Monday, July 30, 2018

Which Calf Gets How Much?

Many of us feed more milk as calves progress from newborn to weaning age. Decreasing amounts of milk are often fed as calves approach full weaning. 

With a computer-controlled automatic feeder the changes in volume fed usually are set in the machine with one schedule for all calves. Periodically the calf care person may review these amounts. However, day-to-day management does not involve these settings.

With these automatic feeders it is essential to monitor drinking behavior of calves (amounts consumed, drinking rates, day-to-day variation).

With manual feeding we may have a bottle or bucket feeding program. I often see calves progress from a base feeding rate to a greater volume. And, at weaning time volumes are cut back. These different feeding rates need to apply consistently to the correct calves. 

Which calf gets how much?

Some dairies use a dry-erase white board in the utility room. They post the calf numbers to be fed each volume. 

Some dairies use a daily feed sheet (paper) that goes to the barn or hutches.

How about this one? Starting with this calf the rest of this row is fed milk once a day. 
They used a discarded bucket lid, tag marker pen and a clip. This was a really cold day!

On this dairy I expected to find a sign with the message in both English and Spanish.

I was surprised to find that the person making the sign assumed that all the calf care persons could read both languages. Nevertheless, the day I visited these calves did not receive any milk.

A native Spanish speaker wrote this one and the supervisor added "o 1 Qrt" to make it bilingual.

The principles are simple:
1. Make the message short and simple.
2. Use the calf care person's language.
3. Make signs easy to move from row to row, from pen to pen, or calf to calf.
4. Make signs durable and weather proof.
5. Inexpensive is nice, too.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Good Communication = Quality Calf Care

Reliable person-to-person communication is essential for quality calf care.

If #782 only drank ½ her milk this afternoon she needs to be watched tomorrow morning. If it was just a onetime event, fine. If she does not finish her milk two feedings in a row I need to work with her to find out what is going wrong. HOWEVER, if I do only afternoon feeding and another person does morning feedings is #782’s abnormal behavior being passed between us?

All three of the pictures below show efforts to get key information from one caregiver to another.

Below, the afternoon feeder observed slow drinking and placed a yellow “warning” tag on the hutch. The morning feeder will know to give extra attention to this calf’s drinking speed and amount consumed.

The list of the dry-erase board in the picture below tells the afternoon feeder about problem drinkers – providing more information than just a yellow clip.

In the picture below note two white clips. This calf has not finished her milk for two feedings in a row – extra care is needed.

If you have a favorite tip of this nature, send me a picture at 585-356-0769 so I can post a collection of them. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Did we feed colostrum? Yes, No, Maybe?

As soon as a dairy gets large enough to have more than one person feeding colostrum to newborn calves this question comes up: "Did we feed colostrum? Yes, No, Maybe?

One of my client dairies uses these paint sticks as their record keeping method.

First feeding is one orange mark on forehead of newborn calf.
Second feeding is one blue mark on forehead of same newborn calf. 
Third feeding is on pink mark on forehead of same newborn calf. 

The calf carries her colostrum feeding history with her everywhere she goes - no need to check paperwork to know if she needs another feeding. 

The dairy also records the volume fed and feeding time on a dry-erase board in the utility room along with the initials of  person feeding colostrum. They take a picture of the board once a day so no paper is generated. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Why is it so wet in here?

Put  yourself in a calf barn with 100 preweaned calves between birth and weaning. It is summer. Curtains are wide open and doors on both ends are open, too.

Not much air moving today. Humidity in the calf barn seems pretty high. Floors are not drying out. Why is it so wet in here? Well, "Hello,  Don't be surprised!" Calves generate waste water and lots of it. 

Calves release about 0.2 pounds (91gm) of moisture per 100 pounds (45kg) body weight per hour into their environment via urine, feces and respiration. For example, the 100 calves in this barn averaging around 150 pounds (68kg) release between 80 and 90 gallons (303-341L) of water daily. 

Only by providing adequate fresh airflow can airborne moisture be removed and the humidity brought down to a level at which pathogens cannot survive.  Reducing noxious gases depends on airflow rates, as well.

When the ratio of calves to area open for natural ventilation is low we can get away without mechanical ventilation most of the time. The barn I had in mind originally had four rows of calves the length of the barn separated by two work alleys. With only natural ventilation most days, even with the curtains open, the ratio of calves to opening for ventilation was too high to exhaust the excessively humid air.

This calf barn was improved by adding tunnel ventilation (a row of large fans all across one end) so that even on a still day I could feel a draft from the open end toward the exhaust fans. 

What's the take home message? Calves generate a lot of waste water. Provide enough air exchange to get rid of it. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

How Cold is it Really in your Refrigerator?

Most of our vaccines suggest 40F (4C) as the most desirable temperature for storage. This temperature works very well for cooling and storing colostrum as well.

It's summer here in western New York State. The last two days we have peaked above 90F (33C). How well is the tired refrigerator doing in the utility room at the dairy?

Thermometers are quite inexpensive. Vaccines are expensive. Most of the vaccines we stock here at Attica Vet list 7C (45F) as the maximum recommended storage temperature in order to maintain the quality of the product.

This is a simple inexpensive [this one was free from a farm store] way to keep track of storage temperature inside the refrigerator. This one is in a good location toward the rear and upright. I like to see a nice big one like this that is easy to read - just a glance at it shows that all is well.

I have to admit that in our two vaccine storage refrigerators here at the vet clinic it is difficult to read the thermometers. In one the thermometer lies flat on a shelf - I had to pick it up this morning in order to read it. In the other the thermometer is taped to the inside wall. In order to read it I to lean into the refrig and crick my neck to see the scale.

If your refrigerator is having a hard time keeping the inside temperature below 45F remember to check the cooling coils - they need to be free of dust, dirt and trash for good air circulation.

Also, remember that the temperature in the door compartments can be substantially above that on the shelving. This suggests that vaccines are best kept on shelves in the body of the refrigerator - NOT in the door shelving. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Heat Stress in Dairy Calves

Penn State Extension has a well-written resource on this topic. This is a brief summary.

For a comprehensive review on heat stress in dairy calves use your phone or computer to enter this URL or if you are reading this on one of those just click HERE. This Penn State resource has this outline:
·         Introduction
·         How hot is too  hot?
·         Strategies to help calves beat the heat
o   Provide shade
o   Move more air
o   Offer plenty of water
o   Keep grain fresh
o   Consider inorganic bedding
o   Work calves in the morning
o   Consider feeding more milk replacer

Consider feeding more milk replacer! [Sam's commentary on this strategy]

If you are currently feeding two quarts of either milk or milk replacer twice daily your calves are being shortchanged! Dealing with heat stress uses up lots of energy. We do not have hard numbers to tell us exactly how much more to milk/milk replacer to feed.

Nevertheless, boosting their energy intake through milk/milk replacer can be a workable way to get more groceries into young calves. Practical ways to do this include:
·         Increasing volume of whole milk fed – move up 1 quart per feeding is an example.
·         For milk replacer, increase volume fed OR
·         For milk replacer, move up from 8 ounces of powder makes 2 quarts (12% solids) to 10 ounces makes 2 quarts (15% solids)

If, however, every time you try to increase the volume fed you observe an increase in treatable scours, then you need to check out this resource in our calf management resource library – “Feeding more milk without scours.” Click HERE if you are reading this on your phone or computer or enter this URL

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Weaning Readiness: Is it the daily calf starter intake level or the total amount of calf starter consumed?

A research team measured efficiency of digestion of calf starter grain (CSG) post-weaning. Efficiency of digestion was used as a measure of weaning readiness. Daily calf starter intakes as well as total amounts of starter consumed up to weaning were recorded.

The calves varied widely on daily calf starter intake levels beginning at three weeks of age - this was related directly to the volume of milk replacer (MR) consumed - one-half of the calves received about 1.5 lbs. of replacer powder daily while the other half was fed 2.4 lbs. daily.

These two different milk replacer feeding rates resulted in the moderate MR calves averaging 1.8# daily calf starter eaten and high MR calves consuming only 0.5#/day at day 42 when their milk replacer rations were cut in half. Then, they were both weaned at 49 days regardless of daily calf stater intake level.

By day 56 calf starter intakes accelerated up to 4.2#/day and 3.5#/day respectively for moderate MR and high MR feeding groups.

So, what did the efficiency of digestion numbers look like?

Calves that began eating calf starter grain (CSG) at a younger age and ate more total CSG had slightly higher levels of digestive efficiency at 8 weeks of age. [CSG was in pelleted form]

As I read the data reported in the research article it looks like both length of time eating CSG and total volume consumed contribute to desirable feed conversion rates in our weaned calves.

In practical terms, if larger volumes of milk/milk replacer are fed extra care needs to be taken to ease these calves into 100% dependence on CSG at weaning time. A good three weeks of at least 0.5#/day CSG may be a workable rule of thumb to observe before withdrawing all milk. Cutting the milk ration in half around 35 days nearly always results in an accelerated rate of CSG intake. These data suggest a full week at 3.5 - 4.5#/day CSG consumption is desirable at the time of full milk withdrawal.

Just a note from a recent experience, be sure to check that CSG contains some kind of coccidiostat - saving money by leaving it out of a CSG is ill advised. Weaning is always a stressful time and coccidia always take advantage of stress events to hammer our transition heifers.

Remember, also, at weaning to introduce hay slowly over a period of 2 or more weeks in order to allow time for the rumen microbial population to multiply enough to effectively digest this fiber. Abrupt introduction of "free-choice" hay is associated with weight loss, pneumonia outbreaks and coccidiosis.

Reference: Quigley, J.D. and Others, " Effects of feeding milk replacer at 2 rates with pelleted, low starch or texturized, high-starch starters on calf performance and digestion." Journal of Dairy Science 101:5937-5948. June 2018.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Colostrum: Yet another Update

The July issue of the calf management newsletter is now on-line. The URL is or just click HERE.

The summary points are:
  • How our management choices shortchange our calves
  • Role of colostrum on gastrointestinal tract development
  • Role of colostrum on immunity
  • Take home ideas for strengthening colostrum management