Wednesday, August 22, 2018

How Soon to Introduce Newborn Calves 
to Automated Milk Feeders?

"Effect of age of introduction to an automated milk feeder on calf learning and performance and labor requirements."

This article title caught my attention.

A few quick details:
Treatment: 1/2 calves introduced to auto feeder on day 6, 1/2 calves introduced to autofeeder on day 1
Housing: two group pens, continuous-flow with newborns and 5-day calves going into pen #1, all calves moving into pen #2 at about 30 days, 1 milk nipple per pen, up to 15 calves per pen (during the study the average pen #1 population was only 7 calves), excellent ventilation

Nutrition: 26-18 milk replacer, up to 9L first 4 days on feeder, next 27 days ad lib, days 32-37 drop allowance from 12L to 9L, hold at 9L days 38-46, gradually drop to 2L at 61 days.

Interesting Observations:

1. Weaning gains were the same for early and 5-day introduction treatment.

2. Calf enterprise had high treatment rate for diarrhea (as we might have predicted for a continuous-flow housing operation) - 82%. Authors suspect cryptosporidia as major pathogen involved.

3. Initial diagnosis with diarrhea was about 6 days after introduction to group pen regardless of age at introduction - it seems that the incubation period (6 days) was pretty uniform.

4. Recovery from diarrhea - the younger calves (ones introduced at day 1) seemed to have a harder time dealing with diarrhea than the older calves (ones introduced on day 6) - this seems to agree with our larger experience base that immunity among younger calves is not quite a strong compared to ones that are older. 

5. Age when calves were introduced to the auto feeder made a difference in milk intake only during the first week on the auto feeder - overall milk intake from birth to weaning did not differ. 

6. Labor requirements to achieve regular use of auto feeder were lower using newborn introduction compared to manual feeding for 5 days and later introduction to the auto feeder (40 minutes early: 146 minutes 5-day). BUT, this did not take into account some extra time working with some of early-introduction calves that had severe diarrhea.

Where does leave us in auto feeder pen management?

A. Continuous-flow management is a high risk management strategy - "all-in, all-out" housing management is clearly the preferred strategy for disease management

B. Lower pen populations are preferred to higher ones. My experience is that as pen populations get above 15 management challenges start to go up and at 20 health challenges go up rapidly.

C. Control pathogen exposure. These research pens were cleaned out regularly during the study. The auto feeder used both programmed cleaning during every day and then circuit cleaning daily. They did not report culture results for milk replacer. 

C. Dry matter intake drives growth. Whatever we do to get the babies up on full feed and keep the girls eating works.

Reference: Medrano-Galarza, C. and Others, "Effect of age of introduction to an automated milk feeder on calf learning and performance and labor requirements." Journal of Dairy Science 101: in press 2018.

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