Thursday, March 28, 2013

Timely Treatments for Calves
If you have not already read the article, "When and Why to Treat Calves" by Sheila McGuirk (Hoard's Dairyman, March 25, 2013, page 209) I suggest you take time to read it carefully. She has packed a lot into a short article.
I was especially caught by this  sentence at the end of the article:
"Regular health screening examinations of calves are extremely important as early detection of problems [underline added] along with effective antibiotic selection escalate the odds of a favorable outcome of targeted treatment protocols."
This blockbuster sentence summarizes what I see is often the difference between effective and ineffective health care for calves.
Not only give the proper treatment BUT GIVE THE TREATMENT ON TIME!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Updating Blood Serum Total Protein Standards
I have been considering raising the standards for blood serum total protein levels published on the website.

As of the March 25, 2013 issue of Hoard's Dairyman column by Sheila McGuirk I just better get on the stick and make those changes. (page 226). It's past time to raise the bar.

Dr. McGuirk's column says this:
"If at least 80 percent of the tested calves have an STP that is equal or greater than 5.5gm/dl, or 90 percent of the calves are equal or greater than 5.2gm/dl, the herd's colostrum program is good."

There we are. So far as I am concerned that's the standard for "Good" colostrum programs.

Monday, March 25, 2013

They Do Great Until I Wean Them
Well, back in USA at the Attica Vet Clinic.  But my head is still in HaverfordWest, Wales at the farmer meeting last Friday.
Six different farmers appeared to have the same problem. Their calves were growing well until they were weaned. Then at weaning they seems to stop growing or maybe even lose weight.
What did they have in common? Three were spring block-calving herds that fed nearly ad lib milk up to 8 to 10 quarts of milk a day. Three were continuous calving herds with automatic computer feeders feeding at least 8 quarts of milk powder a day. The calves were getting a lot of nutrients from milk!
All six had observed that while in full milk ration their calves began eating starter grain only when four or five weeks of age. And, even then, they did not eat much grain.
We spent a few minutes reviewing the processes of rumen development. 
  • special microorganisms are needed in the rumen to ferment a mixture of water and grains thus digesting both proteins and carbohydrates. 
  • how the fermentation of grain (or very young grasses) releases butyric acid leading to the growth of rumen papillae.
  • rumen papillae development takes roughly three weeks from when regular grain consumption begins - this provides enough surface to absorb nutrients. 
Then we talked about how they weaned their calves off of milk.  The block-calving herds either stopped milk feeding rather abruptly in either one or two days. The computer-feeder herds had a three or four-day step-down weaning period.
The bottomline in all six cases is that not enough time was provided on a reduced milk-feeding program before weaning to provide for increasing amounts of grain intake leading to adequate rumen papillae growth. As a group we tried to come up with several practical ways to cut back on milk feeding volumes. 
Great group of farmers. Great Welsh lamb meat pies for lunch. Yum.    

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Comparing Milk and Milk Powder
Question yesterday at our meeting on Alweston Farm, Alweston, Sherborne, Dorset:
"Last year I changed from feeding milk powder to feeding milk. My calves are doing much better on the milk. Why is that?"
Details that came out were that she had been feeding a high quality milk powder that was, as she could recall, 20%protein and 18%oil (fat). It was mixed at the label rate of 100g powder makes 1 litre and she was feeding 4 litres a day [ you and I can figure this out = total dry matter per day was 400g.]
The milk she fed was a somewhat inconsistent  50:50 blend of tank milk [she was getting paid for 3.0% protein and 4.0% fat, probably about 13% solids] and milk of an unknown composition from fresh cows whose milk was not ready to sell. A reasonable guess on this blend  might be 15% solids, 3.4% protein and 5% fat. She continued to feed 4 litres volume daily. At 15% solids 4 litres a day equals 600g dry matter daily (4 litres =4000g, 4000 x .15 = 600g d.m.)

On a dry matter basis we can estimate this 3.4% protein, 5% fat milk to equal 23% protein and 33% fat. [.034/.15=.23x100=23%;  .05/.15=.33x100=33%]

So let's compare intakes:
Milk powder: 400 grams total dry matter, 72g fat (400 x .18 fat)
Milk: 600 grams total dry matter, 198g fat (600 x .33 fat)

Back to her question: "My calves are doing much better on the milk. Why is that?" Recall she was feeding equal liquid volumes of both reconstituted milk  powder and whole milk.

Dry matter intake drives growth. Feed more dry matter a calf grows more rapidly.
Milk fat is the major source of energy for a young calf. With enough protein as well, feed more highly digestible energy a calf grows more rapidly.

The group discussion then launched off on procedures for feeding milk powder with everyone agreeing that mixing powder at 100g/litre was really wrong. And, most of the farmers present fed more than 4 litres a day, especially in cold rainy weather which seems to have been a continuous state since last July.

Have a good day.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Problems with Frozen Colostrum
 Yesterday during our on-farm meeting in Essex two problems emerged concerning frozen colostrum.
  • Farmers said, "It takes too long to thaw it out so I can feed the calf!"
  • I observed that the three farms freezing extra colostrum were putting colostrum directly into the freezer directly after milking the fresh cow.
Too long to thaw       I asked how they packaged the colostrum for freezing. "In plastic containers. You know, one or two litre bottles that milk comes in from the market."
Ah, the root of the  problem now emerges. Too little surface area exposed to the hot water. We talked about using freezer-quality self-sealing plastic bags - one litre in a four-litre bag - get lots of surface area for quicker thawing. I could see the "aha " moment on two of the women's faces as they worked out the way they would use this idea at home.
Warm colostrum going into freezer    After a brief review of how rapidly bacteria multiply in colostrum at cow body temperature we talked about how slowly freezers actually chill colostrum. Lots of opportunity the first couple of hours for bacteria to multiply.
Using an empty bottle that was at hand we went through a demonstration of how bottles of frozen ice could be used to rapidly chill freshly-collected colostrum to 16C. The herdsman on our host farm, Jody, observed, "We should do that for the colostrum we save from the morning milking to feed to a calf that afternoon. Wouldn't that be better than letting the colostrum sit warm in the milk room all day?"
Now, that comment really made me feel good.
By the way,  for lunch at our host farm we sat in the old barn now used as a shop. It seemed to have really old beams so I asked about its origins. The owner, Nick, said he really didn't now exactly when it was built - just sometime in the late 1600's. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cooked Antibodies are Just Food

My last three meetings surfaced the same issue in colostrum management. Thawing frozen colostrum was done with the hottest water available. And, not only did the calf care person use very hot water, in order to speed up the process of thawing and warming the water bath was dumped several times and refilled with very hot water.

Given the frequent absence of a thermometer on many farms I have continued to recommend the "finger-dipping" method of estimating water temperature for warming and thawing colostrum. That is, the water can be just a hot as one can stand by dipping your fingers into the water - since everyone is different we end up with water varying from high 120's to mid-130's.

Still in England today - headed off shortly for lunch at a local pub - they have a special for St. Patrick's day. Then home to consume the 5 pounds of the London paper "The Sunday Times."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Different Farms, Different Practices
Saturday afternoon. I sit in a  cottage built around 1835. I've been out this morning to the "Coop" market for bread, eggs, and bangers. Sidewalks here in Wickham Market vary from 18" to a little over 2 feet wide - have to get used to building build right out to the street. Oh, yes, remember to look to my left for oncoming traffic rather than to the right.

Great meeting last night with folks from about 20 farms around the village Flixton - you will have to Google it to find it. Met in the cozy - a back room at a pub. Things were quite friendly after the majority had a couple of "pints."

Every told about how they fed milk or milk powder to their calves. Majority were feeding 4 litres a day of milk (500g dry matter a day - just a bit over a pound) or 4 litres of milk powder mixed at 125g/litre (again, 500g dry matter a day). Then I talked about our Gold Standard growth goal of doubling their weight in 60 days. One young sharp fellow sitting up front observed that if we wanted a calf to gain 40-45kg in 60 days that would not happen if she was gaining less than 1/2kg a day.

Then we had a great discussion about how much milk could be fed to a calf at what age and why farmers often had scours issues when they fed greater volumes of milk. That slid right over into ways to improve colostrum management. Most of the farms were milking fresh cows twice a day at the end of the regular milking. [Remember we get 33% loss of antibodies if we wait14 hours for that first milking] Most of the farms were feeding dam: daughter so they waited to feed colostrum until the dam was milked. So we talked about why feeding ASAP after birth was better than waiting. Only one of the farms evaluated colostrum quality so whatever was harvested was fed. None of the farms had checked through blood testing how well their colostrum management was working.

Overall, lots of interest. About half of the group stayed on after the official end  of the meeting to talk about practical changes they could make to get better growth and healthier calves.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dairy in Scotland
Composing at the Lion and Unicorn Inn located in Thornhill near Sterling. A full UK breakfast is in the offing and fire is buring just behind me taking the chill off the breakfast room. 
This blog entry comes from Scotland. At two meetings on Monday, March 11, about 60 dairy farmers discussed with me management of preweaned calves. The primary concerns expressed were about keeping calves healthy (avoiding treatments for scours and pneumonia) and getting them to grow well. Very few folks had problems with calves dying, rather they wanted them to do better.
At the end of our sessions the facilitators asked the farmers to name one or two practices that they might consider changing as result of our conversations. At the first mid-day session the most frequently named practice changes were (1)not leaving the calf with the dam as long (many folks left calves with the dam for 10-12 hours, some for a full day) and (2)not feeding colostrum to calves that had been sitting around warm for a half day or more.
At the evening session the most frequently named practice changes were (1)feeding colostrum to calves sooner (rather than waiting 6-8 hours), (2)chilling colostrum if it was not going to be fed within 30 minutes after it was collected, and (3)cleaning feeding equipment after each use rather than once a day.
Some of the farms had automatic computer milk feeders. I was surprised to learn that uniformly they were feeding a maximum of 6 litres a day with them. This was a topic of considerable discussion since my experience elsewhere is feeding up to 10 and 12 litres daily.
What great fun hearing about calf management practices in Scotland.
That and Haggis for supper last night!

Cheers. Fiona just showed up with breakfast.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Off to UK for Two Weeks

From March 10 through March 22 I will be traveling in the United Kingdom. Starting in Scotland and progressing south through much of the dairy farming countryside of England I will be visiting dairy farms and talking with groups about calf and heifer management.

I hope to be able to take time to post my observations on this blog. If you have questions you may contact me through my e-mail, 
Calf Barns can Equal Hutches
That is the title of the Hoard's Dairyman article by Ken Nordland, Becky Brotzman and Arturo Gamez in the March 10, 2013 issue. 
What a great article. If you don't receive this magazine see if you can borrow one from a friend just to read this article.  The topics are:
  • Space per calf or calf pen
  • Bedding in cool weather
  • Drainage below bedding
  • Natural ventilation with supplemental positive pressure tube ventilation
  • Low permanent sidewalls in naturally ventilated barns
For barns with individual pens:
  • East-west orientation
  • Limit rows to one or two
  • Solid side panels with mesh panels on front and rear
  • Individual calf pens should not be covered but spaced 3 feet from outside walls

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Where to Start?
Situation: Large dairy, calves not dying but calves do not look thrifty.
Recommendation: Let's draw blood on the calves between 1 and 7 days and see what blood serum total proteins (BSTP) look like. Maybe there is an issue with the amount of antibodies circulating in the calves' blood. 
Results: Two-thirds of the  BSTP values are below 5.0. Hmmmm. Our most liberal threshold for these values is 80% above 5.0. Half of those low values are 4.0 and below.
Where to start? 
Begin keeping a record of colostrum feeding. This is the first step in accountability. The sheet may look like this:
Calf           Hour        Hour       Volume 1st          Person
Number     Born        1st Fdg    Fdg consumed       Feeding
The farm needs to set its own goals for timeliness of feeding. A good starting place here might be 80% within the first 4 hours. 
It might be a good idea to check with calf care persons to see how confident they feel using an esophageal tube feeder with calves that either are reluctant to drink or hard-delivery calves that cannot drink. For a teaching outline for instructing workers to use a tube feeder Click Here.
Now, before you jump ahead and suggest that the farm adopt the standard of feeding 4 quarts of colostrum within this 4 hours think of the consequences if the colostrum has a high bacteria count. No current information is available on colostrum bacteria counts. Rushing in and increasing the volume of colostrum fed might not be in the best interests of the calves.
A second step here might be to collect "as-fed" samples of colostrum and have them cultured. Ask for both how many (quantification) and which kinds (speciation). For a sampling procedure Click Here.

Depending on the results from the lab steps may be needed to reduce the bacteria load in the colostrum; or, maybe not.
A third step here might be to locate either a Brix refractometer or Colostrometer and begin checking colostrum quality; that is, the concentration of antibodies.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

We feed colostrum for first three days
This statement was made by a calf care person in southern Quebec province of Canada where I was leading a meeting on calf management. I followed up by asking her to describe in detail how she does this. 
She explained how they milk the dam into a catch bucket twice daily for the first three days and then her milk goes into the tank. The calf is fed from the catch bucket after each of these first six milkings. So, here is the question: Is she feeding colostrum for the first three days?  

You may recall these facts about solids, total protein and immunoglobulin (IgG) as we move from milking to milking:

Milking                               1                  2                 3                 Milk
Solids                                 23.9%          17.9%        14.1%          12.5%
Total Protein                      14.0%            8.4%         5.1%             3.2%
IgG                                      3.2%            2.5%         1.5%             0.06%
(per Davis and Drackley, 1998)

So, even by the 3rd milking she was feeding close to regular milk in terms of total solids and total protein. The benefit of this practice is not improve nutrition. There is, however, a measurable difference in IgG content especially compared to regular milk - these extra antibodies can provide surface immunity in the small intestine for the first three days - good.

As a group we agreed this is a good practice - but only if the milk is clean (that is, low in bacteria). She assured us that her stainless steel catch bucket was clean enough to drink out of. I praised her for handling this milk - she milked the cow and promptly fed the calf - no waiting.

That discussion went into a description of how rapidly coliform bacteria can multiply in warm milk (every 20 minutes). And, why it is so important to feed raw milk like this at least within 30 minutes after it is collected if one is to avoid high bacteria counts. 

Great discussion. Dairy farmers in Quebec (at least the ones that come to meetings) are great.