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. 

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