Friday, January 30, 2015

Water Essential for Intensively Fed Calves

We have know for over a decade the importance of free-choice water for calves on an intensive milk feeding program. This does not,  however, mean that we cannot make mistakes.

Here is the situation. Summer and fall seasons go well for calves being fed 15 percent solids milk replacer. They begin at six quarts a day on 3X feeding. Over the first ten days the feeding rate goes up to ten quarts a day. Free-choice water and calf starter are offered. Low scours rate and good rates of growth. 

Now it is January. Cold housing - barn seldom more than 5 degrees warmer than outside. Sixteen of the last 30 days have had a night-time low below 10F. Milk replace feeding program is the same. That is,  27-20 milk replacer mixed at 15 percent solids.  Water freezes. Water is now only available for a few hours daily - some days not at all. Scours rate has increased among the younger calves.

Perhaps you recall that as the concentration of dissolved solids goes up in milk replacer the gastric emptying is progressively more rapid and complete. And, when water is not available the chances of clinical diarrhea often increase. In this case, we have arranged to change the milk replacer mixing rate down to 12.5 percent solids. We hope that reduction in osmolality [concentration of dissolved particles in a fluid] will make the availability of water less critical.

At the same time more effort will be made to provide warm water twice a day, especially for these younger calves. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

This Colostrum Looks Good to Me!

Protocol compliance drift strikes again!

An analysis of blood serum total protein values (this dairy blood samples all calves between 36 and 48 hours) showed a significant decline in the proportion of calves above the 5.5 reading during the past three months compared to earlier this year.

We went back to the colostrum feeding log. No change over the past six months. Nearly all the calves were receiving their first feeding of colostrum within the first two hours of life. All the calves received the same volume in the first feeding - four quarts.

However, no permanent record was kept of colostrum quality. The farm protocol was to have each batch (no pooling of colostrum) checked with a Brix refractometer. As the colostrum was bottled it was marked for first-feeding heifers (greater than 22 reading on the Brix) or for bulls or second- feeding for heifers (below 22 on the Brix).

No written record was kept of these readings. 

You have already figured out the nature of the problem? Yes, you are correct. The two workers in charge of checking colostrum quality were "too busy" to check every batch after the AM and PM milking of fresh cows.

They checked it visually and said, "This colostrum looks good to me," and marked the bottles according to this visual assessment. 

If the colostrum was yellow and thick it was marked for first-feeding heifers. Nope, color doesn't give a valid value of antibody concentration. Nope, thickness or viscosity doesn't give a valid value of antibody concentration.

Visual assessment only works for very bloody colostrum or the thin watery stuff from a sick cow. 

What is planned for this dairy? There is now a clipboard in the utility room near where the colostrum is brought for bottling and chilling before it goes into the refrigerator. Yes, you guessed right - each batch is going to be recorded with cow number and the Brix value. 

By the way, this dairy periodically samples "as-fed" colostrum for bacteria culturing. After having several high bacteria count samples a year ago and adding a chilling step between collection and refrigeration they consistently have low colostrum bacteria counts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Frozen Feet and Ears

We had five days last week with wind chill numbers well below 0F.

I have been hearing about frozen feet and ears on young calves. 

The operation that I ran was hutch housing with openings facing ESE. I, too, had cases of frozen ears and feet. This problem was mostly limited to times when the wind chill was below zero. There is no question that getting the ears and feet of the newborn calf as dry as practical does help with freezing problems (you might want to read this: about drying off calves. 

I tried to bed well. I put down a full bale of dry wood shavings on top of the stone. Then, on top of the shavings I shook out a full bale of long straw - literally, the hutch was full of straw - I had to shove the calf into a wall of straw the first time into the hutch. Generally wheat straw in these small bales will run around 10 percent moisture and makes a good dry nest for calves.

I had plenty of small square bales of wheat straw. I filled the hutch door with a bale to keep the calf inside. I note now that one can buy door covers (for example, see this site Calf Hutch Weather Shield | Genesis Enterprises ). I am sure you can find many other vendors of similar products.

I kept my bales in the doors for the first week. Sometimes I would see that a calf was unusually dumb about staying inside the hutch - I kept the door filled with the bale longer for these calves.

Every winter in spite of all these efforts I usually had at least one calf that managed to lie down in the door of her hutch with her rear feet out in the snow and ice all night long - of course, her feet froze and she was a cull. 

My best wishes for good cold weather management!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Vaccinating in Cold Weather

This is the subject of the January 2015 issue of the monthly calf rearing newsletter from Sam Leadley. 

The key points:

·         Vaccinating calves during winter weather is an effective risk management tool to suppress the treatment rate for respiratory illness.

·         Vaccines need special handling when used in sub-freezing weather in order not to compromise effectiveness.

·         Build some flexibility into your vaccination schedule – under extreme weather conditions it may be cost effective to reschedule administration.

·         With weather-stress added to other stressors be careful to manage stress carefully.

·         Vaccinate only healthy calves – have a protocol for rescheduling vaccinations for sick calves.

Click HERE to go to the January newsletter.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Making the Unexpected Work Well

A recent visit to a dairy turned up a common situation - not enough room for the newborn calves in the preweaned calf housing.

Solution? Move calves out of preweaned housing - twice as many as the usual number that week so there will be more space for newborn calves.

Problem? Calves being moved into the transition housing now fill twice as much space as normal. On this dairy the newly moved calves usually go into two small pens of five for a week. Then they move into a pen of ten.

That week, the calves being moved into the transition housing filled up not only the two pens of five but also the next pen that houses ten calves. "No problem," you say thinking that the calves will adapt okay to having ten in a pen without significantly increased stress. 

You are probably correct.

But, no one told the person that cares for heifers in the transition barn that they filled all three pens with calves from the individual housing. So, he continued feeding just as he normally did - two small pens received free-choice grain (same as fed the last week in individual housing) and the first pen of ten received heifer TMR (limited amount) and limited grain. [If you recall your rumen biology you realize that for the first week on this TMR the calves were unable to get much energy from this feed while the rumen microbiology was moving toward a new equilibrium between rumen "bugs" and the ration.]

Oops! He mistakenly put the freshly moved heifers in the larger pen on a limited-energy ration at the same time they changed housing. Not the best move if one wants to keep stress low and avoid respiratory symptoms.

My visit was just three days after these pen moves so I could ask about the limit feeding of the calves that had just been moved. Just a break down in communication that was easily fixed before I left the farm.

Making the unexpected work well requires not only strong commitment of workers but good communication about the unanticipated circumstances. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cold Weather and Warm Milk

This is what I observed on a dairy recently. 
  • Cold December morning, truck thermometer showed 22F as I turned off the ignition.
  • Calf feeder comes by the youngest calves and delivers warm milk into their pails.
  • The calves just learning to drink from pails have mixed behavior - some get into the pails and drink as we would expect them to - stop and start, lots of bubble blowing - but, slowly the milk ends up inside the calf. Some calves just don't get started, milk remains untouched.
  • The calf feeder proceeds to deliver milk to the remainder of the calves for the next 30 minutes.
  • Now the 105F milk that was delivered to the pails for the youngest calves is close to 50F.
  • Calf feeder shows up to work at pail training the young and reluctant calves with milk that is more than 50 degrees colder than the body temperature of the calves. 
Do you agree that it would be desirable to change something so that these young calves have warm (100+F) milk to drink?

What would you change?

Sure, having another employee available to work with the youngest calves while the main calf feeder proceeds with milk feeding would probably be an effective solution. BUT, this dairy is reluctant to assign another worker twice a day to do this. 

My recommendation?  

This dairy bottle feeds calves for the first three days now. Then, for as many days as it takes the calves get milk in a pail and learn how to drink from a pail. The calf feeder pretty much knows about how many bottle-fed calves there are for each feeding and how many more calves will need "coaching" to drink from a pail.

With the knowledge of how many calves are going to need individual attention I suggested that before leaving the warm utility room he fill enough nursing bottles with the milk to feed this group of youngest calves. Then place them in buckets of warm water - 4 bottles will fit into a 5-gallon bucket - water temperature depends on the weather - the idea is to keep the milk warm until the calf feeder is available to give individual attention to these youngest calves. 

This procedure seems to work for dairies with 60 to 600 calves - just a matter of planning ahead for these babies to deliver body temperature milk.