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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dry Matter Intake Drives Growth in Calves

"Amazing conclusion," you say. Ah, but there is nothing like data to support the relationship.

In an abstract presented at the ADSA meetings, "The effects of supplementing two pasteurized milk balancer products to pasteurized whole milk on the health and growth of dairy calves" (Glosson, K.M. and Others, Dairy Science Vol 97, E-Suppl. 1 p.167) there was a comparison of feeding whole milk with or without a milk balancer product.

This 72-calf trial gave these results for calves weaned at 56 days:
Calves fed whole milk had average daily gain of 1.5 pounds.
Calves fed supplemented whole milk, ADG was 1.7 pounds.

The balancer was added to the whole milk. That raised the dry matter concentration from about 13% to a little over 15%. So when the calves receiving the supplemented milk were fed the same volume of blended milk as the other calves that were fed unsupplemented milk they received more dry matter per day.

Presto! It works. If you feed calves more dry matter they have higher average daily gains.

The same abstract provided feed efficiency data. (total gain/total dry matter intake)
The calves fed supplemented milk had slightly lower feed efficiency than calves fed whole milk but because of the small sample size the difference was not statistically significant (>.09).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tubing Colostrum - Let's Do it Right

I suffer from a case of too much optimism. I see folks on several farms doing a job the right way at the right time. I get lulled into a sense that everyone must be following best management practices and doing their jobs properly.

Then, reality comes crashing in. I go out to the calving area. A calf care person comes up to a newborn calf - less than half an hour old I am told - calf is still wet,  not yet standing.

The person has both a nursing bottle and a tube feeder full of colostrum. I know it is warm because I checked the temperature with a rapid read thermometer - 105F. He sets the nursing bottle down outside the calving pen (both dam and calf are in the pen). He comes into the pen with the bag-style esophageal tube feeder (holds about 2 quarts). 

Now, get this. Calf is lying on its side, head down on the straw. With the calf in this position he raises her head enough to insert the feeding tube. Drains the bag containing the colostrum. As soon as the bag is empty (note that the long tube from the bag into the calf is not yet empty) out comes the tube. He refills the tube feeder with the colostrum from the bottle. Puts tube back into the calf (calf still prone, flat on her side), empties tube feeder and pulls out tube (note that the long plastic tube leading from bag to calf was not yet empty when he pulled the feeder tube out of the calf). 

I was getting paid to observe and eventually make recommendations to improve the profitability of the calf enterprise on this dairy. I was not given permission to raise hell by shouting at their employees. But it was really hard to keep from breaking in and giving this worker a lesson on how to use an esophageal tube feeder.

Let's do it right! Let's provide adequate instruction for persons with the responsibility of using esophageal tube feeders. Click Here for 4 Rules for Tube Feeding. Click Here for a checklist for training employees to follow a protocol. Click Here for a checklist for monitor employees' compliance with protocols.

If the calf is not standing always have her up on her belly (sternal position). Organize work so that the tube is inserted just one time, not twice. Exercise enough patience to allow the feeding tube to empty before removing from the calf.

I'm still an optimist. But I am also realistic enough to know that there will always be room for improvement.