Thursday, September 26, 2013

Runny Noses and Coughing is NOT Normal
The children are back in school. In kindergarten when the children come together to share pathogens we tend to think it is "normal" for lots of runny noses and coughing.
But, for calves less than 3 months of age let's not fall into the trap of thinking that runny noses and coughing is "normal."
The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association web site has a section called "Gold Standards."  [click HERE to go there] The section on morbidity - pneumonia shows upper thresholds for pneumonia (runny noses and coughing are symptoms) of 10 percent of calves treated between 1 and 60 days of age and 15 percent of calves treated between 61 and 120 days.
These pneumonia treatment rates need to be considered upper limits. It's much more desirable to have lower rates of treatment.
Calves need a good start in life. That means plenty of clean, high quality colostrum ASAP after birth. What a good way to reduce the chances of pneumonia! Click HERE for a broader perspective on preventing pneumonia or bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
With calves in cold housing we seldom can do very much about changes in the weather. However, we can take steps to be sure the calves have plenty of energy and protein beyond their maintenance needs. I am still seeing dairies with very traditional milk replacer feeding programs. As weather in the northern climate areas continues its downward trend into freezing conditions these farms will start their seasonal wave of runny noses and coughing.
Click HERE to see the estimated gains for a 90 pound calf being fed 2 quarts twice daily of  20-20 milk replacer at the traditional mix (8 ounces makes 2 quarts of m.r.) rate. Note how at even the relatively mild 40F this feeding program fails to meet even the maintenance needs of a 90 pound calf.
When feeding calves at Noblehurst dairy I switched from 16 ounces per day of milk replacer powder to 30 ounces daily. My pneumonia treatment rate dropped from 25 percent to 5 percent among calves less than 60 days old. This was year after year - not just some fluke in the weather.

And, after we switched to a step-down weaning program that allowed calves to come up on calf grain two weeks before moving to groups our group-pen pneumonia treatment rate also dropped to less than 5 percent.

No, runny noses and coughing is NOT normal.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Myth: Young Calves Don't Drink Water

Yet another calf care person told me that they don't feed water to their calves until they are are around three weeks old. "Why bother feeding water to younger calves? They never drink any."
I was reviewing the findings about the effects of "step-up" milk replacer feeding programs (Quigley, J.D., T.A. Wolfe, and T.H. Elsasser "Effects of additional milk replacer feeding on calf health, growth, and selected blood metabolites in Calves." Journal of Dairy Science 89:207-216. 2006).

The research measured daily water intake for 120 calves from about 4 days of age. The Figure below shows water intake for "Days of Study" that started about at that age. Sorry about orientation - try turning your monitor 90 degrees?

Note how much opportunity for water consumption is lost between days 1 and 21 of days on the study. 

Reality? Young calves DO drink water - just not a lot of it. I found that feeding water at body temperature did encourage young calves to drink a larger volume of water.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I Tried that and It Doesn't Work on My Farm
In response to a question about calf health a couple of weeks ago as the weather locally has been getting colder I recommended increasing the amount being fed to the preweaned calves. The response was, "I tried that and it doesn't work on my farm. When I increase the amount of milk fed to calves they all get scours."
I turned to the computer and printed a copy of my resource, "Feeding more milk without scours." Click HERE to access this 10-point checklist. We had a great discussion. It turned out that the farm had never sampled colostrum to check for bacteria contamination.

As you may have already guessed the colostrum culture results all came back as TNTC (too numerous to count) - the plates were overgrown with colonies to the point that there was not way to count them. That gave us a solid starting point to improve profitability for the calf enterprise.

Moral of the story? If a dairy has the experience of calves scouring as more milk is fed in the fall it is very likely that at least one of the ten points on the checklist is far away from the desired threshold.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sam's World is Cold
As I walked out to my truck this morning I saw two things:
1. Ice on the windshield
2. Frost on the lower part of my lawn
It is NOT summer.
When we need to wear an extra layer of clothing in the morning when feeding calves it is time to be feeding more milk to our young preweaned calves. Of course, if we have heated housing what happens outdoors does not really matter.
On the other hand, if we have cold housing we need to pay attention to the nutrient needs of our babies. Remember that when the environmental temperature falls below about 60 degrees (16C) young milk-fed calves start burning energy to maintain their core body temperature.
The idea is to feed enough to meet not only the maintenance needs of the calf but also to support growth as well. For  ideas about the amount of growth likely to match different feeding rates at 60F, 40F and 20F click HERE.
If you prefer to see how nutrients are divided between maintenance and growth this graph may help you see the relationship: Graph 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why Do I Need to Feed 200 grams of IgG?
Cabral, Chapman and Erickson (Univ. NH) published last week a review entitled "Colostrum supplements and replacers for dairy calves." (Prof. An. Sci. 29:449-456, Sept. 2013)
In it was a summary of 16 studies where colostrum and colostrum replacer products were fed to dairy calves. For each study estimates were made of the "apparent efficiency of absorption (AEA)." That is, for every 100g of IgG fed what proportion ended up in the plasma of the calf?
The range of AEA reported was from a low of 14.3 to a high of 51.1. The average value for all 36 experimental treatments in 13 studies for which AEA was reported was 32 (Median was also 32). 
The arithmetic at this point is clear:
1. Feed  100 grams IgG, chances are high that 32 grams will end up in plasma.
2. Feed 200 grams IgG, chances are high that 64 grams will end up in plasma.
If we consider 50 grams in plasma as a lower threshold, then two quarts of colostrum that tests 50g/quart will not get us to our goal - strong immune protection for the newborn calf. However, four quarts of the same colostrum should push protection well above the desired minimum level.
Feeding one package of colostrum replacer containing 150g immunoglobulins may almost reach this lower boundary. Feeding enough colostrum replacer (e.g., two packets of 100g each) to get well above the threshold sounds like a better management practice. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

If you feed less the calves gain less
Two articles published last week in the most recent issue of the Professional Animal Scientist demonstrate that if you feed less the calves gain less.
Neither of the research projects were designed to demonstrate how limited gains could be in the first 6 weeks of life. No information was included about environmental conditions - one project was done in Georgia and the other in Pennsylvania. 
However, the data confirm that when you limit milk replacer feeding to roughly 22 to 25 ounces per day (free-choice water and calf starter grain) calves will gain less than 1 pound a day (range was from about 0.8 to 0.9 pounds per day) in the period between birth and 6 weeks of age. 
One of the two studies did weigh the calves at 8 weeks of age. They found that when the extra 2 weeks growth were added the rate of gain came up to a little over 1.1 pounds per day.

If our goal is to have calves double their birth weight by 60 days these gains will not succeed. Go figure - even the optimistic 1.1 pounds per day times 60 days only comes to 66 pounds.

If your calf starts life at 90 pounds and gains roughly 66 pounds she ends up at 156 rather than 180 pounds.

Moral of the story? Limit-feeding calves the first five or six weeks of life does not take advantage of the fact that this is the time when one pound of feed gives you more gain than any other time in the animal's life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making it easy to follow protcols
When caring for calves it is important to follow feeding protocols. And, making it easy for everyone to comply with the protocols is a best management practice. 
At this dairy different amounts of milk are fed to calves depending on their age and where they are in the weaning process. 

Note the use of yellow, blue and red pails. Each color pail receives a different amount of milk each feeding. No signs are necessary - just look at the pail color. 
If you are not already familiar with the grain feeders - they are made by Kane mfg. See for their product line. One of my clients modified hutches to use them there as well as pens inside a barn.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Unusual Blood Serum Total Protein Numbers
I have been corresponding with a veterinarian working with a group of dairies in Viet Nam. He reports unusual blood serum total protein numbers.
Blood samples from calves 36 to72 hours old have blood serum total protein values with a mean or average between 6.5 and 7.0. Yes, he did recalibrate the refractometer. A next step would be to split a few samples and send them to a lab to verify the readings.
Given the heat stress on the dams the calves tend to be small (30kg). They are fed an adequate volume of colostrum (3l in first few hours of life). Colostrum is checked for antibody concentration and only the colostrum at 50g/dl is fed first feeding. 
He thought to sample some calves before they received colostrum. The average value for blood serum total protein was about 5.5g/dl. Yes, 5.5. A recent study here in US that bled calves at birth reported values between 4.1 and 4.3g/dl. 
In our in-house lab it is not uncommon for us to have readings from calves that supposedly received colostrum between 3.8 and 4.1. 
So, this is a bit of a puzzle.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Views from England
Earlier this week a friend from UK send me these pictures of a new dairy facility in the Yorkshire Dales. In case your geography of UK is a bit rusty, Yorkshire is one of the northern counties in England. The rolling topography resulting from the glaciers may seem familiar to Americans because the hill-valley scenes are similar to the those in many northern states in USA. This picture gives an overview of facility. Building are clear span steel construction - not much wood used in these buildings.
Next picture is of transition heifer housing. Note the walls made of evenly spaced boards - roughly an inch between them - locally referred to as Yorkshire boarding - supposed to be the answer to good ventilation - in my opinion ventilation in most buildings with this kind of siding is poor. Calves look in good body condition and small groups make observation easy.
The last picture is of preweaned calf housing. Again the Yorkshire boarding as siding. I would rather see something else than plywood as the material for pens because wood is nearly impossible to clean and tends to carry a lot of pathogens from calf-to-calf. 
Calves are well-bedded with expensive long wheat straw. Unusual in this case is the absence of racks on the side of the pens for feeding free-choice straw to the calves, a very common practice in England.High concrete wall in back is the end of their silage bunker.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Heifer Mastitis and Blind Quarters
I recently had a telephone conversation with a heifer grower. They raise heifers from about 400 pounds until two months before calving. They have several dairy clients that send heifers to them.
He had come in from treating a heifer for a swollen quarter. As that information was being added to the computer he was prompted to pull up the rest of the cases where similar treatments were made since the first of the year.

This showed that 23 cases had been treated. He checked to see the source farm for these cases. Twenty-one of the cases came from just one client. That is 90 percent of the cases even though that client's animals are only 40 percent of the animals on the facility.
He asked me about ideas I might have about why this might be the case. We concluded the most likely source of the problem was cross-sucking at the source farm. He was planning to stop by the farm toward the end of the month to go over this issue with the farm owner.
That got me started on building the September issue of Calving Ease, "Cross-Sucking: Issues and Tips." We are loading this on our web site on 9/6/13 so it should be available there.  - it should be front and center on the home page.
If you want to receive a note with a link each time the monthly issue of this calf management newsletter comes out just send an e-mail to with subscribe in the subject field.
 A Break in ID Numbers
I ducked into our in-house lab to scan the blood serum total protein numbers from the weekly samples from a local dairy.
These values are entered into a spreadsheet. These data are the basis of a report that goes to the farm every month as part of farm-wide management conference.
The vet tech started to enter the first calf ID and BSTP value. She stopped and said, "Oops, someone forgot to enter the values from last week." She spotted a break in the number series [all the calves are bled for BSTP on this farm]. Off she went to find  the bench worksheet that is used to record values as the readings are made.
This is the kind of thinking employee that every vet practice needs. This is the kind of calf care employee that every dairy needs - something is "not right." The situation triggers a "Oops"  response. And ... the calf care person does something about it rather than just shrugging it off saying, "Shit happens."
Today might be the right day to thank a person for doing a good job.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Look Beyond the Results of One Report
In a recent dairy farm report on six colostrum samples we found three out of six (50%) had TNTC (too numerous to count) total plate counts and coliform counts greater than 30,000 cfu/ml. 
What comes next? Possible places to check to account for high inoculation rates and opportunities for bacterial growth in colostrum. Great advice - high possibility of finding places to make changes that will drop these undesirable bacteria counts.
Should we stop there? Think again. If the dairy is having problems with elevated bacteria counts in colostrum, what are the chances that there are elevated counts in other places?
Fortunately that did occur to the herd veterinarian. He recommended sampling milk replacer coming out of the automatic feeders. He struck gold!
Of the five milk replacer samples coming out of the feeder nipples three had TNTC coliforms. Failures in sanitation one place on the dairy accurately predicted failures in a second place. 
Bottom line: Try to remember to look beyond the results from one report - where else on the dairy might these results suggest potential opportunities to improve profitability?