Friday, November 29, 2013

Be Sure to Feed What You Intend to Feed
We have to be careful when we do our calculations. One of the most common errors in mixing milk replacer is the confusion over how much powder is mixed with water. This is often an issue when setting an automatic feeder. 

Let me quote from a paper, "Group Housing and  Feeding Systems of Calves - Opportunities and Challenges," by Bob James and Kayla Machado, VPISU in Reno on March 7, 2013.
"When milk replacer is used, powder is diluted with water to approximately 13o15% solids. Caution is advised when specifying dilution as most autofeeding systems express the grams of milk replacer to add to each liter of water. 
Therefore, 150g added to a liter of water is not 15% solids but 13% (1,000ml water + 150g of powder = 1150 final weight. Therefor, 150g of powder divided by 1150g of total weight = 13% solids."
Ooooops! We thought we were feeding 15% solids and actually only feeding 13%!
Many thanks to Bob and Kayla for bringing this to our attention. 

If you have access to SPAC (Searchable Proceedings of Animal Conferences) this paper is in the 2013 section of the Western Dairy Conference proceedings.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Separating Water and Grain Pails
 I was in a calf barn recently that expanded and set up a new section of pens. This is what I saw. Note the placement of the grain and water feeding pails - lots of separation.

The calf care person and I  had talked in the past about the advantage of water and grain pail separation. That is, compared to pails that are placed against each other this separated placement means that less water is transferred into the grain by the calf. And, because the grain does not get as wet, calves consume more grain leading to better dry matter intakes.

I was pleased to see that now with the new pens the pails are separated.

For additional pictures courtesy of Al Kertz, you may visit and scroll to "Water Grain Separation Pictures."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Housing Too Many Heifers
What to do for housing when you have too many heifers? This was one farm's solution - take over a bay in a machine shed. 

Put up plywood on the side to keep calves away from the metal siding.
Rip off some of the metal siding on the back for some ventilation. The front of the building where I was standing to take the picture is open. Air exchange is okay only on windy days.
Try not to overstock the pen - today these ten to twelve-week old heifers had a little over twenty-five square feet of resting space per animal. On one hand, that is substantially less than the recommended standard of thirty-five to minimize stress. On the other hand, that is quite a bit more than the less than fifteen before this machine-shed housing was set up.
This pen is quite labor intensive. Concentrate is fed inside the pen (see feeder at side) so a person has to climb in and out of this pen with a five-gallon bucket twice a day. Cow TMR is fed in the bunk (located where I was standing to take the picture) - so this has to be cleaned out by hand daily. Bedding is added from a skidsteer bucket - dumped in over the feed bunk and then spread by hand over the rest of the pen.

Overall, this "make-do" pen is better than the previous overcrowded housing. Nevertheless, barely half of the heifers escape this pen without being treated for pneumonia. 

In contrast, this dairy has just set up these three superhutches to solve the same problem. They will face some of the same challenges as the machine shed - overstocking can become an issue here. The day I took this picture they were making concentrate and water feeders for these hutches. It looked to me as if a person was going to have to get into each pen to feed grain and/or forage. Water tanks were planned for the downhill/front end of each pen to be filled with a hose from a non-freezing hydrant. Bedding will have to be done by hand.
Overall, this housing is better than an overstocked bottom of an old bank barn with non-existent ventilation. My experience with this housing was a very low rate of pneumonia treatment, good growth rates, and some extra hand labor for grain and water feeding especially during freezing weather.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How not to use electrolytes?
The calf care person spots a calf with scours. Lots of loose manure in her pen.
What to do? Aha! Feed electrolyte to her. At her next milk/milk replacer feeding dump in the electrolyte powder and presto! All done!
What is wrong with this description? "All done" is the big mistake here. Set aside your concern whether or not the electrolyte is formulated to be fed with milk. There is no effort to get the calf to drink extra fluids. In addition, by adding an additional three to four ounces of powder the dry matter concentration was being pushed up well above "normal" for either milk or milk replacer.
During a recent series of four farm visits this was the protocol for treating scours on all four farms. Just dump a packet of electrolyte powder into the calf's milk. Did I just happen to visit four farms that were unusual or is this really a common practice? This did get me thinking about the need to show calf care persons how to mix electrolyte powders with water. Is it any surprise that the folks I talked with were not impressed with the effectiveness of electrolytes in treating diarrhea?
I have seen estimates that calves with diarrhea often pass six to eight quarts of fluid daily. On one hand, if free-choice or ad lib. water is provided there is a chance the calf with drink enough to maintain an adequate hydration level. On the other hand, in my experience many scouring calves need to receive some extra encouragement to consume enough fluids.
I always made at least one extra visit to these calves to deliver either a bottle or pail with a warm electrolyte solution.  My success rate for getting calves to drink extra fluids was best when I made these visits between regular feeding times. And, I admit it was not convenient to go back to calves with severe scours at 8:00 or 9:00 pm when they needed a two bottles of electrolytes per day (four quarts).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's Not Possible to Get 75% Above 5.5
This statement is made about blood serum total protein values for dairy calves on commercial dairies. I just finished summarizing the latest data for a dairy that seems to suggest this is not true.
One of my clients bleeds all of the calves between 36 and 72 hours of age. In the past 12 months for which I have data that is 683 calves.
The percent of calves at 5.5 and greater:
Date of Summary   Percent 5.5 &>
October 2012               95
January 2013               93
April 2013                   87
July 2013                     83
October 2013               94
I checked records and found only 24 calves in this period had BSTP below 5.0.
  • All calves get first feeding of colostrum within 2 hours of birth.
  • All colostrum is checked for antibody concentration with highest quality fed first feeding to these heifers; nothing below 50g/L or 22 Brix.
  • All calves (small calves an exception) receive 4 quarts colostrum first feeding.
  • All calves receive an additional 2 quarts of high quality colostrum in the next eight hours. 
  • All colostrum samples for monitoring bacteria levels less than 5,000 cfu/ml coliforms, less than 50,000 cfu/ml standard plate count. 
 Just do all these right all the time! [Yes, I do admit that among all my clients, this dairy does the best job of colostrum management.]