Friday, December 21, 2018

"Don't Rush the Transition"

This is the title of a summary sent out on December 3 by Abby Bauer, Associate Editor of Hoard's Dairyman, of talk by Dr. Bob James (Down Home Heifers) on managing the transition of dairy heifers from their initial milk-based ration to that of a ruminant. 

See the summary HERE. If in desperation due to a technical mix up the link does not work here is the full URL 

Dr. James does a good job emphasizing the need for a planned carefully executed plan to move these young heifers to full ruminant status. 


Monday, December 17, 2018

Tips for Keeping Your Milk Replacer Clean

The December issue of the calf management news letter is now posted online at To view, click HERE or paste the URL into your browser.

The summary: 

  • Keeping bacteria out of powder – cups, scoops, open bags.
  • People and containers can add more bacteria as we measure and mix.
  • Avoiding “hidden” sources of bacteria as we feed – routines and equipment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cold Weather Calf Care

You say, "Oh, no. Not another cold weather care newsletter!" Yup! Yet another one. Each one of these newsletters about cold weather care for young dairy calves has several unique ideas - so look through this one to see if you pick up an idea or two. 

The Iowa State Cooperative Extension Dairy staff member, Dr. Ryan Breuer, covers familiar ground and included several practical "How To" hints. 

The URL is

Or, you can click HERE.


Monday, December 3, 2018

What is all this fuss over nesting scores for calves 
during cold winter weather?

The principle of "nesting" in bedding for young dairy calves is creating a micro-environment. Workers at the University of Wisconsin pioneered in developing this concept. The short video featured here in this blog explains the concept and, with pictures, demonstrates the 3-value scale.

The URL is

or, try clicking HERE to go to the podcast video presentation.

I was fortunate when raising calves in the cold western New York climate to have a generous supply of long wheat straw for my calves. As early as the first of November in this climate I began to bed for #3 score bedding. 

Even on winter stormy days when there were just not enough hours to get even the basics done just before the afternoon milk feeding I tossed a couple of straw bales into my JD Gator. For the very youngest calves I shook out an extra flake or two of straw in their hutches. I slept better in my warm bed at home those nights knowing these baby girls had a "nest" to help keep them warm.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Webinar: "Winter Calf Care Essentials"
or, Baby, it's cold outside"

Just a reminder that a webinar is available on cold weather calf care essentials. Nothing astonishingly new here - just solid basics. I watched it today.

If you are new to calf care there is a wealth of information here. I suggest watching it twice to get the nitty-gritty details.

If you have an extensive background in calf care you will find it amazing how many little details have slipped back in your consciousness. I know I kept saying, "Oh, yeah. I know that but I have not thought of it recently."

Kathy Barrett, dairy extension specialist at Cornell's ProDairy program and Jerry Bertoldo, DVM narrate the webinar. Visuals are clear, to the point and hammer on the basics of cold weather management. 

Webinar runs about 55 minutes. I suggest you give it a try - I'll bet you will pick up at least one or two calf care tips that could improve your cold weather care. 

Here is the URL
or click HERE

At the site scroll down to October 26, 2016.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Importance of Rumen Development in Calves

Abby Bauer, Associate Editor at Hoard's Dairyman, wrote a useful summary of remarks made by Dr. Jud Heinrichs, Penn State Univ., at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Calf Care Workshop in early November, 2018. 

Dr. Heinrichs' emphasized the importance of developing the rumen early in the life of our dairy calves. He reminded the participants that by 3 to 4 months of age the rumen should be the main compartment of the digestive system. 

He said, "Grain intake is what does it."

He explained that it takes 21 to 28 days to grow the rumen once she starts eating starch (that is, calf starter grain). 

Let me note here that if on the average my calves begin regularly eating at least a small handful of grain daily at I need to add 21 to 28 days before pushing them off of milk.

Let's look at what this means for beginning to wean calves: 
Start regular grain intake at 14 days, start weaning process at 35 to 42 days.
Start regular grain intake at at 21 days, start weaning process at 42 to 49 days.

Experience has shown that higher milk/milk replacer feeding rates (more than 4 quarts daily) delays the time for calves regularly eating grain. When I was feeding 8 quarts daily (15% solids) most of my calves took about three weeks (21 days) before cleaning up a handful of grain every day. So, following Dr. Heinrichs' recommendation, on the average, I did not start cutting back on milk until 40-42 days.

When I stepped down their milk nearly all of my calves compensated by increasing calf starter grain consumption. 

Dr. Heinrichs observed that the time to introduce forages is after calves have a well developed rumen. My calves increased their grain intakes as milk was stepped down to the range of 4 to 6 pounds (1.8 - 2.7kg) daily. He suggested that when this level of grain intake is sustained introducing forages is appropriate - they will have a desire to balance their rumen pH and chew their cud. 

Thanks to Abby Bauer, Hoard's Dairyman, for reporting on this event.

Monday, November 26, 2018

What are the Chances of the Dairy 
Not having any calves with Cryptosporidia
or Giardia?

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
Fecal samples were collected from 2,323 calves at a mean of 21.9 days of age.

"Almost all operations had at least 1 calf positive for CryptosporidIium (94.2%) or Giardia (99.0%) and 84.6% of operations had calves that tested positive for both Cryptosporidium and Giardia

Overall, 43% of calves tested were positive for Cryptosporium and 30.4% were positive for Giardia.

What are the chances of my dairy not having any calves shedding Cryptosporidium or Giardia? Just about zero!

Best management practices to reduce the spread of these parasites focus on cleanliness. Clean calving facilities, clean place to call home, clean colostrum, clean milk.

Background info on these two parasites may be found at:
Crypto - click HERE
Giardia - click HERE

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Calf Management Webinars

This is a series of 8 webinars narrated by Dr. Bob James (owner of Down Home Heifers, formerly professor of dairy science, Virginia Tech Univ.). The webinars are about 60 minutes long in English.

To listen to any or all of the 8 webinars go to: or click HERE.

You have to register (i.e., name, address, etc) for the webinar series and then enjoy.

I especially liked the November 2 webinar "Managing the Calf Feeder System" where he reviewed basics of managing an automatic feeder program. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

When and How to Disbud Dairy Calves

This short summary may be useful for training staff for disbudding dairy calves. It is short and available in printable format at this location: or click HERE.

Key points:
Disbud Dairy Cows graphic 1
Disbudding calves younger than 6 weeks old

Providing pain relief: anaesthetics and NSAIDs]

Take home messages:
  • Removing horn buds from a calf is much easier and less painful than removing the horn after it attaches to the skull.
  • Aim to disbud calves before 2 days of age with paste, or calves 1 to 6 weeks old with a hot-iron disbudder.
  • Always use sedatives, local anaesthetics, and NSAIDs when disbudding to improve animal welfare level.
  • Develop a sedation and a pain management protocol or a calf care SOP with your local veterinarian.
  • Consider using polled genetics.

Reference: DGrinter, Lori and Others, "When and how to disbud dairy calves." Kentucky Dairy Notes November, 2018.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Aluminum-based aerosol bandages for 
Disbudded Calves

I asked one of vet tech's in our practice about using aluminum-based bandages when disbudding calves. "How long have we been doing this?" She said, "Forever."

Well, "forever" is a rather long time. In practical terms, she could not remember not spraying the aluminum-based product on calves after disbudding - that's probably close to a decade. 

I asked her why we do this. She said, "They heal better." How is that for an endorsement for a practice?

Well, now an enterprising group at Colorado State University actually measured "they heal better."

In scientific terms, when calves that received the  AL spray were compared to calves that received no spray they found:

1. AL-treated calves by 3 weeks post-disbudding had smaller wounds.
2. AL-treated calves were less likely to have delayed healing.

So, now we know with scientifically-valid facts that our vet practice protocol for disbudding calves that includes AL-based spray bandage improves healing. Good for us. 

Reference: Huebner, K.L. and Others, " Evaluation of horn bud wound healing following cautery disbudding of preweaned dairy calves treated with aluminum-based aerosol bandage." Journal of Dairy Science 100:3922-3929 2017

Friday, November 9, 2018

How long does antimicrobial resistance persist in calves
exposed to antimicrobials in either  milk or systemic therapy?

Seventy-five calves recruited from 15 MN dairy farms. Part of the calves were exposed to antimicrobials either through their milk diet or systemic treatment. Other calves received no exposure. Estimates of antimicrobial resistance of fecal E. coli for all calves were made at weeks 1, 3, 5 and 16 weeks of age.

When comparing calves exposed and not exposed to antimicrobials they found highest resistance levels among 1 and 3 week old calves with somewhat lower resistance levels by week 5. 

By week 16 the levels of antimicrobial resistance was virtually zero among all calves.

The authors conclude,
"These findings suggest that exposure to antimicrobials through milk diet or systemic therapy may result in a transient increase in resistance in fecal E. coli, but once the antimicrobial pressure is removed, suseptible E. coli are able to flourish again, resulting in an overall decrease in resistance." (p10,126)

Reference: Foutz, C.A. and Others, "Exposure to antimicrobials through the milk diet or systemic therapy is associated with a transient increase in antimicrobial resistance in fecl Escherichia coli of dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:10126-10141 November 2018

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Creating Microclimates for Calves

This is the title of a one-page article in the November issue of the Farm Report from the Miner Research Institute in Chazy, New York.

The Key Points:
1. Right after birth
2. During feeding
3. Starter
4. Bedding
5. An extra layer
6. Ventilation

The URL is
or you can try clicking HERE.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Colostrum Yields
Upper Mid-West USA

The 2018 survey included 22 dairies from Wisconsin and Minnesota with an average herd size of 1,173.

Yield was measured for first milking, all cows were milked within one hour after calving. Average yield was 9.1 pounds (4.1kg) with an average Brix reading of 25.6 percent.

Table 2. First-milking colostrum yield from Holstein cows

Yield first milking            Percent of Cows
      None                                    13.4%
      Less than 8 lbs(3.6kg)         36.4%
     8.4 lbs (3.8kg)                      27.7%
     Greater than 8.4lbs (3.8kg)  35.9

One of the conclusions of the author was that dairies need to freeze excess colostrum so that all calves, regardless of colostrum yield of dam, can have plenty of high quality colostrum soon after birth.

Reference: Litherland, Noah "Putting more 'Ma' in your maternity: The cow's perspective." Progressive Dairyman October 19, 2018 Issue 17, pp31-33.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ad Lib Milk Intake Results:
High variation among calves documented

One of the treatments in a calf growth study was feeding "ad lib" milk replacer. This was a rather unique approach to manual ad-lib feeding compared to using an automatic computer-controlled feeder.

They fed a 25-17 (protein:fat) milk replacer reconstituted to 14% solids. The MR was offered at 0600 and 1530. The "ad-lib treatment" was all the calves voluntarily consumed in a two-hour period at these two feedings. Any leftover MR was weighed and discarded. 

Thus, twice a day a calf had an opportunity to drink all the MR that she desired for a two-hour period. Note that the feeding intervals were quite uneven - daytime = 9.5 hours, overnight = 14.5 hours. 

Variation in intakes among calves was HUGE!

Day of study    Milk Intake (quarts/day)              Average Intake
                            Lowest   Highest                         quarts/day
                              Calf        Calf
       6                        3.0        8.3                                   6.6              
      20                       4.2      10.6                                   8.7
      35                       7.5      14.7                                 11.3

[Note: I converted their reported g/d intakes to quarts because most of us feed by volume.] 

 It is worth noting that blood serum total protein values for all these calves were close to 6.0 and health events (meaning sick calves) were low throughout the time calves were fed milk in the nursery. Thus, the variation of MR intakes among calves was not due to sickness. 

Reference: Dennis, T.S. and Others, "Effects of gradual and later weaning ages when feeding high milk replacer rates on growth, textured starter digestibility and behavior in Holstein calves from 0 to 4 months of age." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9863-9875 November 2018 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Calf Starter Grain Feeding:
The Forgotten and Neglected Step-Child

Providing easily fermented carbohydrates is essential for converting our newborn calves from a "monogastric" animal (like a piglet) to a ruminant (like a cow). When beef calves follow their dams on pasture they begin to eat tender, easily fermented slips of grass. But, what about our confinement-raised dairy calves?

We provide free-choice water and calf starter grain to support rumen development. With superior management we can encourage calves to consume this grain early in life. And, with our consistent management we can achieve daily intakes of 4 to 6 pounds by roughly 8 weeks of age.

Have you heard of this, "If anything can go wrong, it will." (Murphy's Law). What can possibly go wrong with the simple process of offering grain to a calf?

I observe that calf starter grain feeding is the forgotten and neglected step-child in calf management. 

The most common error I have seen on dairy farms is when workers are pail feeding grain they add fresh grain on top of spoiled grain. Just dump more grain on top of moldy stuff. Ugh! I see this most often in warm weather months that provide favorable mold growth conditions. Another environmental factor that encourages mold growth is placing the grain-feeding bucket next to the water bucket rather than separating them - handy for the calf to drool water into the grain. OUTCOME: depressed grain intake.

The next most common error I observe is making the initial grain feeding too large. For example, filling a 10-quart pail one-half full of grain - very first feeding. The consequence is to leave this half-full pail untouched for weeks - the neglected step-child - never checked for grain freshness, never replaced with fresh, clean grain. OUTCOME: delay in initial grain intake, depressed grain intake overall.

Finally, workers let fines build up in the bottom of buckets. Regardless of the quality of pellets either fed alone or incorporated into a textured feed, all pellets shed fines. They end up in the bottom of pails. They are the least palatable part of the concentrate ration (and, very subject to mold growth). By regularly dumping grain buckets this buildup is avoided. OUTCOME: depressed grain intake. 

I cannot find research that compared grain intakes in the first three or four weeks of life where the care givers either did or did not change the grain daily. With my own calves I began offering grain at 4 or 5 days of age and changed the grain daily (just a handful). I do not have any research data to support that practice -  I  only had a "seat-of-the-pants" sense that providing a handful of fresh, fines-free grain daily would encourage early grain intake. 

By the way, if you are caring for calves daily I may share that somewhere around 5 percent of my calves over the years were "grain-laggards." That is, they just did not want to get on the program of eating grain. Since it was easy for me to approach and hold a calf I even tried feeding them a handful of grain each time I came to their hutch to feed milk/water. I can't say that this practice was especially effective. Some of them had to be cut back to close to 0.5 pounds of milk powder (2 quarts of milk replacer mixed at 12.5% solids) daily before they finally got the message to eat grain.

So, try to avoid turning grain feeding into the neglected step-child. It's great to see these little heifers end their dependence on milk and become independent ruminants!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Risk of Passive Transfer Failure

Most of us have heard of the Q's related to colostrum management:

Recently we have added two more:
Quantify [refers to blood testing baby calves for evidence of antibody transfer]
sQueaky clean [refers to sampling and culturing colostrum for bacterial contamination]

The Quality:Quantity:Quickly trio are often used to assess risk of passive transfer failure.
Quality - less than or equal to 50g/L of IgG's 
Quantity - less than or equal to 10% of birth weight (volume)
Quickly - delayed first feeding more than 4 hours after birth

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They collected blood samples to assess effectiveness of passive transfer of immunity from colostrum to calves.

What did they find about failure of passive transfer and colostrum feeding?

Of the calves that failed, 47% had been fed poor quality colostrum!

Especially high risk was simply not feeding enough antibodies. That is easy to do - just use poor quality colostrum and feed too small a volume (e.g., only 5% birth weight or 2 quarts).

Quality assessment is sooooo easy. Less than 1 minute, instant results.

Click HERE for a short instruction sheet for using a Brix refractometer to estimate colostrum quality (antibody concentration). If the link does not work, here is the URL

Reference: Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operations: Part 2. Factors associated with colostrum quality and passive transfer status of dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9185-9198 October 2018.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Coccidiostats in Calf Starter Grain

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They asked:
"Do you have a coccidiostat in your calf starter grain?'

50% of the dairies said, "No."
That meant that only about 1/3rd of the calves in the study were receiving a coccidiostat in their calf starter grain.

As I discussed this finding with the veterinarians in our practice they expressed a lot of skepticism about the validity of this finding. In their on-farm experience most dairymen were poorly informed about the presence or absence of coccidiostats in their calf starter grain. Nearly none of them, according to our vets practicing in western New York State (average size dairy in our practice is around 300 cows), had a clue which coccidiostat even if they were aware of its presence. 

What is my take on this?

A best management practice is to periodically find and read ingredients on the tag on your calf stater grain (or, if bulk, read the delivery slip with the ingredient list).

Be informed. Talk with your herd veterinarian. Get his/her opinion about the coccidiostat's effectiveness among young calves on your dairy. 

Reference:Urie, N.J. and Others, " Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 1. Descriptive characteristics of preweaned heifer raising practices." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9168-9184.October, 2018.

Other resources:

Coccida: Our Friend Just Keeps on Giving

Monday, October 15, 2018


This informative article appears in the October 2018 issue of the Miner Institute Dairy Farm Report. The focus is on adapting the nutritional management program to accommodate colder weather conditions. 

Access is HERE or if the link does not work try this URL


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Why Would Milk Feeding Method for Calves
be Related to Rate of Growth?

In a US national study of dairy heifer growing practices we find these facts:

                                                    Calves by Average Daily Gain(%)
Feeding method               Poor (<1.4#/da)   Fair (1.4-1.8#/da)   Excellent (>1.8#/da) Total

Bucket/ pail only                     23                       37                           40                            100%
Bottle & Bucket                      32                       35                           33                             100%
Bottle only                              42                       36                           22                             100%

To put the rate of gain in perspective let's add that in order to double birth weight in 8 weeks (56 days) a 90# calf needs to gain 1.6 pounds a day. If her average gain is 1.8 pounds a day for 56 day she will gain a total of 101 pounds - that is really good growth.

So, why is the percent "Poor" so much higher for bottle feeding compared to the other two methods?

This research was not set up to answer this question. Let's do some guessing.

Many of my clients that feed with buckets have "step-up" milk feeding programs. They start calves at 4 quarts a day (divided into 2 feedings). As soon as practical they ramp up milk volume with a goal of being at 8 quarts a day by 10 15 days of age. Most of these operations also have a "step-down" weaning process rather than just quit milk feeding "cold-turkey."

What happens with bottle feeding? Well, the traditional milk feeding bottle has a 2 quart capacity. The calves get fed a bottle twice a day. That sets an upper limit of 4 quarts a day. What are the chances that these calves will be in the "poor" (<1.4#/da gain) category? I am guessing the odds are pretty high - especially if freezing temperatures prevail during the milk feeding period.

I am guessing that the equation "dry matter intake drives growth" applies here. Bucket feeding provides the flexibility to easily increase volume of milk fed well above 4 quarts a day. Few calf operations have the ability to feed with 2 and 3 and 4 quart bottles as the calf grows from birth to weaning.

By the way, season of the year [environmental temperature] was associated with rates of gain - hotter weather depressing gains, cooler weather showing higher gains. In calf hutches, during freezing weather with my intensive-fed calves average daily gain was usually between 1.9-2.1#/day. During the hottest summer months our average daily gain was usually between 1.6-1.8#/day.

My experience with using both bottles and buckets:

I fed my calves with both bottles and buckets. Bottle fed for about the first 4-5 days (until nursing strongly). Switch to bucket - lots of wet clothing and spilled milk along here - I had one Brown Swiss calf that never did drink out of bucket.

Ramp up milk replacer (15% solids, 28-20) volume to match appetite with the goal of 4 quarts twice daily. At 5 weeks any calf eating one pound  (454g) of calf starter grain (20% protein) every day lost her PM milk replacer feeding - she had to "starve" on only 4 quarts (3.8L) a day.

Most of these calves were consuming more than 4 (1.8kg) pounds of grain daily by the time they were 7 weeks old. Somewhere between 45 and 49 days they began receiving a small "handful" of hay in their grain bucket three times a week. Most were full weaned around 50-52 days. Moved to group pen (5 to a pen) around 60 to 65 day (depended a lot on pressure for empty hutches).

Reference: Shivley, C. B. and Others, " Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operations: Part 6. Factors associated with average daily gain in preweaned dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101, 9245-9258. October 2018

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Our Dairy Does Not Have
Cryptosporidum or Giardia!

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%

They did fecal testing to determine the presence of both Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

Do you really believe that your dairy does not have either of these parasites?

Guess again. Presence was - percentage of farms with parasite present:

94% Cryptosporium

99% Giardia

Or, on the basis of calves that were fecal sampled, percentage of calves with parasite present:

43% Cryptosporidium

30% Giardia

Important to note - these were not clinical cases of infection. These laboratory results were just presence/absence of parasites.

Reference: Urie, N.J. and Others "Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 3. Factors associated with Cryptosporidium and Giardia in preweaned dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9199-9213 October 2018.

If there are clinical symptoms here are a two basic resources on these parasites.

  • click  HERE for basic resource on Cryptosporidium - or this is the URL

  • click HERE for basic resource on Girardia - or this is the URL

Monday, October 8, 2018

Do Everything Right and Still Get Failures!
Colostrum Management

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
They collected information on colostrum management:
  • Quality of colostrum fed
  • Quickly - time after birth when colostrum fed
  • Quantity of colostrum fed
What did they find?

  • When calves received excellent management (high quality, fed quickly, volume of 10% or more birth weight) - still 14% still had passive transfer failure (<10g/L).
So, how come this finding?
  1. One possibility is that the subject farms lied - they reported what the farm protocol was rather than what actually was being done. But, there were many farms and many calves - so maybe not such a good explanation for 14% PTF.
  2. A second possibility is sampling and testing error. Only one blood sample was taken from each calf with considerable variation in days between first colostrum feeding and when the blood was drawn. This could account for some of the failures but still 14% is lot to attribute to errors.
  3. A third possibility is genetic variation. Some calves have genetically determined ability to absorb antibodies very efficiently while others are at the other end of the spectrum - poor absorption ability. I not sure how I would go about measuring this. But, given natural variation on all other traits this might be a viable alternative. 
Where do I come down on this question?

While the first and second reasons might account for one or two percent of PTF it is my opinion (note lack of scientific evidence) that genetic variation could play a big role here.

On one hand, as calf care person it is not reasonable to beat ourselves up over wide variation among calves in passive transfer of immunity.

On the other hand, I have a client (130 calves on milk) whose colostrum feeding protocol includes feeding only Brix 23 or higher colostrum as first feeding, nearly all calves receive first feeding before 4 hours after birth and the calves receive 4 quarts at birth, 2 more quarts 6 hours later and another 2 quarts 6 hours after that. Their PTF rate last month (<5.0 g/L) was 5% with an average BSTP of 6.4 g/L.

Reference: Shivley, C.B. and Others "Preweaned heifer management on US dairy operatons: Part 2 Factors associated with colostrum quality and passive transfer status of dairy heifer calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9185-9198 October 2018.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Is "Waste Milk" Good for Calves?

The October issue of the calf management newsletter is now posted at

The content summary is:
  • What is “Waste Milk?”
  • Quality characteristics of nonsaleable milk
  • Strategies for getting the most growth from nonsaleable milk feeding
  • Special considerations for weaning when feeding nonsaleable milk

You can access the newsletter, just click HERE or if that does not work paste this URL in your browser

Monday, October 1, 2018

Watch Out for Poor Quality Colostrum

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:
  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%

They evaluated colostrum fed to calves. Using the threshold of 50g/L IgG based on 2,263 individual colostrum samples they found that 23 percent of the samples failed. 

That same information stated another way, nearly one calf out of four was fed inferior quality colostrum! I guess we should not be surprised to learn that so many preweaned calves have scours and pneumonia.

Based on the number of dairy operations, only 17% of the 104 operation had 90 percent of their colostrum testing at or above 50g/L. Ten percent of the farms (about 11) did not have even 1 sample that was acceptable (at or above 50g/L). Did that fact hit home for you? All of the calves on these farms (10% of the total 104 operations) were fed inferior quality colostrum.

Test - don't Guess! 

If you are not already evaluating your colostrum quality before using it for first feeding of newborn calves now is the time to make the change. 

Click HERE to go to a guide for using a Brix refractometer to assess colostrum quality. [If the link does not work here is the URL] Both optical and digital refractometers are available for on-farm use. In this study of 104 dairies only 17% were using a Brix refractometer to evaluate colostrum quality.

Note that other colostrum resources are at - just scroll down to the word colostrum.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Navel Dipping

In 2014 the National Animal Health Monitoring System completed a calf study involving 104 dairy operations in 13 states. This was an 18-month longitudinal study involving 2,545 heifer calves. Holstein calves made up 89% of the population. By herd size, the study included:

  • Small (30-99cows)            20%
  • Medium (100-499 cows)   32%
  • Large (500+ cows)            48%
What did they out about navel dipping? Seventy-nine percent of the enrolled calves had navels dipped. 

What happened to the other 21% of the calves?

Of the 103 operations reporting 21 of them never dipped navels. Never, nada, not at all. 

Is it profitable not to dip navels? There are good data to say, "No."

For a resource, "Dollars and Cents: Navel Dipping" click HERE.
[URL is]

There is plenty of data to show that overall the rate of omphalitis (infected navels) is lower on dairy operations that routinely dip navels at birth. This probably based on the fact that overall most operations have calving facilities and calf housing that expose calves to high levels of bacteria - high enough to cause navel infections.

At our 1,200 cow operation almost all the calves had navels dipped in the calving pen (tincture of iodine) and then were redipped after being moved into a hutch. We had omphalitis treatment rate of well under one percent - and I did routinely check navels between 10 and 14 days to be sure we were not missing infections. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Salmonella is hard to avoid

A research project was set up to to determine if pasteurization of nonsaleable waste milk influences fecal Salmonella concentrations and prevalence.

All the data came from one large dairy in southwest USA. They collected 1,117 fecal samples and found that 69% of the sample positive for Salmonella.

The percentage positive was the same for calves fed either non-pasteurized nonsaleable milk and pasteurized nonsaleable milk.

Nonsaleable milk samples were collected and cultured (6 of each pasteurized and non-pasteurized). Only one non-pasteurize sample was culture positive for Salmonella.

The authors speculate that Salmonella in the dairy environment was a plausible vector of transmission since the milk regardless of treatment was unlikely to the source of infection. 

I conclude that we must depend on control strategies other than pasteurizing our nonsaleable milk to lower our Salmonella infection rates. 

A case study of a Salmonella outbreak at a calf-raising facility highlighted two prevention:control stratgies.

(1) Monitor passive transfer immunity - in this case study calves with blood serum total protein levels less than 5.0 had twice the mortality rate as those with levels of 5.0 and higher (16% compared to 8%).

(2) "Do not depend on footbaths to kill pathogens, especially Salmonella. It was cultured from multiple footbaths on this raising unit during the outbreak."They found that "providing separate boots, clothing, and rubber gloves to be worn in each calf barn and adhering to traffic flow patterns that do not allow cross-contamination of multiple areas will likely be more effective for managing the risk associated with epidemic salmonellosis."

References: Edrington, T. S. and Others "Effect of waste milk pasteurization on fecal shedding of Salmonella in preweaned calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9266-9274 October 2018.
Gardner, C.E. and Others "Case Report - Management of an outbreak of salmonellosis on a commercial calf raising unit." The Bovine Practitioner 38:2 pp 147-154. June 2004.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Blood Serum Total Protein to
Evaluate Passive Transfer of Immunity

Researchers at the University of Guelph (Ontario) used a clinical refractometer with blood serum to assess passive transfer of immunity among calves delivered to a veal operation.

They had 149 Holstein calves in the population. They drew blood on arrival; samples were allowed to clot and by gravity separate the blood serum. Then a digital refractometer was used to read the blood serum total protein (BSTP).

They had a laboratory use the slower and more expensive test (radial immunodiffusion or RID) to arrive at "gold standard" values on the same blood samples - these were compared to the BSTP values.

The match between the values was good. In scientific terms, there were low levels of false negative and false positive values when RID numbers were compared with BSTP numbers. 

Thus, they confirmed once more that blood sampling during the first week of life is an effective way to monitor the overall effectiveness of the colostrum management program on a dairy. 

In an earlier report the same authors compared BSTP values for calves that died with surviving partner calves that arrive the same day from the same source. Again, calves that died had significantly lower BSTP than their partner calves that survived.  

At one of my calf-raising clients several years ago we compared BSTP for a year for calves that died and those that lived. He tested all calves at intake for BSTP. His overall rate of passive transfer failure was low - about 5% below 5.0. His mortality rate was slightly above 5%. However, we found that of the calves that died roughly 75% had passive transfer failure. Of course this was just one operation and one year so it's hard to generalize these findings to other farms. 

References: Renaud, D. L. and Others "Short Communication: Validation of methods for practically evaluating failed passive transfer of immunity in calves arriving at a veal facility." Journal of Dairy Science 101:9516-9520 October 2018.
Renaud, D.L and Others, "Clinical and metabolic indicators associated with early mortality at a milk-fed veal facility: A prospective case-control study." Journal of Dairy Science 101:2669-2678 2018.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Moving Calves into an Auto Feeder Pen

Everyone seems to agree that calves should only be moved into an auto feeder pen when they have a strong suckling reflex.

But, individual dairy circumstances seem to lead to a lot of variation. We know that we want calves nursing well from a bottle. After that is accomplished, how much time is available to train calves to drink from the auto nipple?

So, here are some reflections from my recent experiences.

One client moves calves in the morning when they would normally be fed by bottle. A calf care person is available to stay in the pen to be sure each calf goes into the feeding station. The idea is combine a hungry calf with an opportunity to suckle. They guess that at least half of the calves do not require even a second time being guided to the nipple - success!

Another client has their individual calf pens in the same large building as the auto feeder pens. As soon as a calf is aggressively nursing on a bottle the next feeding time she is guided to a "teaching station." This station is an extra auto feeder stall along one outside wall of the utility building. The calf is guided to the nipple, the calf care person manually triggers milk flow and, (we hope) presto, the calf nurses. As soon as the calf seems to have adopted robust nursing behavior she is moved over into the group pen that is being filled at that time. (all-in, all-out pen management) In general, nearly all calves move into the auto pens before 7 days old. However, they experience quite a wide age range in moving to the auto feeder pens with a few calves moving as early as 4 days and others taking as long a 2 weeks. As an aside, if they have a calf with severe scours she is held back in an individual pen and bottle fed along with electrolytes until she shows signs of recovery.

Based on calving rates and numbers planned per pen the length of time to fill a pen may vary very widely from dairy to dairy. One of my largest clients aims for a pen size between 15 and 20 and fills a new pen every 3 to 4 days - very narrow age range. Another much smaller dairy puts all the calves born over 2 weeks in one pen in order to limit the age range - over a year they average about 12 -15 calves per pen. Both dairies hand feed for 4 to 5 days before moving into the group pens.

Another dairy with two "all in all out" auto feeder pens has a 14-day hand feeding protocol for all calves. This protocol avoids all individual decision making - same routine for all calves. regardless of nursing readiness. The reasoning is that by 14 days most of the diarrhea episodes will have occurred in individual pens limiting transmission of disease. My observation is that most of the diarrhea is related to cryptosporidiosis (a parasite) and was going to occur regardless of the housing environment. Given that nearly all calves have scours between 7 and 10 days and on this dairy calf care personnel skills are limited, maybe it is best to use individual housing to make it easy to identify scouring calves eligible for electrolyte feeding. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

 Not Enough Colostrum?
Test! Adjust Feeding Volume by Quality.

On Friday, August 10th, I posted "Stretching Your Supply of High Quality Colostrum." This suggested that feeding a somewhat lower volume of high quality colostrum may give adequate levels of circulating antibodies for newborn calves. This post expands on this idea. 

Research completed this past  year at Penn State University suggests a way to make a limited supply of colostrum go farther when feeding newborn calves. Test and adjust volume?

 They divided their colostrum supply into three categories: high, medium or low. 
Measuring actual antibodies (IgG) they found these quality differences:
high         92.5 mg/ml
medium   59.4 mg/ml
low          48.0 mg/ml

They fed the calves and tested blood 24 hours later.
The blood serum total protein levels went up as colostrum quality went up - no big surprise.
high          24.8 mg/ml
medium    22.2 mg/ml
low           18.0 mg/ml

Now, of special interest, was the efficiency of absorption of the antibodies fed.
When they compared the absorption results from calves fed the medium and  high quality colostrum they found the calves had absorbed about the same amount of antibodies regardless of  the volume of antibodies fed.

The calves fed medium quality colostrum had an efficiency of absorption of 38 percent while calves fed the high quality colostrum had a lower level of efficiency - only 25 percent. 

The authors suggest that "there may be an  upper limit to amount of IgG absorption in a given time period." (p277)

Bottom Line? If colostrum supply is low, using a smaller volume (for example, 3 quarts) of high quality colostrum for first feeding may work as well as a larger volume (for example, 4 quarts) of medium quality colostrum.

Reference: Saldana, S. L. and Others, "Effects of difference heating time of high, mediumj and low quality colostrum on IgG absorption in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 101, Supplement #2, p 277 #T175, 2018.