more important question is how accurate do we need to be when using the information to make on-farm decisions? Is a difference of 0.1 in a blood serum total protein reading going to change the decisions we make in colostrum management? When we assess dry matter content of milk how large a difference from our target value do we need to have in order to add  milk powder? If our Brix target for colostrum is 22 are we willing to live with values that are accurate plus/minus 1.0?

My opinion is that whether or not to purchase the multi-scale digital unit is mostly a matter of convenience rather than either accuracy or consistency. One unit is used regardless of the medium to be evaluated. Plus, as a guy I enjoy having high tech stuff around.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

You Cannot Bleach Your Way to Clean

I just had yet another question about the concentration of a chlorine bleach solution to use soaking calf feeding equipment. The assumption is that if the one uses the proper concentration of the active ingredient somehow the tube feeders and bottles will become clean. All the bacteria will be gone. 


There are two resources at that shed light on this issue. The first is "Bleach is Not Enough to Kill Bacteria" - click HERE to access the text. This note explains why bleach is ineffective in situations where there is significant biofilm accumulation.

The second is "Biofilms Threaten Calf Health" - click Biofilms to access the text. This note includes the topics
  • What are biofilms 
  • Why are they a threat to calf health 
  •  How do biofilms get started 
  •  How do biofilms grow 
  •  What can we do about biofilms
So, the bottomline? Soaking equipment in a bleach solution when there are biofilms present is simply an exercise - you are not killing the bacteria.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gizmos or Guesses

That is the title of a presentation by Steve Hayes on managing calves for success. 

Here is the place to click to access this paper. 

In this presentation Steve highlights the use of "gizmos" (tools) to promote better calf management. It is a quick read, his points are well organized. You might even what to print a copy so you can read it two or more times. 


Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Day After a Holiday

Depending on who you have filling in for you on Friday, 4th of July, sometimes it's frustrating to come back after having a day off from calf care. 

The case in this note is one that may not be too uncommon. On this dairy the calf feeding routine is to begin by walking calves and, in the summer, dumping water pails hanging on the fences in front of the hutches. As you  walk along in front of the older calves none of the calves over five weeks old have any water left. Well, you need to be sure to feed water three times today to help these older calves catch up on their water intake. 

As you get closer and closer to the youngest calves the calf starter grain pails seem rather full. Yes, it happened yet again. The person filling in for the holiday did not really get the message about how much grain to feed calves. He (she) just put five-plus quarts of grain in every pail - youngest to oldest. Since the farm protocol for grain feeding is to feed grain to appetite (nearly empty every morning) this means a lot of work dumping over-filled grain pails. 

Now we are ready to mix the milk replacer. We mix in 30-gallon Brute-brand waste containers. As you set these down off the rack along the wall they don't look "right." A quick check reveals slick, slippery surfaces inside all three containers - oops, they were "washed" by spraying them out with water from a hose and set up to drain. Since the farm cleaning protocol is a 4-step procedure (rinse, wash, rinse, dry) this means washing all this equipment before you start to mix milk replacer this morning. For a review of this protocol and the protocol itself click Washing Checklist or Washing Protocol.

These slip ups just remind us of the need to train and retrain our substitute workers. Since learning-by-doing is an exceptionally effective method of training the ideal to work toward is having the substitute worker shadow or help during a feeding when every possible. For a short checklist on skill-focused training click Here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

She Didn't Test Positive

We were checking for Giardia, a parasite. The test is run on feces. We are looking for parasite cysts.

We checked the feces from the suspect animal. No cysts to be seen. She did not test positive. Conclusion: She does not have giardiasis.

Wrong conclusion!

When testing for an intestinal parasite like Giardia we have to remember that it is normal for shedding to be intermittent. The rule of thumb that work from is to collect fecal samples from a least three different days from the suspect animal. 

Usually the reason we are collecting fecal samples from this calf is that her feces are consistently looser than we expect and she is not thrifty in spite of eating well. At the same time we are checking for giardia we can also look for other parasite evidence from both cryptosporidia and coccidia.

It is not uncommon to find evidence of all three parasites in the same fecal samples. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Getting Facilities Ready for the Next Crop of Calves

The dairy has a relatively new calf barn. It is set up with six bays with each bay holding a row of calves on each side and work alley in the middle. Each bay is mechanically ventilated with automatic controls for both inlet and exhaust air.

Each bay is run as an all-in, all-out facility. After the calves leave a bay is it is cleaned and sits empty for up to a week before being repopulated. 

The past cleaning procedures include removing all the calf pens and feeding equipment, physically removing all the bedding and manure and pressure washing the walls and floor. The calf pens are pressure washed as well. Feeding equipment is scrubbed and allowed to dry.

I was asked to evaluate this cleaning protocol. While on-site I asked to look at the pressure washer. It is a cold-water unit. I know that high temperature high-pressure water will kill parasites (e.g., cryptosporidia, coccidia, giardia). So, my first recommendation was to switch from a cold-water to a high-temperature-water pressure washer - that is the kind with a boiler that delivers about 180F water. The idea is to cook the parasite eggs as well as wash away all kinds of pathogens. 

I asked about the disinfectant that was used after a bay was cleaned. "Nope, we don't use a disinfectant," was the reply. They have available both Virkon-S and Tek-Trol from a local supplier. Both of these would be effective as a follow up to the pressure washing. I have been trying chlorine dioxide in the past year. Click Here for a resource on chlorine dioxide we are using at our vet clinic. The commercial product Oxine is available as well (

The rationale for following up the pressure washing with a disinfectant is that no matter how carefully one pressure washes there are some residual pathogens that remain on walls and floors. 

In summary, the idea is to get rid of manure - you cannot disinfect manure. Then, pressure wash to remove as much organic matter as practical. Then, disinfect as a final step to sweep up the "escapees." Letting the facility sit as long as possible before repopulating is a best management practice.