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.

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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.