Monday, August 31, 2015

Harvest Illness

"Harvest illness usually rears its ugly head when farms can’t dedicate an employee to calves full-time.  It’s also challenging for farms that do their own harvesting. Harvest illness isn't caused by a strain of bug that shows up at a certain time of the year, but is due to the producer needing to direct their attention elsewhere on the farm."

This is a quote from an interesting column that you can access HERE. The author, Rebecca LaBerge, offers several practical steps to minimize this unique kind of illness. 

When I was responsible for calves on a 1,200 cow dairy I also found myself "paddling upstream" trying to keep calves healthy for about a month - but in contrast, for me it was in the spring - I called it "Spring Work Blues." It was the same issue of too much work at a peak time and too few folks to maintain high quality care especially for newborn calves. 

I found it helpful to track immunity levels during these stressful times. For a "how-to" guide on measuring immunity levels you may go to and click on "Passive transfer of immunity - how to test for." Or just click HERE

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Staff Turnover and Training

In an August 25 article entitled "A Fresh Perspective on Cleaning Calf Housing" published in Progressive Dairyman Brian Wesemann made a great point about staff turnover.

He pointed out that relative to cleaning and sanitizing calf housing the calf supervisor must keep in mind that cleaning calf housing does not have the repetition cycle that many other jobs do. Feeding is every day. Cleaning equipment is daily. Cleaning calf housing is almost always on a significantly longer cycle.

The cleaning cycle for calf housing may be long enough to span employee changes. Therefore, it is good to keep in mind the need for both training and re-training. 

For example, if part of sanitizing includes using a foaming agent to prolong the disinfectant exposure time the worker must follow the correct steps in measuring the foaming agent, mixing with the proper volume of water and applying the foam according to the manufacturer's recommendations. 

Doing this step correctly depends on receiving instructions that are more complete than, "Foam the hutches after you pressure wash them."

Thanks to Brian for reminding us of the implications of staff turnover for training. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Failure Rate for Calves Nursing Colostrum on Their Own

Yet another study has documented the passive transfer failure rate for dairy calves allowed to nurse from the dam on their own. This is in contrast to hand feeding a known volume of colostrum with a known concentration of antibodies. 

The study included 2,500 calves from 50 dairy farms. Cows were Holsteins, Jersey and Holstein-Jersey crosses.  Blood was drawn between 1 and 7 days of age, refrigerated overnight, centrifuged and the serum separated from the clot within 24 hours of collection. The average blood serum total protein level for 2,500 calves as 5.9 g/dL. Successful passive immunity was defined as a blood serum protein level of 5.5 or greater.

"Calves that were allowed to suckle their dams showed a 44 percent failure of passive immunity."

Can we do a better job when we hand-feed colostrum? One of my clients feeds six quarts of colostrum testing 22 or greater using a Brix refractometer within the first 12 hours of life. As of July 24, 2015 since September 2014 they have tested 756 calves. Ninety-seven percent of these tested at 5.5 or greater.

A. Elizondo-Salazar and Others, "Passive Transfer of immunity in dairy heifer calves on Costa Rican dairy farms," Journal of Dairy Science, Vol.98, Suppl.2, Abstract W23.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Efficiency of Antibody Absorption in 
Newborn Dairy Calves

Apparent efficiency of antibody absorption (abbreviated as AEA) is a measure of the movement of antibodies from the gut into the body plasma.

 [Quigley, J.D. and  J.J. Drewry, "Nutrient and immunity of the noenatal intestine and their relationship to immuniglobulin absorption and disease" Journal of Dairy Science 81:2779-2790]

In a recently published study AEA was compared for colostrum with either a low or high bacteria count.

[Geisinger, S.L. and Others, "Effect of colostrum heat treatment and bacterial population on immunoglobulin G absorption and health of neonatal calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 98:4640-4645. August, 2015.]

For colostrum with low bacteria counts the AEA was approximately thirty-four percent. That is, out of every 100 antibodies fed, about 34 made it into the blood of the calf. 

For colostrum with high bacteria counts the AEA was approximately fourteen percent. That is, out of every 100 antibodies fed, only 14 make it into the blood of the calf.

When we compare these transfer rates it is clear that the absorption rate for high bacteria-count colostrum is barely 43% of that for low bacteria-count colostrum - that is well under one-half the transfer rate due to just one factor - bacteria.

Thus, once we have done a good job of collecting clean colostrum the rule of thumb is to either feed it to the calf within 30 minutes of collection or get it chilled to at least 60 F (16C) with 30 minutes in order to suppress the bacteria count. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pseudomonas bacteria

These bacteria were found in very high numbers in the water from a client's sink faucet. This water was being used to mix milk replacer and to feed water to calves.

Calves were sick, some died. Why are these bacteria a problem? First, like all bacteria if we feed a large enough number to our calves they begin to engage the immune system. The immune system requires a lot of protein and energy that could go towards growth.

Many strains of Pseudomonas, in addition, are very efficient in producing deposits on our feeding equipment. Technically, this is called exopolysaccharide production. These deposits bond (note, I did not say "stick to" but rather bond) to all the surfaces. Once in place these biofilms provide a place for bacteria to attach and grow.

If an aggressive sanitation protocol is in place (for example a (1) rinse (2) wash (3) rinse (4) dry procedure) the opportunity for biofilm production is minimized. However, if lapses occur we can depend on Pseudomonas bacteria taking advantage of the opportunity to produce these nasty deposit that are really tough to remove. For example, rinsing only after afternoon feeding or only rinsing after weekend feedings. 

Thus, if an analysis of your water supply shows significant presence of this strain of bacteria special attention needs to be given to doing a good job of cleaning calf feeding equipment every time it is used including an acid rinse after washing. 

For a quick review of a cleaning protocol click HERE and a cleaning checklist click HERE.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bottle Feeding: Do It Right

This is the title of the August, 2015, edition of the calf management newsletter. 

Click HERE to go to the letter. 

Key points:

  • Start clean
  • Start warm
  • Keep stress low
  • Monitor drinking

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