Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Is My Water Tank Full?

When we have animals on pasture we like to be sure they have access to water. 

Running around to check water tanks is not my favorite job. But, an empty tank is a recipe for both unhappy heifers and smashed up tanks, floats and pipes.

This 1:39 minute video shows an inexpensive and practical way to check on a water tank level at a long distance. Enjoy.http://onpasture.com/2015/06/29/livestock-water-tank-tip/  Many thanks to the owners of On Pasture, Kathy and Rachel, for sharing this video clip.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rumen Development Pictures

At a recent presentation I showed pictures (source: Penn State University) of calf rumen tissue at selected ages. The folks asked me for the link to those pictures. The link to paste into your web browser is:


Just scroll down to the heading, "Calf Rumen Images."

A sample showing a milk-fed calf is below; this is one set of two at this location. Images are for calves at 4, 6, 8 and 12 weeks of age.

Rumen Comparisons: 6 Weeks of Age

The rumen of the calf fed milk only is considerably smaller than the calf fed milk and grain.
In addition, the grain-fed calf has much darker coloration and greater papillae development than the milk only calf. The grain-fed calf has a healthy, properly developing rumen.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Measure it, Manage it

How well is the colostrum management program working? Hiding one's head in the sand and hoping for the best is one alternative. Or, actually monitoring passive transfer of immunity will give management numbers to use in making decisions. 

Let's look at a dairy that decided in 2013 to start collecting blood serum total protein data on all of their calves. They just made it a routine to bleed calves on a regular basis. 

These are the data summarized by calendar quarter:

Goals:                                      June15 Spring  Winter Fall’14 Spring  Winter Fall(’13)
None 4.5 or below                  0%         3%       3%       1%       1%          3%     9%
90% at 5.0 & above                97%       91%     91%     90%     97%       88%    77%
75% at 5.5 & above                79%       56%     59%     70%     62%       55%    45%

If we define passive transfer failure as a blood serum total protein (BSTP) value below 5.0 then they improved from 23% failures to only 3% failures.

After we summarized the data at the end of March 2015 we looked at the trend among calves testing 5.5 and above. Notice in the table above the percentage was on a downward trend from Fall 2014 to Spring 2015.

In late March 2015 we checked colostrum for bacteria content. We discovered a persistent problem with coliform contamination. Changes in sanitation practices as well as fresh cow teat preparation eliminated that problem - which might have been part of the issue with less than desirable antibody absorption. And, more attention was given to milking cows soon after calving, checking all the colostrum before feeding to be sure Brix readings were at 23% and higher, and feeding calves soon after birth. 

Now the percentage of calves testing at 5.5 BSTP and higher improved from 45% in Fall 2013 to 79% in June 2015.

If you are not measuring a key performance indicator then you probably are not doing a good job managing it!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Post-Wash Bacteria Growth

Question: When is clean not clean?

Answer: When we fail to allow just washed equipment to drain and dry!

Have in your mind's eye a stack of clean 10-quart calf feeding pails. All washed carefully with a detergent solution. Then, they were stacked up one inside another for about 15 pails. 

I used the Hygiena SystemSure Plus unit to do adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring. The ATP test is a process of rapidly measuring actively growing microorganisms through the detection of adenosine triphosphate. An ATP monitoring system can detect the amount of bacteria that remains after cleaning a surface (for example, calf feeding equipment).

The top pail that was allowed to air dry tested 43 (I use a threshold of 50 for calf feeding equipment as an acceptable level of contamination).

The next to the bottom pail (not allowed to dry - sat in stack for two days) tested 1,764.

Now, that is an increase we can all recognize as undesirable. 

All that was needed to minimize bacteria regrowth was allowing the clean pails to drain and air dry.

The client agreed that they had a number of pails that needed to be thrown out. They could be set upside down on the floor. The washed pails could be set upside down on them to drain and air dry - no capital investment involved.

The picture shows this method (on a different dairy but the same idea). 

Mark the pails that remain on the bottom row some way so they do not get picked up as "clean" pails - see the "X" marking on these. 

Here are all the clean pails draining and air drying.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Do Young Calves Drink Water?

That is the question for research done in Germany.

The results are at this link

The video is less than 2 minutes - calves with ad lib access to milk were still drinking 0.8 litres of water daily at 2 weeks. Calves with limited access to milk were drinking almost twice as much.

Lesson? Provide ad lib access to water for calves from day 2! Period.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Bleaching Your Way to Cleanliness?

What is it about using bleach that we think it is magic? Just toss some calf feeding equipment into a sink that is full of a strong bleach solution - "Presto" - all the bacteria are gone? No, it is not going to happen. 

These two sinks are full of nursing bottles, nipples, and tube feeder equipment. I was assured that this day-long soaking in a strong bleach solution every two weeks or so kept the equipment clean. 

Why am I doubtful about this method actually working well to reduce bacteria levels on equipment? In one word, "biofilm." One estimate compared the effectiveness of bleach in killing bacteria on a clean surface and a surface with a biofilm - the kill rate on biofilm protected surfaces was 1,000 times lower. 

From a positive perspective, if the equipment is already completely clean this chlorine solution will give an excellent kill rate for bacteria on the surfaces. Notice I said, "completely clean" meaning there is not a residual film of proteins and fats.

However, it is easy for a biofilm to develop on equipment if it is not cleaned completely after EVERY use. For example, washing feeding buckets every morning and then just rinsing them after the afternoon feeding will allow the biofilm to accumulate. If you are curious about biofilms you may want to read this resource - click HERE.

These biofilms are thin enough that we can't see or feel them. However, you can depend on them being present whenever there is a lapse in a regular and thorough cleaning protocol. For a review of a four-step cleaning protocol click HERE. This dairy did not use this four-step washing procedure -  they "rinsed" their equipment with hot water only and "soaked it clean" as shown above. 

On a follow up with the farm shown in the picture we were able to culture high levels of bacteria from both the nursing bottles and tube feeders AFTER they were "soaked clean."

Friday, June 19, 2015

Using a Tube Feeder - Carefully

There are a number of reasons that we would use a tube feeder for a newborn calf. Regardless of the reason every time for every calf the feeder should be used properly.

I observed the birth of a calf. The calf care person checked to see that the calf was breathing well. Off he went to get colostrum - the cow got up and started licking off the calf.

I came by a bit later and the same person was feeding colostrum to the calf using an esophageal tube feeder. I did not watch the feeding tube put into the calf. I did notice that the colostrum was being fed while the calf was lying on her side with the worker holding up her head. As the bag reached nearly empty the tube was removed from the calf - colostrum was still running out of the end.

Before leaving the dairy I had a talk with the owner about the need to train and retrain calf care personnel. Workers that use a tube feeder need to be trained to do it right. For example, in this case if calves are not standing they should always be up on their belly (sternal position) for tube feeding. Further, no fluid should be going through the tube either when passed into the calf or when being removed.

I used his compute to access the resource, "Colostrum: 4 Rules for Tube Feeding."
  • Use a clean tube feeder.
  • Feed body temperature colostrum.
  • Always keep colostrum out of the tube when inserting it into the esophagus.
  • Always allow all colostrum to drain from the tube before removing it from the calf.
The full resource may be found by clicking HERE

Monday, June 1, 2015

Feeding Fresh vs. Stored Colostrum: Does it make a difference?

Does it make a difference? The differences we are looking for are in calf health and immune status.

We have known for some time that the maternal colostral immune cells do not survive freezing and thawing. Also, the survival of these cells in refrigerated colostrum is measured in hours. That is, it appears that the numbers of these cells surviving after 12 hours begin to go down rapidly. I have been told that after 48 hours the numbers are so low there are few potential health benefits. I have not been able to find a good reference that provides quantitative values on this rate of decline, however. 

A team at Virginia Tech set out to measure health and immune status effects of feeding colostrum with and without these maternal colostral immune cells. [Langel, S.N. and Others, "Effect of feeding whole compared to cell-free colostrum on calf immune status: The neonatal period, " Journal of Dairy Science 98:3729-3740 June 2015] The sample size was small - less than 20 calves in each treatment group.

1. Fecal consistency scores - "No differences were seen between treatments [whole vs. cell-free colostrum] in fecal consistency scores." (p. 3733) On a scale of 0 (normal) to 3 (severe scours) the values peaked for both groups around day 14 at about 1.8. Thus, neither group had excessively severe scours and the duration was apparently relatively short. 

2. Respiratory scores - Most of the time most of the calves did not have respiratory symptoms. There was a spike in symptoms (nasal discharge, coughing)  for both groups around days 12-15 with more cell-free calves showing symptoms than those receiving whole colostrum. There was another similar spike around days 37-39 with the same pattern.

The authors very cautiously conclude:

"Adoptive transfer of whole immune cells at birth may play a role in the immune status of neonatal dairy calves. Enhancing immune function in calves could lead to increased disease resistance, resulting in healthier animals entering the dairy herd." (p3739)

So, what do I conclude?

1. Given the research setting (Virginia Tech dairy farm) with relatively low pathogen exposure, excellent colostrum management and exemplary animal care the frequency of ill health overall was low. Regardless of the type of colostrum fed the calves remained healthy throughout the study period.

2. Given that some of the farms for which I provide consulting services have significant pathogen exposure and colostrum management that provides only "average" colostral-based immunity I am guessing that there is a health advantage to feeding "fresh" colostrum compared to "stored" colostrum that is similar to the "cell-free" colostrum in the research.

My experience with farms that have adopted the "milk it and feed it" management strategy (colostrum is fed within an hour after collection) is uniformly positive. However, it is difficult to isolate the effects of this strategy from the increased attention to overall colostrum management that has accompanied this management change.