Friday, December 20, 2019

Sam's Away for Two Weeks!

I will be back on January 6th! Enjoy any and all of your holiday time.

If you want an assignment while I am away, send a message to with a subject about which you would like to see a post. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Calf Starter Grain Intake
Managed or Neglected?

This is the title of the December 2019 calf management newsletter. The links is HERE or the URL is 

The main points:
  • You cannot manage what you do not measure.
  • Average consumption: Is it a Useful Number?
  • What are our age-dependent intake goals?
  • What does it take to do a good job of managing grain intake?
Kazzie and Sam 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Weaning - How Much Starter is She Eating?

The volume of calf starter grain being consumed by a calf has often been suggested as a workable guide to when we could stop feeding milk.

Some years ago we often used the threshold of 2 pounds per day. More recently the threshold has been moved up to between 4 and 5 pounds. This upper value has some good science behind it - and, it agrees with the threshold I used with my calves as well. 

A recently published review of work on how calves utilize the nutrients in calf starter grains suggests that it could make sense to use an additional threshold. That is, "What is the total volume of calf starter grain consumed by the calf?"

This is not entirely new. We  have been recommending that before taking calves completely off milk they should have been regularly eating calf starter grain for three weeks. That length of time implies a significant volume of grain consumed.

Quigley's work suggests that a minimum volume of starter should be consumed before rumen development will have progressed to the point where calves can be expected to be able to replace energy from milk with energy from grain. 

Because calf starter grains vary widely in their composition I was not able to come up with a volume that fits all starters. However, this idea should make us think about the need to track starter intake on our "ready-to-wean calves." It's not just how much grain did she eat today - over time, has the total volume been enough to support the development of a functional rumen?

My current recommendation is calf starter grain consumption of at least one large handful daily for a minimum of three weeks and current grain intake of at least 4.5 - 5 pounds daily at full weaning. 

Quigley, J.D., "Symposium Review: Re-evaluation of National Research Council energy estimates in calf starters" Journal of Dairy Science 102:3674-3683 December 2019

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Scouring Calves Need Free-Choice

Sarah Morrison (W.H.Miner Agricultural Research Institute) recently reported on a study she completed while at the University of Illinois.

The key point that caught my attention was that even while scouring calves were receiving milk replacer and oral electrolytes they also drank free-choice water. 

The free-water intake of these calves was recorded during the first 21 days at the research facility. Probably arriving at 3 to 5 days of age at arrival so the observation period was probably from 4 to 25 days old. 

All the calves drank water. Overall, for the 21-day period it came to 12 gallons per calf. She noted that the calves with scours averaged an extra gallon of water compared to non-scouring calves.

Bottom Line? Make sure ALL the calves have water 24/7 if possible. Especially scouring calves, give them a chance to re-hydrate naturally on their own by sipping free-choice water in addition to their milk and electrolyte feedings. 

Reference: Sarah Morrision "Calves with diarrhea have different intake, growth and efficiency" November Farm Report, William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, p3.

The url for this report:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Rumen Development
No Short-cuts Available

In a well-designed research project dairy calves were weaned either abruptly (7 days at half milk ration) or gradually (7 days at 60% followed by 7 more days at 30%).

Using several measures they estimated rumen development and ability to digest solid feeds. 

The calves with the longer weaning period had superior rumen development at the end of the weaning period.

No surprise. The calves need to be eating a measurable amount of solid feed for at least three weeks before the end of milk feeding in order to have a level of rumen function that allows for replacing the energy from milk with that from solid feed. No short-cuts available. Biology always wins, no cheating.

Another research group suggests that a calf starter grain intake of at least 4.5 pounds per day is desirable for moving from a milk+grain ration to a 100% grain ration if consistent gain is desired (assumes moderate environmental temperature).

Reference: Klopp, R. N. and Others, "Effects of feeding different amounts of milk replacer on growth performance and nutrient digestibility in Holstein calves to 2 months of age using different weaning strategies." Journal of Dairy Science 102:11040-11050 December 2019.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Great Place to Browse for Calf Resources

I just spent some time looking up resources at this location:

The Iowa State University Cooperative Extension Service sponsors this site through their dairy team.

Great variety of resources on both calves and heifers. Text, pictures and video resources. Take a look - you will be tempted to go from one click to another.

Ration Guidelines for 2-4 Month-Old Heifers

In a presentation to a dairy audience in Minnesota Dr. Trevor DeVries (as reported in Progressive Dairy November 7, 2019, p 49) suggested these guidelines for 2-4 month-old heifers when we have a growth goal of about 2.5 pounds a day gain:
  • 85 percent of dry matter intake (DMI) should come from concentrated feed.
  • Do not use fermented feeds in the ration for this age heifers because "they are too high in moisture and calves are not able to eat enough to achieve an appropriate level of dry matter."
  • Use a "dry" TMR that contains concentrate and chopped dry forage such as straw or hay. Dry TMR can be made in large batches, stored and fed out daily without concerns of "heating" common for high moisture TMR's.  
  • Forage particle size in dry TMR should be limited to 1" in length to discourage sorting and should be well mixed in the TMR.
  • Remember to keep TMR in front of the calves (do not feed to a clean bunk) in order to discourage calves from developing the bad habit of "slug feeding."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Good Review on Feeding Pasteurized
Milk to Calves

"Benefits and drawbacks of feeding pasteurized milk to calves" is the title of an article by Ellan Dufour (Progressive Dairy, November 7, 2019 pp 41-42" that does a great job of summarizing a lot of good information on pasteurized milk feeding.
  • How pasteurization works
  • Types of pasteurizers including batch pasteurization, continouous flow or HTST pasteurization, colostrum pasteurization
  • The benefits of feeding pasteurized waste milk
  • The drawbacks of feeding pasteurized waste milk.
Here is the URL

Monday, November 25, 2019

More Milk = Longer Weaning Time

Dr. Trevor DeVries at a dairy conference in Minnesota summarized his thoughts relating levels of milk intake of preweaned calves to method of reducing milk intake, weaning timing, feed type and housing management. [as reported in Progressive Dairy, November 7, 2019, pp49-50]

He observed that when calves are fed enough milk to achieve a 2 pounds a day gain from milk their initial calf starter grain intake is delayed. That means different weaning management is needed compared to calves that are limit-fed milk.

Recall, our goal for calves being weaned is to maintain a level amount of usable energy for the calves both before and after weaning - a consistent level. If we get a drop in energy at weaning we will see an undesirable drop in growth as well.

His research showed that among calves fed for high rates of gain preweaning (high milk feeding) when calves weaned at 8 weeks of age (reduced milk ration spread over 2 weeks) were compared to those weaned earlier at 6 weeks later and longer weaning resulted in maintained their growth rates through the weaning process.

His calf starter grain intake goal at the time all milk feeding is ended is 4.5 pounds of calf starter gain daily. [I can add here this should be higher during cold weather months.]

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Keep Milk Warm in Cold Weather 

At this URL you will find a 1-2-3 summary of ideas focused on keeping milk warm on cold days - hit that 100-105 degrees goal for every calf fed. 
Here is URL

Ann Hoskins from Vita Plus has done a great job summarizing practical ways to be sure the milk fed to calves is the temperature it should be even in cold weather conditions. 

On really cold days (wind chill below 0 F) in order to feed warm milk to all the calves I had to mix my milk replace in multiple batches - mix a batch, go out and feed it (hutches), come back in (get warm) and mix another batch, repeat three times until finished.

Regardless of environmental conditions I always put bottles for the youngest bottle-fed calves into 5-gallon pails of 105-110 F water (4 to a pail). 

When I did not have help for bucket training the five or so young calves I ended up feeding them one at a time after the rest of the calves were fed. I observed that if I filled the milk pails for these five calves at the beginning of feeding chores I was almost always feeding cold milk to them. However, if I put the bottles into a 5-gallon pail of warm water even the last calf received 100-105 milk once I poured the milk into a feeding bucket.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Avoid Teaching Calves to Slug Feed Starter

Amazing as it may seem, research (Univ. British Columbia) has demonstrated that habits learned as calves frequently carry over into later life - even to adulthood. 

One of the habits (and not a good one) is slug feeding.

You may say, "But, I never teach my calves to slug feed calf starter."

But, empty starter grain pails do just that. Calves learn quickly to deal with empty grain pails. "Eat up! There may not be more!" When we allow the calf starter grain pails to go empty we are signally to calves to "eat up in a hurry" when we next feed grain.

Of course it makes sense to feed at a rate close to consumption. That way we minimize the amount of grain we have to dump.

With my own calves my practice with calves eating grain regularly was to feed at a rate that the pail was never empty (if possible). "Yes," now and again a calf fooled me and licked the pail clean. I worked hard to dump grain pails twice a week in order to avoid wet grain and spoilage. This "left-over" grain went to an older heifer pen. My 6 to 8 week old calves on reduced milk rations usually were eating nearly 5 to 8 pounds per day so the challenge often was to provide enough grain so the buckets did not run out completely.

This management protocol does assume that you do not just fill a grain pail half full or more when the newborn calf goes into her pen (hutch). 

By the way, remember that in order to optimize grain intake calves need free-choice water all seasons of the year.

Friday, November 15, 2019

All Colostrum is Not the Same

Recently published work (A. Soufieri and Others, "Genetic parameters of colostrum traits in Holstein dairy cows." Journal of Dairy Science, 102:11225-11232, 2019) collected colostrum samples from 1,047 healthy Holstein dairy cows. 

The  yield was recorded as well as Brix values obtained from each cow's first milking. Laboratory analysis determined  both fat and protein content.

Yield The median yield was 5kg (about 6.3 quarts). The lowest yield was less than 1 quart while the highest yield was nearly 11 quarts (23.5kg).

Brix values  The median Brix was 25.9. The lowest Brix was 10.7 and the highest Brix was 41.4.

Fat percentage  The median fat was 6%. The lowest fat was less than 0.1% while the highest fat percentage was 18.2%.

Protein percentage  The median protein was 17.9%. The lowest protein was 4.8% while the highest protein percentage was 30.4%.

Conclusion? All colostrum is not the same. Keep using your Brix refractometer to sort colostrum before using for first feeding.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The "When" for Oral Electrolytes
November 2019 Calf Management Newsletter

The main points in the letter:
·        Electrolytes are only helpful if the calf drinks them.
·        The most important ingredient in an oral electrolyte feeding is water.
·        As soon as a calf’s manure will no longer stay on top of her bedding she may be losing more fluid than she is consuming – it is electrolyte time!
·        What other criteria make sense when deciding which calves receive electrolyte feedings?
·        How does electrolyte feeding fit into the daily routine?
·        Calves should still have access to free-choice water when receiving oral electrolytes and we should continue our regular milk feeding protocol.

The link to the letter is HERE or use this URL

Monday, November 4, 2019

Advice on managing abomasal bloat

In a recent webinar sponsored by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Dr. Brian Miller made several practical suggestions for managing abomasal bloat.

The webinar summary prepared by Hoard's Dairyman is entitiled "Calf Feeding Consistency is Key." I think you will find Dr. Miller's suggestions both practical and possible to implement. 

Dr, Miller summarizes his advice:
Once you have the right milk to deliver, ensuring consistent feeding can make all the difference in preventing bacteria and fermentation enzymes from running rampant on the calf’s stomach.

The link to the summary is


Monday, October 28, 2019

"How to Improve Your Colostrum Management"

This is the title of a short article in Farm&Dairy by Jason Hartschuh that summarizes a number of basic points on colostrum management.

It is worth a quick scan to see if you may be missing a key point - a best management practice.

Here is the link

Very basic stuff but solid management. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Nice Two-Page Summary on
Cold Weather Calf Care

While on a calf care Internet search I came across this short two-page summary of cold weather calf care by Ryan Breuer, DVM, Iowa State Dairy Specialist.

While none of the items Dr. Breuer mentions are new and earth-shaking, they are a good reminder of our options in doing a "bang-up" job of cold weather care as we are about to move into winter weather. 


Here is the link:

Thursday, October 17, 2019

More on Calf Starter Grain Intake

This short article by Maureen Hanson summarizes work by Dr. Dale Moore on calf starter intake.

The key points dealing with grain intake:
  1. Different levels of liquid feeds
  2. Disease
  3. Water availability
  4. Starter grain texture, formulation, freshness
  5. Calf housing, weather management
Also, you will find a link to an interesting online publication "How Much Starter Grain Should a Preweaned Dairy Calf be Eating," by Dr. Moore and Others.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Keeping Milk Feeding Equipment is Not
Really That Hard! Is It?

As part of a study about colostrum feeding a research group in Ireland collected information on cleaning feeding equipment from seasonally calving dairy herds.

Preferred METHOD of cleaning:
Method                         Near beginning of        Near end of
                                        12 wk calving           12 wk calving season
Hot Water Only              41%                             26%
Cold Water Only            35%                             40%
Cold water + detergent   11%                             11%
Hot water + detergent  13%                             24%

Note: Only acceptable method is hot water with detergent when cleaning milk feeding equipment. 

Did you get this? Only 13 percent of operations were using effective methods to clean milk/colostrum feeding equipment - at start of 12 week calving season.

Frequency of cleaning
                                      Near beginning of    Near end of
                                      12 wk calving          12 wk calving season
Daily                                21%                        11%
Every second day            47%                         53%
Once a week                    17%                         28%
Every second wk             13%                         4%
Once a month                   2%                          4%

Note: Only acceptable frequency is at least daily or more frequently as equipment is soiled.

I am not surprised that average mortality at 28 days was 6%. No data were presented on scours rates but we can guess that the rates were discouraging high.

Lots of opportunity here for improvement - anyone need a job advising Irish dairy farmers on sanitation practices?

Reference: Barry, J. and Others, "Associations between colostrum management, passive immunity, calf-related hygiene practices, and rates of mortality in preweaned dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 102:10266-10276 November 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Getting Better Calf Starter Intake

"Getting Better Calf Starter Intake" is the title of the October 2019 issue of the calf management newsletter. The key points in the letter are:
·        Begin with a calf starter grain that calves want to eat.
·        Offer only a handful of grain to youngest calves until they begin to eat it.
·        Change grain frequently for youngest calves – mid-day gets them up.
·        Usually, the higher the volume of milk offered, the later calves will begin to eat calf starter – even at late as three weeks of age.
·        At least once a week, dump all the grain buckets and start over – especially important in hot and damp weather.
·        If facilities permit, separate grain and water pails to reduce “slopping” water into grain pails.
·        Clean free-choice water is necessary for good calf starter intake.

The link to the October issue is HERE
or, paste this URL in your browser


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Damp Cold Weather = Health Challenges

Damp cold weather often means health challenges for young preweaned calves. One way we can deal with this heightened challenge environment is to increase resistance to pathogens. 

At you can find a checklist of ways to achieve this increased resistance.
Go to the web site and scroll down the alphabetical list to this title: (remember that you can toggle back and forth between American and Metric versions with a choice at the top of the site)
Healthy Calves: Increasing Resistance to Pathogens - Checklist. 

1.    Selecting procedures for excellent colostrum management
2.  Selecting an good ration for preweaned calves
3.  Selecting weaning methods that maintain high resistance to disease
4. Selecting a farm-specific vaccination program based on the risk of pathogen exposure (selections made with the advice of the herd veterinary surgeon)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Good Gains in Colder Weather

Don't let colder weather equal lower gains among your milk-fed calves.

A two-part series, Good Gains in Colder Weather, is posted in 
The link to the first part is HERE

You see a comparison of the amount of milk required for both maintenance and growth in a bar chart for both a small and large calf at three selected environmental temperature. 

Enjoy. [and feed more during cold weather]

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Calf Starter Grain Feeding Failure

Sometimes I feel like I have been shouting down a well when I give advice. 

A client has been having some difficulty achieving his weaning growth goals. I walked the hutches looking especially at the grain pails.

My advice has been to feed only a handful of pelleted calf starter grain (they prefer to use pellets for mechanical feeding rather than textured feed) when the calf is placed in a hutch about one day of age. Then this grain can be refreshed at least twice a week until the calf begins to eat starter.

So, on this walk through I found that all the youngest calves had grain pails that were at least one-half full. Really, at least one-half full. 

When the worker that feeds grain was asked about the directions he had received they were "be sure the calves do not run out of grain." He was never given instructions about the "handful" amount and changing the grain at least twice a week for the youngest calves. 

They were simply providing "lots" of pellets on day one. Eventually, the feeder would notice that some of the pellets were disappearing. When that happened, the bucket was "topped off" by adding more pellets on top of those that had been in the hutch since day one. Buckets were not emptied until the calves were weaned and moved out of the hutch.

I got an extra pail and dumped some of the pails for 4 and 5 week old calves. You are right - more that half of them had moldy grain in the bottom. 

I do not have grain consumption data from these hutches - but, my advice to improve grain pail management was based on the educated guess that present calf grain pail management was depressing grain intake. And, that depressed intake was partially responsible for the lower weaning weights.

Only time will tell if my recommended practices will be adopted. Like I said at the beginning of this post, sometimes it feels like I am shouting down a well!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Raising Calves a la Bob James in Australia

Great presentation by Dr. Bob James (Down Home Heifer Solutions company) at a dairy conference in Sydney, Australia.

Dr. Bob does a great job in 57 slides covering all the bases in critical issues for successful calf rearing.

It is located at 

Includes summaries of  recently published research on colostrum, milk feeding levels, housing alternatives and automatic feeders. 

Enjoy - Bob does a great job in pulling together a lot of what we know about getting calves off to a good start, preweaned nutrition and early calf care.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Weaning Readiness - It May be the Total Volume
Consumed, Not Just the Amount per Day?

In a July posting at Dr. Jim Quigley asked the question, "How much energy is in my starter?" (Calf Note #209 with that title.)

As part of this discussion he observed, "the rumen develops in response to ALL of the starter a calf consumes, and not just the starter the calf consumes on a given day."

Thus, when assessing weaning readiness ideally one needs to know in addition to the current daily calf starter grain consumption but also have a rough idea of the total volume consumed over several weeks. 

These observations are consistent with earlier recommendations in this blog about keeping track of  how long (number of weeks) calves have been consistently eating starter. I  have been recommending waiting to fully wean calves not sooner that at least three weeks after they began to consistently eat a minimum of 1/2 pound of starter daily. 

My own calves on an intensive milk feeding program generally began to consistently eat 1/2 pound of starter between 21 and 28 days. After I reduced their daily milk replacer intake from 2 pounds to 1 pound of powder at about 35 days the majority of calves increased starter intakes from less than 1 pound daily to 2.5 to 3.5 pounds a day. 

By the end of 7 weeks (about 50 days) most of these calves had consumed between 40 and 50 total pounds of starter - most of this between 28 and 49 days of age - about three weeks. Knowing that I would be feeding a grower pellet in the weaned pens I fed 1/2 textured calf starter mixed with 1/2 grower pellet the last week in the hutches. 

When they were fully weaned sometime between 49 and 56 days most of them were eating between 4 and 5.5 pounds of this 1/2 and 1/2 blend daily. A pen of 5 in a weaning pen might eat only 20 pounds of grower pellets the first day or two after going into the pen but after a few days I usually had to feed 25 to 35 pounds of pellets daily (ad lib feeding). 

As a side note, when time permitted I fed a handful of good quality alfalfa hay in each grain bucket the last week calves were in hutches. Then I only fed as much hay in the transition pens the first week after moving as the calves would clean up in roughly 30 minutes. I did not feed ad lib hay until the third week in the transition pens.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Watch Those Twins!

"Twins had a 68% inceased risk of all-causes mortality compared with calves born as singletons." This meant that twins were 1.7 times more likely to die than their singleton counterparts.

This was the observation of a California research team that collect calf health data from 5 California dairies. They used information from 11, 945 calves.


The authors explain this issue:
"An increase in mortality risk in twin calves may be due to competition for nutrients during gestation, resulting in reduced vigor and health status after birth. Results of the studies by Gulliksen et al. (2009) and Mellado et al. (2014) suggest that it may be beneficial for calf caretakers to closely monitor calves that are born as twins for any clinical signs of illness during the preweaning period. [emphasis added] p7326

While raising my own calves in individual hutches I slipped a plastic cow leg strap in the rear "D" ring of the hutch. This reminded me as well as any other caretaker of the "twin" status of the calf.

As I think back to this time I recall that most of my attention to these twins was during the first two weeks when diarrhea (scours) was the most common problem.

The other time I used the "twin" identity was at weaning time. Once in a while based on too low a level of calf starter grain intake I delayed weaning on a twin. This allowed her to "catch up" with her herdmates and start life as a weaned calf with plenty of energy and protein from starter.

Reference: Dubrovsky, S. A. and Others, " Bovine respiratory disease (BVD) cause-specific and overall mortalilty in preweaned calves on California dairies: The BVD 10K study." Journal of Dairy Science 102:7320-7328 (2019).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Sooner is Better for Colostrum Feeding:
But, How Much Better?

The September issue of Sam's Calf Management Newsletter has these main points:
·      Efficiency of antibody absorption 46 percent increase between feeding colostrum at birth vs. 6 hours later.
·        Volume of antibodies absorbed 33 percent increase between feeding colostrum at birth vs. 6 hours later.
·   Maximum concentration of antibodies (IgG) 40 percent increase between feeding colostrum at birth vs. 6 hours later.
  •    Prevalence of beneficial bacteria associated with colon mucosa was significantly greater when colostrum was fed at birth vs. 6 hours later.

The URL to use in your browser is

or just click
HERE to go to the newsletter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Scours and respiratory disease in young calves are linked.

In a May 26, 2019 Hoard’s Dairyman article Dr. Ollivett (University of Wisconsin School of Vet. Med.) says “Young calves with diarrhea are much more likely to develop pneumonia than their herdmates that did not experience diarrhea.” By improving  gut heath we can expect to see fewer treatable cases of respiratory illness.

She observes “Often, abnormal manure is overlooked if the calf is not off feed or depressed. When you spend time specifically looking at fecal consistency, you might realize you have more of a problem than you thought.”

Especially where pneumonia issues are serious among 3 and 4 week-old calves, Dr. Ollivett recommends serious-level record keeping on diarrhea among 1 and 2 week-old calves. 

She notes that measuring weight gain during weeks 1-2 may reveal that intestinal health is not ideal. It is “normal” when calves receive adequate nutrition that they begin gaining weight before the end of the first week. If your calves are not gaining weight or losing weight by 14 days of age you may have found one of the causes of pneumonia in the subsequent  weeks.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Time of Colostrum Feeding Makes a Difference
Maximum IgG Concentration

Compare the maximum concentration of antibodies in the calf's blood between calves fed colostrum within 45 minutes after birth and calves fed colostrum 6 hours after birth.

All calves fed 7.5% of birth weight of heat-treated colostrum testing 62g/L antibodies. For example, 90 pound calf received a little over 3 quarts. This feeding contained about 180-185g of antibodies.

The maximum antibody concentration was:
Fed at 45 minutes = 25.5 mg/ml
Fed at 6 hours       = 18.2 mg/ml

Difference? 40 percent!

Is it a good management decision to delay colostrum feeding even out to 6 hours after birth?

Reference: Fisher, A.J. and Others "Effect of delaying colostrum feeding on passive transfer and intestinal bacterial colonizaton in neonatal male Holstein calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:30299-3109 (April 2018)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Good Summary Article
"4 steps to achieve successful passive transfer in newborn calves"
This article written by Amanda Fisher-Tlustos (University of Guelph) focuses attention on 4 key factors that drive successful passive transfer of immunity in newborn calves. 

It was published in the August 25 issue of Progressive Dairy (pp 54-55)

This is the URL

It's probably not a surprise that the steps are (1) Quality, (2)Quantity, (3) Timing and (4) Low bacteria count. You will enjoy seeing the newest research data.

Monday, August 12, 2019

How Much Energy is in My Calf Starter?
And, When to Wean Calves based on Starter Intake.

All of this and more at Jim Quigley's Calf Notes site. Calf Note 209, "How much energy is in my starter," asks these questions:
  • What makes a good starter?
  • What is the point when the gastrointestinal tract sufficiently mature to wean the calf?
  • Is the key fact how much starter the calf consumed today or how much she has consumed so far in her life?
Jim comments, "We may overestimate the contribution of ME (metabolizable energy) from starters early in life."


Friday, August 9, 2019

Why do Calves Get Sick

This is the title of a presentation given at the 2018 Healthy Calf Conference in Ontario, Canada.

Here is the link

The presenter, Mike Ballou from Texas Tech Univ., makes an easy to read presentation based on calf growth and development from birth. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Biosecurity for Calves: 5 Ways to Improve

The August issue of the calf management newsletter is now available at 

The 5 ways to improve biosecurity are:
·       No. 1 Buy separate boots for the calf facility.
·       No. 2 Make it easy and convenient to wear disposable gloves.
·       No. 3 Bleach everything.
·       No. 4 Segregate sick calves where possible.
·       No. 5 Restrict visitor access.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Water Intake of Calves Fed
Conventional vs. Accelerated Rates of Milk Replacer

Will calves fed at accelerated rates of milk replacer drink more or less water when compared to calves fed milk replacer at conventional rates?

A feeding trial with calves fed ad lib water and calf starter grain starting on day 3 in addition to their milk replacer ration made this comparison.

Throughout the five weeks of the trial the calves on the accelerated milk replacer ration drank more water than those on the conventional ration. For example, during week 3 of the trial the conventional calves averaged 27 ounces (.84 qts.) per day while those on the accelerated milk replacer ration averaged 68 ounces (2.1 qts).

Take a look at the chart showing the water consumption over the 5 weeks of the trial. Paste the URL below in your browser

or click HERE.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Need a "Checklist" for a Calf Job?

Sometimes a quick "checklist" helps us touch all the bases when doing a calf-related job.

For a summary of all the checklists at the website, type the word checklist in the upper right-hand corner search box.

I got 94 hits. A quick scan shows that about 1/2 of them are duplicates. There is a good chance you will find a checklist that meets your needs.

More focused searching?
By adding "protocol" to the search I reduced the hits to 60.
By adding "colostrum" to the search I reduced the hits to 54.
By adding "pneumonia" to the search I reduced the hits to 8.

Enjoy your checklist.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Transition Milk - It's Value for Immunity

Based on a sample of 75 Holstein-Friesian cows (pasture-based dairy Ireland, 2nd lactation and greater)  samples were collected for the first 5 milkings after colostrum was harvested.

This is how the transition milk samples compared to colostrum (remember we want a refractometer value of 23 or greater or IgG concentration of 50 or greater for first feeding):

Sample   No.Samples              Median                      Median
                                         Brix refractometer (%)    IgG Concentration(g//L)
Colostrum   68                         25.6                              99.6
T#1             63                         17.8                              43.5
T#2             61                         12.6                              12.5
T#3             59                         11.8                                5.3
T#4             53                         11.4                                1.9
T#5             41                         11.2                                1.8

Colostrum was great stuff - use for first feeding.

First transition milking (T#1) - Still pretty strong for immunity - use for second feeding. In a pinch, this could be used for first feeding. Refractometer does a good job evaluating for immunity potential. And, for localized immunity in the gut for the first week of life this milking has great potential.

Second transition milking (T#2) - to be fed anytime during the first week of life to promote localized immunity in the gut.

3rd - 5th transition milking - not going to confer a great deal in localize immunity in the gut but super for nutritional value - still higher in solids than market milk and packs a nice extra energy boost from higher milk fat content. Refractometer readings less reliable at these low IgG concentrations compared to colostrum.

Reference: Rayburn, M.C. and Others, "Use of a digital refractometer in assessing immunoglobulin G concentrations in colostrum and the first 5 transition milkings in an Irish dairy herd." Journal of Dairy Science 102:7459-7463 August 2019.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Failure of Passive Transfer

Inadequate transfer of antibodies from the dam's colostrum into the calf's blood is a failure of passive transfer. 

While the process is biologically determined how well the transfer takes place on modern dairies is determined by how well humans manage harvest, manage and feed colostrum to newborn calves.

A recently reported study of calves in California dairies shows how widely these success rates can vary.

Dairy     Percent Calf     Blood Serum Total 
              Mortality          Protein (Average)
#1            3%                      6.4
#2            6%                      6.2
#3            7%                      6.2
#4           28%                     5.5
#5           39%                     5.7 (huge variation here from high to low BSTP so the average here
                                                   hides many, many calves with very low BSTP)

What we do as calf enterprise managers makes a difference.
These three words describe the foundation of colostrum management and all three of them depend on calf care personnel.

Reference: Dubrovsky, S.A. and Others "Bovine respiratory (BRD) cause-specific and overall mortality in preweaned calves on California dairies: The BRD 10K Study." Journal of Dairy Science 102:7620-7328 August 2019.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A Reminder About Twin Heifers

Just a reminder about the need to give our twin heifer calves a little special attention.

Recent work involving 11,470 calves from 5 California dairies followed calves from birth through weaning. When considering calves that died (mortality) the overall mortality rates varied from 1.1 percent to 7.2 percent.

Specifically, twin heifer calves were found to have a 1.7 times greater risk of dying compared to singleton calves. These findings were similar to previous studies as well. 

What is a manager to do? 
1. Identify twin calves - if the calf care workers do not see the calves born have the maternity workers mark twins (for example, using a paint stick place a "T" on the calves' forehead).

2. Place a reminder on the housing for twins (for example, a cow leg band) - make it easy to remember that these calves need to have a little extra attention especially during the first month of life. 

3. As weaning approaches provide the opportunity for an extra week or two of the milk ration for twins if they are significantly smaller that other calves the same age. Delaying moving into transition calf pens may provide them an opportunity to compete for feed and space with less risk of pneumonia.

Reference: Dubrovsky, S.A. and Others "Bovine respiratory (BRD) cause-specific and overall mortality in preweaned calves on California dairies: The BRD 10K Study." Journal of Dairy Science 102:7620-7328 August 2019.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Spanish Language Calf Management Resources

Did you know that there are fourteen Spanish Language calf management resources at the website?

You go to and scroll down to SPANISH and they are all grouped together. Their equivalent resource in English is listed alphabetically in this same library (e.g., Lavando los recipientes de la leche appears as Washing Milk Containers). 


Friday, July 12, 2019

Pneumonia in Calves
Aspirating Liquids

When faced with a pneumonia challenge among young calves it is good to remember the role of aspirating liquids when trouble shooting.

I wrote a special resource sheet advising calf feeders NOT to cut nipples when frustrated with too slow bottle feeding. It also contains alternative steps to take when faced with this issue.

In SPANISH go to this location:
or just click HERE,

In ENGLISH go to this location: 
or just click HERE

If you think that cutting nipples does not happen on your dairy I suggest checking the nipples in your utility room! I think you are in for a surprise.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

An Update on Using a Heart Girth
Tape for Estimating Calf Weights

It is useful to have estimates of heifer calf weights. In the absence of animal scales it has been established that the heart girth measurement is a reasonably accurate way to estimate body weights. Various tape designs have been used over time - 1936, 1961 and 1992. Heinrichs comments on the need for verifying the tape designs, 
"Whereas the body weight and heart girth relationship has been reliable over time, the regression equation to estimate body weight and heart girth have changed, ... most likely due to alterations in breeding and selection programs that have affected animal conformation, in additional to other traits, over time."

Thus, it was judged to time to reassess the accuracy of the 1992 design. Based on 1,498 measurements from 586 animals the authors compared heart girth with scale weights. The correlation between the actual and predicted body weight was 0.98. 

"Upon comparing the previously developed hearth girth to body weight equation with 2 independent data sets, we concluded that the previous equation converting heart girth to body weight for Holstein dairy heifers (Heinrichs, 1992) remains valid for the current genetics and type of Holstein dairy heifers."

Keep using the tape you have for Holstein dairy calves. Remember to place the tape correctly around the calf right behind the front legs. Pull tightly enough to compress hair coat but not to stretch the tape. 

Reference: Heinrichs, A. J., B.S. Heinrichs, C. M. Jones, P.S. Erickson, K.F. Kalscheur, T.D. Nennich, B.J. Heins and F.C. Cardosoll "Short Communication: Verifying Holstein heifer heart girth to body weight prediction equations." Journal of Dairy Science 100:8451-8454 (2017)

Friday, July 5, 2019

July Calf Management Newsletter
"Water - Just Do It!"

The July 2019 calf management newsletter is entitled "Water: The Magic Growth Promoter."

The main points:
  • Just do it! Make clean water available to dairy calves from Day 1!
  • Why feed water before 14 to 21 days?
  • Why feed water if calves are drinking milk/milk replacer?
  • Why feed water during freezing weather?
  • Tips for more efficient water feeding.

or click HERE.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

When to separate cow and newborn calf?

This is a continuing question for the dairy industry. On one hand, there appears to be increasing concern in the general public that early separation of cow and calf is an animal welfare issue. On the other hand, do we have documented evidence that early separation has benefits for either cow or calf or both?

Two recent reviews of published research appeared in the July issue of the Journal of Dairy Science. One review evaluated the impact of suckling for some time after birth on subsequent milk production and found on effect of length of contact time between dam and calf.  Regarding calf growth, holding amount of milk consumed constant, length of contact with the dam had no effect on growth rates. (Meagher)

The other review emphasized the need for consistent calf care to insure consumption of clean, high quality colostrum early in life in adequate volume. In my reading the presence or absence of the dam when this took place had no effect - some fed manually, some provided assistance for nursing to be sure calves suckled an adequate volume soon after birth - either way, adequate levels of passive immunity was achieved. Authors comment, "Various types of farmer intervention, including careful observation and supplementary feeding [of colostrum], may be beneficial regardless of whether the calf is separated from the cow." 

Pathogen transfer was another question addressed. It might be possible that extended cow/calf contact might favor transfer of certain parasites and viruses while having no effect on the transfer of others. More research is needed to pin down the specifics. In the meantime we are called on to use common sense precautions. 

Commenting on Johnes transmission, authors note that "in some herds, cow-calf separation has supplanted control strategies for which concrete evidence exists to tie the respective strategy to a reduction in MAP prevalence."(5793) WOW! I Agree! Don't let the practice of limited cow-calf contact blind you to other risky management practices that may have crept silently into your calf operation!

Further, the authors observe, "There is evidence for a synergism of infection risk in the calving area, based upon the level of environmental cleanliness, udder hygiene, and presence of other lactating animals. Given the evidence that we have, this review indicates that "prompt calf removal should not be viewed as a substitute for proper hygiene and management in the maternity area." [emphasis added by me]

In general, if the calf enterprise provides good colostrum management and a clean environment for calves the presence of the cow has no negative effects on calf health (scours, pneumonia). Thus, independent of these best management practices there seem to be few if any benefits for early cow/calf separation.

Where do I come down on cow/calf separation? 
  • Whatever maternity area management rules we have on our dairy, they need to be practical so they can be followed consistently by everyone.
  • No matter how the colostrum gets into the calf, she always needs at least the minimum of 200gm of IgG's ASAP to insure effective passive transfer of immunity - suckle, manual feeding, and always clean.
  • No manure meals - the first thing in the calf's mouth should be clean colostrum regardless of how we do this. No manure in the colostrum, no manure from the pen, no manure from licking any adult animal's hair coat, no manure from dirty teats, no manure period!
  • Cow-calf contact in the period immediately after birth can improve the adaptation of the calf to the new world outside of mom. Dam contact with the calf (especially in unassisted deliveries) can do a world of good in stimulating normal breathing and achieving a vigorous response to the new environment.

Meagher, R. K. and Others, " Invited Review: A systematic review of the effects of prolonged cow-calf contact on behavior, welfare, and productivity." Journal of Dairy Science 102: 5765-5783 July 2019
Beaver, A. and Others, "Invited Revies: A systematic review of the effects of early separation on dairy cow and calf health." Journal of Dairy Science 102: 5784-5810 July 2019