Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Coccidiosis: Our Constant Companion

A new calf management resource sheet with this title is now posted at our website. Click HERE to access the sheet.

A quick summary of content:

  1. The chances of 100 percent of our calves in their first week of life avoiding an infective dose of coccidia oocysts is close to zero. 
  2. Reducing shedding of oocysts is an effective control measure. 
  3. Coccidia infections, called coccidiosis, may begin to decrease feed efficiency as early as the first week of life.
  4. Immunity to coccidia comes from successful response of calves’ immune system, not from colostrum.
  5. Successful immune response to coccidia depends on limiting the infection and keeping the calves well fed and healthy.
  6. Treating all calves with coccidiostatic drugs to limit infections before some of them get sick is more cost effective than waiting to treat the clinically ill calves. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Much Milk Should We Expect Calves to Drink?

As part of a study looking at the effects of ad libitum consumption of milk by calves, milk intakes were recorded daily for days one through thirty-five.

What did they find?

Not surprisingly, intakes go up the first week in life. Average intakes for Holstein calves peaked a little over 9 quarts (8.5L) daily at six to seven days of age. There was considerable variation among calves with some calves peaking at 8.5 quarts (8L) and others going up to 10.5 quarts (10L). 

Not so anticipated was the uniform decline in milk consumption from day seven through thirteen. The average intakes dropped from a peak of 9 quarts (8.5L) to 6.5 quarts (6.2L) over those six days. The lowest-intake calves dropped just below 6 quarts (5.7L) daily.

The research dairy environment has a history of cryptosporidia exposure for calves. One might speculate that a mild case of cyptosporidiosis may have contributed to some degree of gastrointestinal upset that was associated with a reduction in appetite.

After day thirteen the trend was up and up and up. Most calves reached peak intake around twenty-three to twenty-five days. Again, lots of variation among calves. A few peaked as high as 12.5 quarts (11.9L) while a few others peaked well below that at 10.5 quarts (10L). 

When expressed as a percentage of live weight, naturally the percentages go down as the calves grow. While the intakes started out at an average of about twenty-one percent of live weight (days four-seven) they declined steadily to an average of fourteen percent (days twenty-two through twenty-eight).

Bottom line: One, when milk availability is not restricted we should expect calves to drink large amounts of milk. Two, lots of differences of intakes among calves is normal biological variation, not necessarily some aspect of mismanagement on our part.

For graphs showing intakes by age click HERE.

Reference: J. Jasper and D.M. Weary "Effects of ad libitum milk intake on dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 85:3054-3058.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorting Behavior of Weaned Dairy Calves

The investigators in a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Dairy Science (Costa, J.H.C. and others. "Effect of diet changes on sorting behavior of weaned dairy calves" 99:5635-5639) examined the kind of sorting behavior among weaned dairy calves.

The calves were fed a TMR with supplementary calf starter grain (pellets) until 65 days and sorting behavior was measured. Then after 65 days the supplementary grain was removed. At 70 days the sorting behavior was measured again.

While receiving TMR with the supplementary grain the calves sorted for long particles. They preferred the forage part of the TMR.

After the supplementary grain was removed and TMR fed only, the calves sorted for fine particles. They sorted for the grain in the TMR.

1. Calves are capable of sorting a TMR.

2. Calves adjust their TMR sorting behavior in response to the availability of supplementary grain.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Preventing Disease in Baby Dairy Calves

This is the title of a short summary of a webinar on DAIReXNET by Dr. Goef Smith from North Carolina State University.

The summary is

 or just click HERE.

A lot of the content will be familiar to those with experience in calf management. However, it's a nice review - is there something that this summary will remind us that is important. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Price Tag on Raising Replacements

The folks at the University of Wisconsin have updated their cost data on replacement heifer raising. The report appeared in the April 10, 2016 issue of Hoard's Dairman (p 237).

In summary:

Year                             2013    2015

Total Cost                $2,427   $2,510

Value of Calf                150        400

Total expense
not including cal     $2,277   $2,110

For more on expenses related to calf and heifer raising you may want to go to or click HERE.  Scroll to the bottom of the list of resources until you come to the heading REAL HERDS REAL HEIFERS.  

Some of the reports have data that are rather old but the methods used to assess expenses are still valid and can serve as guidelines for making your own estimates. 

The Penn State Extension web site has a spreadsheet for calculating the expense of heifer raising. or click HERE. Even if you do not use the entire spreadsheet there are plenty of ideas for items that contribute to heifer raising.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Action Steps for Calving Pen Management

In a brief note in the July issue of Hoard's Dairyman two folks from Michigan State shared these action steps to improve cow health with superior calving pen management. 

Their recommended steps are:

"1. Wear clean boots in the calving pen. Don't bring manure in with you. 

2. Check the bedding by kneeling in the pen. If it is wet, it needs to be removed and replaced.

3. Make sure that the first milking extra care is taken to clean teats very well. Cows have not been prepped for milking for approximately two months. It is important to get their teats and teat ends very clean and to remove any internal teat sealant.

4. Track fresh cow mastitis and set a goal to drive your efforts toward improved udder health." page 436 [emphasis added by me]

Note well the third item - in my experience this is the most common error in collecting clean colostrum - inadequate teat preparation.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Calf Heat Abatement Strategies

This is the title of a short article in the W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute Newsletter July 2016 issue.

To go to the article click HERE.

Article is short and contains practical ideas.

Enjoy with a tall glass of a cold drink of choice.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Surges in Calvings:
Muddle Through or Manage?

During two farm calls the last week in June the calf care person and I talked about the "surge" in expected calvings during the next four or five weeks. I shared with them the content in the attached resource.

Surges in Calvings: Respond Positively
Rather than “Muddling Through”

  • Breeding records allow us to accurately predict sustained surges in calvings.

  • These sustained surges in calvings can overload the calf care system creating sub-standard care.

  • It is better to manage overloads rather than just “muddle through” and have compromised calf care.

  • Choose between decreasing the calf population, increasing resources or some combination of the two.

Make use of breeding records to predict surges – no surprises!

A significant “surge” is not a few extra heifer calves on one day. It is a sustained, continuing heifer birth rate well above the annual average for the dairy.

These surges do not have to be a surprise. All breeding record systems allow us to predict quite reliably how many animals are due to calve at least six months in advance.

For example, one of my client’s dairy is set up with labor and facilities to provide newborn and preweaned calf care for about twenty calves per week.

Lowest month? Last year they projected 105 total calvings during February. Taking into account the use of sexed semen (2/3 calves are females) and a few calves born dead (eight percent DOA rate) they probably will have about sixteen calves per week. The actual number of live heifer calves during February was sixty or fifteen a week – a light month for the calf care crew.

Highest month? Confirmed pregnancies for this same farm projected 200 total calvings in July. When taking into account heifer:bull ratio with sexed semen used in heifers and mortality at birth the projected live heifer births were 125 July heifers.

Again, this farm’s calf care facilities and labor force are set up to provide quality calf care for about twenty heifer calves a week. What to do with the 130 live heifer calves actually born during July? How to deal with the extra eight to ten calves every week, week after week in July?

Everyone with experience with calf rearing knows about “system overload.” Sustained surges in calvings like the one described above deliver more calves than the calf enterprise is set up to handle. My on-farm experience suggests that the quality of calf care doesn’t suffer too much the first week of a surge.

By the second week if one is trying to just “muddle through” significant shortages appear in labor to care for newborn calves, calf housing, labor to feed calves, time to observe calves for sickness and to treat sick calves, labor to bed, vaccinate and dehorn calves. By the third and fourth week every bull calf born is cause for a celebration!

Once compromises in calf care take place starting in the calving pen throughout the whole enterprise, treatment rates for scours and pneumonia increase. Even more time is diverted from quality calf care to sick calves. Mortality and growth rates suffer.

Alternatives to managing surges positively rather than “muddling through.”

  1. Know your enemy – use the breeding records to project when the tsunami wave or “surge” is going to hit.

  1. Decide how to maintain quality calf care. Choose between decreasing the calf population, increasing resources or some combination of the two.

Decreasing the calf population

  • Get someone else to raise the extra calves. A few of my clients have a “trigger” threshold for the number of calves they raise on the home farm. When calf numbers go above this level the extra calves go to a heifer raiser.

  • Sell the extra calves. On one hand, one could just sell the “extra” calves as they are born. On the other hand, if one anticipates the “surge,” during the weeks before the expected surge the dairy could begin selling the calves with the lowest genetic potential. Computer-based programs will help identifying these calves.

Increasing resources

  • Expand the places to calve that are clean during appropriate seasons by going to outdoor paddocks. My client housed some of their close-up cows on grass paddocks in June to provide cleaner environments for calvings during the July surge.

  • When not enough time is available to properly collect, handle and store colostrum so that it can be delivered wholesome and clean, consider using potassium sorbate additive for colostrum to buy extra time for colostrum handling or consider using colostrum replacer as the first feeding after birth.

  • Cross-train one or more employees who normally do not work with calves to feed colostrum, dip navels and tag newborn calves, or feed milk, water or grain to preweaned calves.

  • Hire one or more temporary employees – this may be crucial in providing newborn care and to provide timely colostrum feeding.

  • Use unlikely spaces to house overflow calves. I have seen calves housed in wire pens set up in straw barns and machinery sheds or even under shade trees when the weather is favorable.

  • Contract with a veterinary service to maintain timely vaccinations and dehorning.

  • Review standard operating procedures for all aspects of calf care. If monitoring compliance for these SOP’s reveals problems, set up re-training before the “surge” so that calf care quality is optimal before the system is overloaded. [See, Calf Facts section, “Monitoring Compliance with Protocols Checklist.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Managing Protocol Drift

The July 2016 issue of Calving Ease, “Managing Protocol Drift,” your calf management newsletter is available by clicking HERE or paste this link in your browser

The highlights of this issue are:
·        What is “protocol drift?”
·        How can we find protocol drift?
  • ·         How can we reduce the pressures that create protocol drift? 

If you know of others who may be interested in this newsletter have them send an e-mail to with subscribe in the subject box. 

Also, you may want to Google  “Calves with Sam” blog for calf management ideas. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Calf Nutrition and Health

Just in case you may have missed this summary by my favorite agricultural journalist, Maureen Hanson, of recently published research on the topic of calf health and nutrition I have posted the link to it below:

On of the authors' conclusions:
"The calves fed more nutrients also had higher fecal scores, but when dry-matter percentage was calculated, there was no difference between feeding groups. They concluded that fecal scores alone are not an accurate gauge of intestinal health."