Monday, February 27, 2017

Hard Calvings and Dystocia Calves

I tried to use an Internet link in one of my resources in the library. It did not work. While trying to fix this non-working link I discovered that there was a whole library of resources on calving and calf care at my finger tips. 

So, here it is:

click HERE to go directly to the site.
type in

When you arrive there you will find the Table of Contents for the entire site including these major headings:

1. Dystocia
2. Calf delivery
3. Post-calving care of the calf - includes specific monitoring points with thresholds for each of the six points.
4. Post-calving care of the dam

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Is the Colostrum Warm Enough to Feed?

Ideal feeding temperature for feeding colostrum? Just above calf body temperature. If folks want a number I tell them 103F (39C).

So, what's a practical way to estimate this temperature? Sure, the old-time method of using the inside of your wrist just like Mom did with a baby bottle.

How about a more practical, quick way to use on-farm?

The calving barn supervisor at Bos Dairy in Indiana offers this suggestion. Don’t guess if the colostrum is correct feeding temperature. 

Just push a rapid-read dial thermometer through the vent hole in a nursing nipple on the bottle containing the colostrum. Set the bottle into warm water. It’s easy to see when the colostrum is up to calf-body temperature.

To make things even easier and reduce guessing, use a tag pen to make a mark on the thermometer dial showing the correct feeding temperature. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Colostrum Bacteria Control
(Up-dated February, 2017)

I spent time today checking to see that the Internet links are working on the back issues of the calf management newsletter. That is when I came to this issue, Colostrum Bacteria Control.

The basic principles I outlined in this issue are still as valid in February, 2017 as they were when I wrote about them initially in December, 2007.

I up-dated the links - of special interest is the short article on bacteria in milk - you can find this at or click HERE.

The key points in the article that apply to colostrum as well are:

1. Microbial contamination from within the udder

2. Microbial contamination from the exterior of the udder

3. Influences of equipment cleaning and sanitizing procedures

4. Milk storage temperature and time

Enjoy this great little "checklist" on how bacteria get into and grow in colostrum.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Low Cost Ways to Improve Calf Care

I was asked a question at a meeting of dairy producers.

"I enjoyed your presentation. But, what are some low-cost ways to improve calf care?"

So, we ticked off several management-based practices that would not require little or no capital investment in facilities or purchase of equipment.

Here is the short list: 

Dip umbilical cords on newborn calves. Click HERE for a short economic analysis of the profitability of navel dipping. Click HERE for "Navel dipping - advantages and alternatives."

Milk fresh cows soon after milking. At 10 hours post calving 27 percent of initial antibodies are gone. The best quality colostrum is collected as soon as practical post-calving.

Check colostrum quality before feeding to newborn calves. Go to and select "Colostrum: Testing using a Brix refractometer."  Click HERE for a quick review of variations in quality and quantity among cows.

Use human standards of cleanliness when managing colostrum. At see "Colostrum: Reducing coliform counts - a check list." Also, click HERE for a checklist to evaluate your sanitation procedures.

Feed colostrum to a newborn calf as soon as practical after birth. 

Feed enough good quality colostrum to newborn calves. By 4 weeks one estimate is a loss of $48 per calf by not feeding enough good quality colostrum  

Check colostrum management effectiveness by measuring immunity levels. See, select "Testing for Passive Immunity" or click HERE.

Are any of these alternatives viable ones you could use to upgrade your calf care?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Special Care for the Dystocia Calf

I updated several older issues of the calf management newsletter this morning. One of them had the title above - special care for the dystocia calf.

The summary is:
  • Calving difficulty, sometimes called dystocia, affects between 13 to 15 % of Holstein calves.
  • 48-hour survival rates drop drastically for calves when deliveries require 2 or more persons, mechanical or surgical intervention compared to unassisted births.
  • 120-day survival rates for calves when deliveries require 2 or more persons, mechanical or surgical intervention are 70 % less than unassisted births.
  • Treatment rates are higher for dystocia calves (scours 17%, pneumonia 70%) compared to calves experiencing unassisted births.
  • Providing special care, both in the first few hours and first two weeks, can cut both death losses and treatments for scours and/or pneumonia.
If you never saw this issue or don't remember (it was back in January, 2013) you may enjoy reviewing these low-cost recommendations that promise significant returns. 

Click HERE to select this issue. Other issues are at in the Resources section under Calf Management Newsletter.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Do All Preweaned Calves Have the Same
Pattern of Eating Concentrates?
(aka Calf Starter Grain)

I was searching today for information on automatic calf feeders and weaning. I ran across at bit of information that shows how much preweaned calves vary  in their patterns of consuming concentrates (calf starter grain).

The method of measuring concentrate intake was simply a computer-controlled concentrate feeder that recorded weights of grain eaten at every meal by every preweaned calf.

One treatment in the research trial was to decrease the amount of milk fed based on the volume of concentrate eaten. They set these thresholds for initiating decreases in milk fed:
     First step:    calves eat 200g/d (0.4 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 12 L to 9 L per day.
     Second step: calves eat 600g/d (1.3 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 9 L to 6 L per day.
     Third step:     calves eat 1,000g/d (2.2 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 6 L to 3 L per day. 
    Fourth step:    calves eat 1,400g/d (3.1 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 3 L to 0 L per day.

Now here is the interesting part!

The age at the first step down (from 12 L to 9 L per day) averaged 55 days. The full range was from 23 to 82 days.  Wow! That said, two-thirds of the calves fell in the range of 35 to 75 days - that's still a pretty wide spread.

What do I think these data have to do with day-to-day calf management?

1. If the goals of a weaning program is to minimize post-weaning illness and to maintain rates of daily gains then we should take into account the wide variation among calves in their willingness or ability to each concentrates. When weaning for calves fed a maximum of 12 L per day was tied to solid feed intake the earliest calves in this research trial were fully weaned at 56 days and the latest were fully weaned at 91 days.

2. Some provision may be needed for the "late weaners." When I was raising calves I called them the "left-back" calves. Eighty or ninety percent of my calves moved out of my hutches at 56 to 63 days - but there were those slow weaners that were "left-back." I had a row of hutches where I could stick these "left-back" calves for a week or two until their calf starter grain intakes improved enough to be moved into a transition pen with the next batch of calves. 

3. Lock-Step weaning (all the calves are weaned at the same age) may have hidden costs. The laggards (the ones that are slow to increase their concentrate intake) may need to be treated at a rate much higher than the "average" calves. And, if a weaned pen has several laggards that get sick they may infect the entire pen.

4. What holds us back from weaning based on starter intake? In my experience the major negative factor is monitoring calf starter grain or concentrate intakes. It takes little skill and effort to just dump some grain into a feeding pail (especially when it is kept one-half or two-thirds full). Compare this to frequent dumping of grain pails (even daily during hot humid summer months) and feeding a volume just a little bit greater than daily intakes.

This latter approach assumes the skill and  interest on the calf care person to actually observe individual calf intakes. Well, I actually fed about the same amount of grain to entire groups of calves based on age only watching for the exceptions to the rule. Probably one calf out of  eight or ten needed special attention - I usually flagged their pen to remind myself and others that this calf was an exception on grain feeding. 

Reference: Passille, A. M. and J. Rushen, "Using automatic feeders to wean calves fed large amount of milk according to their ability to eat solid feed." Journal of Dairy Science 99:3578-3583 May 2016.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Links to Calf Management Information

I just finished posting this new resource in the Calf Management Library. At this location the hyperlinks will work.

Note the link to AHDB resources in UK. I copied the text below. The links in this text do NOT work.

Links to Calf Management Information

We love to promote our own website, For a calf management library of resources click HERE or type in this address:
There are 158 (mostly 2-pages long) resources on many, many calf management topics listed in alphabetical order by title. There is also a search box in upper right hand corner if you only know a topic. For example, the most cost effective way to clean nursing bottles and tube feeders.

Also, the most recent 5 years of the calf management newsletter, Calving Ease, are posted as “Calf Management Newsletter.” A recent issue, June 2016 Preventing Navel Infections (click HERE or type in this address:

If you like to BLOG, you can go to the “Calves with Sam” blog on calf management ideas by clicking HERE or typing in this address:

Dr. Jim Quigley maintains a calf management library of 191 resources notes at He lists by topic (colostrum, weaning, calf starters) and has a search box to find notes by subject.

The University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine supports a dairy calf resource site that includes helpful checklists and observation forms. Click HERE or type in this address: A good example is their “Calf Health Scoring Chart” that I use on all my farm visits.

Other sites? Usually ones from universities and are non-commercial and have reasonably unbiased reports. From United Kingdom, click HERE for another perspective on calf management.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Salmonella is Always a Challenge

This calf management newsletter was published back in February 2013. I wrote it after consulting with a dairy having a Salmonella outbreak. Click HERE to access this issue. Or, go to, and under Resources select calf management newsletter, click on Feb 2013.

The content supplements that of the most recent calf management newsletter (February, 2017). It includes several ideas not mentioned in the most recent letter. 

The bullet points of this letter are:
  • Prevention works! Maximize resistance through excellent colostrum management and well-fed calves.
  • Prevention works! Minimize exposure to salmonella at birth, in feed, housing and care givers.
  • Consistent care encourages good gut motility and discourages salmonella attachment in the gut.
  • All-in, all-out housing helps break infection cycles.
Let's all hope these resources remain of just an academic interest. Only once did I have do deal with a full-blow Salmonella outbreak. Once was more than enough. 
Diagnosis: Salmonella dublin
What do we do next?

This is the title of the February issue of Sam's calf management newsletter. To access this issue click HERE or go to, at the Resources menu choose calf management newsletter and click on the February 2017 letter.

The bullet points are:
·       What is the nature of this pathogen and salmonellosis?
·       Control: Minimize exposure, maximize immunity.
    ·       Remember: People can get infected, too.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Brix Refractometer to Assess Colostrum Quality

An assessment of colostrum quality was done on 240/255 samples from 30 different dairy farms. 

The assessment methods were:
  • digital Brix refractometer
  • opitical Brix refractometer
  • radial immunodifusion (RID) (laboratory method - used as reference standard)
  • transmission infared spectroscopic
Of special interest to me was the comparison of the laboratory test (think of this as the "gold standard") and the two Brix methods.

The optimal cut off value for both the optical and digital Brix refractometers was 23% - pretty much as I expected from previous work. Recall that we are trying to exclude poor quality colostrum from the first feeding of newborn calves. With the optical and digital Brix refactometers at 23% this work reported correctly selecting "good" colostrum 80 percent of the time.

Compared to the laboratory test (RID) the Brix refractometer readings agreed 77 percent of the time. It was of interest to me to see that the two Brix methods had readings that agreed 98 percent of the time. 

Reference: Elsohaby, I and Others, "Rapid assessment of bovine colostrum quality: How reliable are transmission infared spectroscopy and digital and optial refractometers?" Journal of Dairy Science 100:1427--1435.