Thursday, December 31, 2015

Introducing Forage to Transition Heifers

If calves have not already been introduced to forage before they enter the transition phase post weaning the way forage is added to their ration can make a difference in their health.

Go over this new guide for introducing forage to transition heifers now in the resource library at Click HERE for access. 

Introducing Forage to Transition Calves 
  • Rumen Basics 
  • What happens in the rumen when we add forage to the ration? 
  • What happens if we feed too much forage too soon? 
  • A preferred forage introduction strategy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Managing Physical Barriers to Infection

Dr. Don Sockett, University of Wisconsin, in a paper on applied immunology cataloged seven physical barriers to infection. Most of these are open to our management. Review these details in a new resource at Click HERE to access this report. 

Healthy Calves: Managing Physical Barriers to Infection

  • Intact skin and mucous membranes 
  • Normal microbial flora 
  • Fatty acids in the skin 
  • Acid in the stomach (abomasum) 
  • Hair and cilia in the nasal and respiratory tract 
  • Enzymes in saliva, tears and intestine 
  • Coughing, sneezing, vomiting, urination, diarrhea

Monday, December 28, 2015

Feeding Space for Heifers

Does the amount of space for feeding affect heifers?

Try reading this new resource in the Calf Facts library. Access it HERE.

Feeding Space for Heifers 
  • Why is the amount of feeder space an issue? 
  • What about transition calves coming out of hutches or individual pens? 
  • Space issues for heifers between four and eight months. 
  • Space issues for breeding age and pregnant heifers. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dehydration - A Calf Killer

Dehydration is a common issue among calves suffering from scours or diarrhea. The new resource sheet with tips on dealing with dehydration is now on the web site. To access click HERE.

  • Why do calves get dehydrated? 
  • Preventing dehydration is more cost effective than treating it. 
    • 1. Reduce pathogen exposure. 
    • 2. Increase immunity to pathogens. 
    • 3. Feed free-choice water. 
  • Treating it requires timely measures appropriate to the degree of dehydration. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Keeping Colostrum Clean

The title of a new Calf Facts resource is "Clean Colostrum: Let Biology Work for You."
This fact sheet may be accessed at or just click HERE.

Clean Colostrum: Letting Biology Work for You 

  • Know how bacteria grow. 
  • Let biology work for you. 
  • Do not blend or pool fresh colostrum with that which is stored. 
  • Give high priority to keeping liquid warm feces out of fresh colostrum. 
  • Extend generation time by lowering colostrum temperature.  
  • Extend generation time by using liquid potassium sorbate bacteria inhibitor.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dystocia Calf Care

Caring for the "hard calving" calf is always a challenge. This new resource on dystocia calf care has tips for what to do for these calves at birth and ideas for special care during their first two weeks of life.

To access this resource in the web site click HERE.

Dystocia Calf Care 
  • Calves less than 48 hours old receiving substantial assistance at birth had 36 percent mortality compared to 2 percent for calves with unassisted births. 
  • Calves between 2 and 120 days receiving substantial assistance at birth had 70 percent higher mortality rate compared to calves with unassisted births. 
  • Calves receiving substantial assistance at birth had 56 percent more respiratory infections compared to calves with unassisted births. 
  • For dystocia calves at birth be sure to stimulate breathing. 
  • For the first two weeks of life, identify and observe dystocia calves carefully for infections. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dehorning Calves

The new guide on dehorning dairy calves is now at the Calf Facts resource library. Click HERE to go there. If this link does not work try the URL,

Dehorning Calves 

  • Earlier is better than later. When using paste try to complete the process during the first week. When hot iron cauterizing three to four weeks of age is a good time. 
  • Use a local anesthetic and remember that more restraint is safer for both the animal and the person than less restraint. 
  • Less stress is better than more stress. Isolate dehorning from other stresses. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Colostrum Bacteria Control
8 Practical Steps to Reduce Bacteria Counts

This is the title of a new colostrum resource in the Calf Facts library. Access is at or by clicking HERE.

Here are the eight steps covered in the new resource checklist:
Step 1. Clean teats in the parlor. 
Step 2. Clean milker buckets including lids, valves and gaskets. 
Step 3. Clean pails into which to pour colostrum as it is harvested. 
Step 4. If milker buckets or pails are in the parlor, clean covers are used for every bucket before, during and after use. 
Step 5. Prompt feeding of fresh colostrum 
Step 6. Prompt cooling of colostrum if it is to be stored. [Did you see the new resource highlighted in the previous Blog on colostrum cooling?]
Step 7. Clean containers for feeding and storing colostrum. 
Step 8. Prompt feeding of warmed up colostrum.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Colostrum Chilling

The new colostrum resource sheet, "Colostrum Chilling" is now posted in the Calf Facts section of the web site. Access is at or by clicking HERE.

Colostrum Chilling 

Chill colostrum quickly if it is to be stored. 
Water-bath method 
Ice-immersion method 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Pooling Colostrum

Should the dairy keep separate the colostrum from individual cows? Or, should colostrum be blended together or what we often call, "pooling?"

The new colostrum resource is now posted at or access by clicking HERE.

Colostrum: To Pool or Not To Pool? 

  • Pooling combines colostrum from two or more fresh animals. 
  • How? When? 
  • Advantages 1. Less time in parlor 2. Less space needed to store colostrum. 3. Less time cleaning equipment 
  • Disadvantages 1. Increased risk of spreading diseases carried in colostrum. 2. Increased risk of coliform contamination from the parlor. 3. Increased risk of passive transfer failure. 4. Increased risk of coliform contamination in stored colostrum

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cold Weather Bedding for Calves

"Cold Weather Bedding" is the name of a new resource, see outline below, at 

 Two ways to test the adequacy of our wintertime bedding. 
 Consider both conduction and convection heat losses. 
 Management tips for adequate cold weather bedding. 

The link to this resource is HERE.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Colostrum: Managing Shelf Life

Managing shelf life is a universal challenge for stored colostrum. This new resource is now posted at the web site. Access at or click HERE.

Contents include:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Using Bleach for Cleaning

Using a solution of sodium hypochlorite, most of us call this "bleach" to clean is both effective and inexpensive. Guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting are in this new Calf Facts resource with the title "Bleach: Using it to Effectively Clean and Disinfect: click HERE for this new resource.

Bleach Using it to Effectively Clean & Disinfect 
 Shelf life for bleach 
 Tables for bleach dilutions for washing, sanitizing and soaking when using household-concentration bleach. 
 Sanitizing equipment 
 Sanitizing milk – does not work

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

New Calf Management Letter
"Mixing Milk Replacer: Are You Using Best 
Management Practices?"

Enjoy! The link is HERE.

Mixing Milk Replacer:
Are You Using Best Management Practices?

·        Amount of powder is measured by weight.
·        Amount of water is measured in a calibrated container.
·        Temperature of mixing water is the same as manufacturer’s directions.
·        Blending is adequate to achieve solution of ingredients but not excessive.
·        Final mixing concentration is checked regularly. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Role of Colostrum and Transition Milk
in Calf Gut Development

Kurt Cotanch writing in the newsletter from the W.H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute summarizes key ideas about calf gut development. He starts with the prenatal period and carries through feeding both colostrum and transition milk.

If you are not already familiar with this periodic publication from the Miner Institute please take a few minutes to discover its value.

The link to the most recent issue is:

Kurt also includes the link to the Penn State spreadsheet that helps make a decision about feeding milk compared to milk replacer:

"The Penn State website has a calculator to fi gure the breakeven cost of your milk compared to your choice of milk replacer when considering the economics of feeding dam’s milk. http://extension.psu. edu/animals/dairy/nutrition/calves/ feeding/das-07-116."


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chilling Colostrum

One way to reduce the bacteria load in colostrum headed for the refrigerator or freezer is to chill it down to around 60F (16C) before it is stored.

A preview of the practical fact sheet on the WHY and HOW appears below. Sorry, but no pictures - you will have to wait until this is posted online at later this year

Colostrum Chilling

  • ·        Chill colostrum quickly if it is to be stored.
  • ·        Water-bath method
  • ·        Ice-immersion method

In the first place, if we are going to feed colostrum within thirty minutes after it is collected, why would we want to chill it?  Obviously, the answer is that it does not need chilling. Just feed it promptly.

Why chilling?

We want to feed clean colostrum. Our goal is to reduce the bacterial load in colostrum in order to promote good gut health. Clearly it makes sense to avoid bacterial inoculation of colostrum as a first step toward this goal.  That means clean teats in the parlor. In addition, we need to start with clean collection, feeding and storage equipment.

In many cases not all our colostrum is going to be fed directly from the dam. If it is going to be held more than one-half hour until it is fed the colostrum is at risk of growing bacteria.

Why chill quickly?

Colostrum is very good bacterial growth medium – favorable pH and lots of readily available nutrients. Also, when collected from a cow it is at an excellent temperature to encourage bacterial growth.  By the way, we describe these growth rates using the term “Generation Time.”

At cow body temperature the generation time for coliform bacteria is about twenty minutes. Yes, that is correct. These bacteria can double in numbers in twenty minutes. That means in less than three hours after collection warm colostrum with an initial bacteria count of only 1,000cfu/ml (cfu/ml=colony forming units per milliliter) can have a terminal bacteria count of around 130,000cfu/ml! That is high enough to make a calf very sick.

One cost effective way to slow down the rate at which bacteria multiply is to lower the temperature of the growth medium – colostrum. For example, when we reduce colostrum temperature from 95 to 60 degrees (35C to 16C), coliform generation times increase from roughly twenty to one hundred and fifty minutes. Thus, if we want to cut down bacteria numbers that come from initial inoculation one alternative is to rapid chill the colostrum to at least 60 degrees. Then, when it is put into either a refrigerator or freezer the unit has plenty of time to do the rest of the chilling without the risk of excessive bacteria growth.

Farm-friendly ways to Chill: Water-bath method

In order to be “farm-friendly” a chilling method has to be simple and cost effective.

One such method is a water bath. Colostrum is transferred into containers smaller than milker pails or five-gallon pails. Most folks use calf nursing bottles. Others buy two or four quart plastic containers. Unless the containers are one-use disposable ones make sure that it is easy to brush all the inside surfaces.

Right-size the tub for the water bath based on your experience with colostrum volume. Larger farms may consider using several water bath containers for increased flexibility. Remember that for most efficient heat transfer at least ¾ of the container holding the colostrum needs to be submersed in the ice-cold water. 

And, avoid packing ice around the containers without water. This is not an efficient method of chilling because the ice water is needed to promote effective heat transfer. 

See picture below of a plastic water bath with nursing bottles. This farm purchased plastic tubs that fit inside their refrigerator to promote even better chilling. [Including what appears to be a workers lunch!]

Also, remember to close off the opening at the top of these containers. Note in the picture below the dairy chose to snap nitrile gloves onto the nursing bottles [by the way, at this dairy blue gloves indicated high quality colostrum and white glove indicated low quality colostrum.].


Source of ice?  Large operations should consider purchasing a used restaurant ice maker. Smaller dairies find it practical to use the freezer compartments of refrigerators or a small chest freezer for making ice. One dairy cuts the bottoms off of one-gallon plastic jugs to create big oversize hockey pucks of ice. Several of my clients repeatedly freeze “cold-packs” rather than use water for making ice.

Farm-friendly ways to Chill: Ice-immersion method

A second  “farm-friendly” method is adding containers of ice directly to the warm colostrum. An ice:colostrum ratio that works well to chill just-collected colostrum to 60 degrees within one-half hour is 1 quart of ice to 1 gallon of colostrum (1 liter of ice to 4 liters colostrum).

In general multiple small ice containers will do a quicker job of chilling compared to one larger container. For example, six 16 ounce recycled plastic soft drink bottles compared to one one-gallon plastic jug. 

See the picture below of a gallon jug of ice in a bucket containing about three gallons of colostrum. I took this bucket out of the refrigerator and removed the lid to take this picture. It is a good idea to cover containers of colostrum in refrigerators to reduce the thickness of the dry scum (mostly milk fat) that forms during storage.


A few dairies place the equivalent of 3 quarts of ice in the stainless steel milker bucket before milking the fresh cow. This procedure eliminates errors in remembering to add ice once the fresh cow is milked.

As shown above other dairies with more than a few quarts of colostrum to chill pour 3 gallons of colostrum into a five-gallon pail, add a one-gallon jug of ice, put a lid on the pail and put the entire pail-jug-colostrum into a refrigerator. The colostrum chills from the inside-out as well as from the outside-in.

One caution! When containers are placed directly into colostrum they need to have as few bacteria on their surfaces as is practical. Rinsing them quickly with tap water as they are transferred from the freezer into the colostrum is a best management practice. 

If these containers are used more than once someone needs to be given the responsibility of cleaning these each time they are cycled through the freezer. Also, the person cleaning the bottles needs to remember to avoid bacteria build-up underneath the caps where screw onto the bottles and jugs.

 Extended cooling may be desired

Many dairies have one person responsible for handling colostrum. In order to both rapidly chill colostrum and keep it cold until that person is available some farms extend chilling.

For example, after placing ice containers directly into colostrum for initial chilling the night shift workers simply replace the first batch of ice bottles with a fresh set as they leave. Or, additional ice is added to the ice bath to carry the colostrum over until the colostrum person is available. 

If an ice bath container is right-sized to fit into a refrigerator that solves the cooling problem. Another dairy immediately after harvesting colostrum places a one-gallon jug of ice in each stainless steel milker bucket and they go into a chest freezer to wait for processing.                                                                     

Monday, November 30, 2015

Finding Sick Calves in Group Housing

How does one find a sick preweaned calf in group housing?

If the pen of calves is fed twice or three times a day, then is seems logical to look for any calf that does not get up at feeding time.

However, what if the calves are being fed with a computer-controlled automatic feeder? There is no special feeding time even though there are hours of the day when feeding is more frequent. Thus, looking for any calf that is lying down when we are in the barn could be a pretty unreliable method of spotting sick calves. 

Recent research observed the behavior of preweaned dairy calves (N=75) in group housing (8 pens). To test for approaching a human the researcher walked calmly to the center of the pen and remained motionless for 60 seconds. To test for approaching an object the researcher walked in the center of the pen and left behind a blue plastic cone (8.5" tall, 5.5" at base). The calf behaviors were video taped for later analysis. An "approach" was defined as taking a step toward the object/human. 

The calves were observed daily by farm staff and weekly by the research team. They recorded all the cases of diarrhea (65% had at least one case of scours) and bovine respiratory disease (59% had at least one episode of treatable pneumonia).

Using both measures of exploratory behavior (that is, approaching either or both the cone or human) they found a positive association between sickness and failing to approach. The same failure to approach was found when calves had a fever (anything equal to or greater than 103F [39.4C]).

Implications for me: In addition to watching for the familiar symptoms of scours and pneumonia (that is, coughing, runny noses, dirty rumps) these finding suggest that lack of exploratory activity (approaching a stationary person or object) might tip us off to a calf running a fever or feeling sick. These are the "need to check" calves. Just one more tool in our health toolbox. 

Reference: Cramer, M.C. and A. L Stanton, "Associations between health status and the probability of approaching a novel object or stationary human in preweaned group-housed dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 98:7298-7308. 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Value of Transition Milk

During a farm visit last Friday we talked over a persistent problem with scours during the first two weeks of life for their calves.

The farm milks all their cows into a bucket milker for the first four milkings. Currently that milk is diluted with line milk and fed to the calves over four weeks of age.

Recall that compared to first milking (usually we call this colostrum) the second and third milkings post calving have about 70 and 40 percent respectively antibody concentration. 

This dairy was feeding this "liquid gold" to the older calves.

My recommendation, especially given the scours issues among the youngest calves, was to change their feeding practices for this "transition" milk. Save it separately - feed it fresh to the youngest calves for as many days as the supply will permit. My best guess is that when this change is made there will be a big drop in scours cases among the young calves. 

By the way, they are now checking colostrum for antibody concentration with a Brix refractometer. Any low quality colostrum will be pooled with the transition milk - that will give a nice boost to the antibody content as well. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Another Colostrum Q

I ran across this resource that talks about cleanliness of colostrum. The work, "quenliness" is coined to describe the bacteria count in colostrum.

Find the article HERE by Jim Salfer of the University of Minnesota Extension service. 

The article provides a great review of best management practices to achieve low bacteria counts in colostrum.

Have fun with this new word - QUENLINESS!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Transition from Hay to Fermented Feeds

I had the opportunity to visit two dairies the same day. In each case I walked the transition heifer pens. I must admit that I did not have any scale data in order calculate growth rates for these heifers - I just walked by slowing making visual assessments of the animals. 

On dairy #1 heifers are moved from individual to group pens of 10 calves, the ration for these heifers age 9 to 13 weeks was free-choice grower pelleted concentrate, free-choice medium-quality hay and water. Before coming into these transition pens their ration was the same pellet and water free-choice. 

Around 13 weeks old their ration changes from the pellets and hay to a heifer TMR formulated specifically for heifers 3-12 months of age. 

On dairy #2  heifers are moved from individual to group pens of 10 calves, the ration for these heifers 9 to 10 weeks was free-choice grower pelleted concentrate, the amount of good-quality hay they can clean up in an hour and free-choice water. Before coming into these transition pens their ration was the same pellet and water free-choice. 

At 11 weeks these heifer are moved to another barn, pens of 10 heifers, ration changes to free-choice hay, pellets and water.

At 13 weeks the ration changes by adding the amount of heifer TMR they will clean up in about an hour - several large shovels-full it look like to me. 

At 15 weeks the rations changes entirely to the heifer TMR formulated specifically for heifers 4-12 months of age. 

What is the difference between the two feeding protocols?

Dairy #2 - the heifers had close to two weeks of eating the fermented feed before they moved to entirely TMR.
Dairy #1 - there was an abrupt change from dry forage to fermented forage in one day.

What are the plus and minus factors involved at these two dairies?

On dairy #1 it is likely to be nearly a full week before these heifers are able to achieve a new balance of fiber-digesting microbes that work on fermented feeds. Thus, these heifers will be short on energy and protein. As long as there are no stress factors (abrupt change in weather, over-crowding, vaccinations, introduction of new animals into the pen) these shortages are not likely to have any negative effects other than some compromised growth.

On dairy #2 the switch to fermented feeds is likely to have little effect on the availability of energy and protein for these heifers - they have received rumen pre-conditioning to smooth the change in forage from dry hay to the TMR.

I am sure you can see my preference for pre-conditioning the rumen when making a ration change. I believe this management choice is better than buying a feed-grade antibiotic (for example, AS700, Aureomycin) to top dress the ration while the heifers adapt to the ration change. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

November 2015 Calf Management Newsletter
"Are Your Weaned Calves Rumen Ready?"

The newsletter is available HERE or at, click on Calving Ease in left hand menu, click on November newsletter. 

Key points:
  • Rumen review – the fermentation center for a ruminant.
  • Changing from a pig to a ruminant – strong rumen wall muscles, well grown-out papillae.
  • Tips for encouraging early rumen readiness:
1.      Know what is “normal” grain intake.
2.      Keep the grain dry.
3.      Keep the grain fresh, especially avoid moldy grain.
4.      For the youngest calves begin with only enough grain to cover the bottom of the pail.
  • Hunger is a great incentive to eat more grain – cut back on the milk near weaning.
No Hay to Free-Choice Hay in One Day?

Here we are in the transition heifer housing. Heifers at this dairy move from hutches into small outdoor group pens (10 calves) where they continue their ration of free-choice pelleted grower concentrate (18% protein) and water.

Then they come into this transition heifer barn - starting at one end and in several months moving to pens in the other end. On this in-coming end the ration continues with free-choice pelleted growth concentrate and water AND free-choice hay.

Yes, the heifers go from no hay to free-choice hay in one day.

By my visual inspection I cannot see any significant growth until the heifers have been in this barn for nearly a month. Today there is a small amount of coughing among heifers in the youngest pens. 

What is going on in this situation?

These youngest heifers appear to be enjoying the hay today - all I can think of is the lack of the appropriate fiber-digesting microbes in their rumens necessary for breaking down all this fiber. Hay goes in the front, turns brown, goes out the back without any significant nutrition received.

Net result of hay intake the first week or two? Fills up the very small rumen displacing the grower pellet. Available energy and protein drops drastically - growth flat lines - some calves show symptoms of bovine respiratory disease.

Recommended introduction of hay at this dairy

1. For at least a few days after moving into this barn continue same ration used in outdoor pens.

2. For the first week or ten days for feeding hay, limit hay to what the heifers will clean up in an hour. By the way, this dairy has enough bunk space for all the heifers to eat at one time - good. 

3. After ten to fourteen days (time enough for the fiber-digesting microbial population to reach a new balance in the rumen) then move to free-choice hay. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pre-Use Rinse Does Work!

Here are the data (RLU's - see below for explanation):
                                    August     September        October
 Nursing Bottle               191           3136                1
 Nursing Nipple            1010             256                0

The farm uses an upper threshold for calf feeding equipment of 100.

I am using the Hygiena SystemSure Plus unit to do adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring. The ATP test is a process of rapidly measuring actively growing microorganisms through the detection of adenosine triphosphate. An ATP monitoring system can detect the amount of microbial contamination that remains after cleaning a surface (for example, calf feeding equipment). 

Thresholds used in the food processing industry are less than10 RLU for direct food contact surfaces and less than 50 RLU for environmental surfaces. I have been using a reading of 100 RLU as realistic on-farm upper threshold for calf feeding equipment

After the elevated readings in August and September the calf manager decided to add a "pre-use" rinse to their feeding routine. Starting at the beginning of October before starting the feeding this bottle is filled with warm water and health splash of household bleach - he shakes it and dumps out the rinse water. Then it goes into the feeding cart just in case it is needed. 

The bottle is only used when a young calf fails to drink her milk. The bottle was not used the morning I swabbed the bottle and nipple.

What was the problem back in August and September?  Several days may pass with the bottle not being used - yes, you are correct - this was an issue with bacteria regrowth following cleaning.

Now it is rinsed before each feeding just in case it will be needed. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

What is "Normal" Calf Starter Intake?

A research team fed calves three different levels of milk replacer and measured the amount of calf starter grain consumed.

The milk feeding program was: (milk was 11.6% dry matter, 3.2 fat, 3.0 protein)

Conventional (CONV)           = 4.2 quarts daily until day 53, then 2.1 quarts for 3 days.

Step-down only (SDWN)      = 6.3 quarts until 29 days, 4.2 quarts days 30-45, 2.1 quarts on days 46-56.

Step-up, step down (SUSD)  = 6.3 quarts until day 5, 8.5 quarts days 6-14, 10.6 quarts days 7-35, 8.5 quarts days 36-42, 6.3 quarts days 43-48, 4.2 quarts days 49-52, 2.1 quarts days 53-56.

Starter intakes: (for many calf starters one pound is close to one quart volume, percent dry matter 90)

Total "As Fed"            CONV   SDWN   SUSD
(Average Pounds/Day)
Days 1-56 (preweaned)     1.2         1.0         1.6

Days 57-70 (Weaned)       4.7         4.9         4.4

Many of my clients report similar volumes of calf starter grain intake shortly after weaning - in the range of 4 to 5 pounds (quart).

I was interested in their feed efficiency for these groups. For the full 70 days of the trial the values reported were: (pounds of body weight gain/pound of dry matter intake)

CONV     = 54%     [average daily gain = 1.1 pounds/day]
SDWN    = 63%     [average daily gain = 1.4 pounds/day]
SUSD     = 64%     [average daily gain = 1.7 pounds/day]

Reference: H. Omidi-Mirzaei and Others, "Effects of the step-up/step-down and step-up milk feeding procedures on the performance, structural growth, and blood metabolites of Holstein dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 98:7975-7981 (2015).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Nursing Nipple Contamination

I had an opportunity to meet with nearly 200 calf care persons last week (October 13-15, 2015) in Wisconsin.

One of the activities we did together was to check nursing nipple contamination levels. Many of the folks brought calf feeding equipment to the meetings. We  used a Hygiena luminometer to check for contamination levels. 

We used the Hygiena SystemSure Plus unit to do adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring. The ATP test is a process of rapidly measuring actively growing microorganisms through the detection of adenosine triphosphate. An ATP monitoring system can detect the amount of microbial contamination that remains after cleaning a surface (for example, calf feeding equipment). 

Thresholds used in the food processing industry are less than10 RLU for direct food contact surfaces and less than 50 RLU for environmental surfaces. I have been using a reading of 100 RLU as realistic on-farm upper threshold for calf feeding equipment.

What was the range we found on nipples? They came from both nursing bottles and automatic feeders. 

The lowest value was Zero! Yes, a few of them tested "0." They were used nipples that had been scrubbed really really clean. 

The highest value was slightly over 2,000. Other values were scatter between 2,000 and 0 with the majority of them between 100 and 500. 

It was great to have these numbers - they sparked some great discussion about cleaning procedures. The most common barrier to adequate cleaning was the lack of a brush that would fit up into the nipple. Virtually all of the "clean" nipples were from folks that had such a brush.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that if you don't have a brush that will fit  up into your nursing bottle nipples you need to buy one. 

I'm off to another calf connection workshop tomorrow so will report on that one later this week. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Putting Some Numbers to "Doing Better"

At a farm visit last week we talked about "doing better" with the calf enterprise. It was my first visit to the dairy. 

"So," I asked, "What can you tell me about calves dying or sick calves?"

The answers were disappointingly vague. "Well, we don't lose very many calves. We do have to treat some calves for pneumonia, but not very many."

When calves die their number is written on a calendar. Unfortunately, they stay there and are not added up.

When calves are treated for pneumonia the treatment is recorded in a spiral notebook. These treatments are not summarized.

"I see," I replied. "How well are the calves growing, are they doubling their weight by the time you wean them?"

Since we were standing in the calf barn the calf care person responded, "Well, they look okay, don't they?" It turns out they don't even own a heart girth tape to estimate calf weights. 

How do you help someone who does not know where they are now and does not have measurable goals for where they want to be in the future?

So, we agreed that the next step in our mutual search for "doing better" would be to take the calendar for 2014 and 2015 and list the calves that had died. Further, she was going to go through the spiral notebook for the same time and make a list of all the calves treated for pneumonia and treatment dates.

I left a kit with her (five sterile sample bottles and instructions for sampling) for collecting "as-fed" samples of colostrum. Since a national study showed that 40 percent of all colostrum samples contained over 100,000cfu/ml bacteria there is a pretty good chance she will have one or more badly contaminated samples out of the five. 

These lab data will give us a good starting place to see if improvements are needed in her colostrum management program. 

I also arranged to have her vet draw blood on all the calves between 2 and 7 days of age for blood serum total protein testing. This will give us some quantitative estimates about how well the process of getting mom's antibodies into her calf is working. 

I'm looking forward to our next visit later in October. At that time we will go over our summarized mortality and morbidity facts. And, we will have some lab data on colostrum bacteria counts and passive transfer effectiveness. I think it would be good for us to go through the "Calf Risk Assessment Checklist" [check HERE to access the checklist], too. That will help identify possible areas where improvement might be made for the calf enterprise. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Video from UK Dairy Board
"First 24 Hours"

For a British-flavor presentation dealing with caring for the newborn calf you may want to try this short video from a webinar by the DairyCo part of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB):

The content is dividing to sections:
  • The newborn
  • Colostrum management
  • Hygiene
  • Quality of stockmanship - this is a part we in US often overlook
  • Targets
You may have heard the story before but often a slightly different cultural perspective will give you insights that you have missed previously. 

One small reservation - the narrator comments on bacteria "destroying" antibodies - I don't know of any published data to support that statement. We do know that high bacteria counts in colostrum do lower the rates of antibody absorption. Therefore, the final conclusion is the same - clean colostrum is always better than contaminated colostrum.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Good Article on Energy for Calves

In a recent issue of Progressive Dairyman the article appears,
"Focus on energy sources for optimal calf performance." [Dr. Tom Earlywine, pp 15-16, September 12, issue 15]

He reviews how much energy calves need for selected rates of gain and under temperatures from 68F to -20F. An example is given for a newborn calf at 32F. 

In addition to this he reviews sources of energy in milk/milk replacers and talks about a desirable protein-to-energy balance.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Colostrum Does the Job Regardless 
Whether It Comes from Mom or Her Sister(s)

In research reported in the Spring issue of the Bovine Practitioner the research team compared outcomes from feeding 4 quarts of colostrum from the calf's dam or colostrum from another cow. All of the colostrum was of good quality (i.e., >90 g/L antibodies). Colostrum was fed soon after birth resulting in only 4 of the 180 calves have a blood serum total protein test value under 5.5 g/dL. 

The comparisons were:
  • what proportion died (mortality)
  • what proportion were ill (morbidity)
  • how well did they grow
The number of calves involved were:
  • fresh colostrum = 104
  • refrigerated colostrum = 40
  • frozen colostrum = 36
Calves dying:
  • fresh colostrum = 5%
  • stored colostrum = 4%
Calves sick
  • fresh colostrum = 56%
  • stored colostrum = 51%
Growth - average daily gain was the same for both categories of calves - the research was done in the summer in north Florida where heat stress generally leads to only modest rates of gain - they averaged just under 1 1/4 pounds a day at 60 days.

The message here is clear - feed plenty of good quality colostrum soon after birth regardless of the source. 

Source: L. Judd Sims, Pablo J. Pinedo and G. Arthur Donovan "Health and performance of calves fed fresh colostrum from their dams compared to those fed stored colostrum from non-dams." Bovine Practitioner, Spring 2015 pp 13-17.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Water Intake at Weaning:
Intensively Fed Calves

Research on weaning dairy calves provided the opportunity to very accurately measure water intakes. Because the sample size was very small (n=10) we must be somewhat careful in generalizing to all intensively-fed calves. 

The calves were fed 26-16 milk replacer mixed at 15% solids at the rate of 8.5 quarts (8L) daily. That's 2.6 pounds (1.2kg) of powder a day. The calves were raised in a naturally ventilated barn. Given the research design I was able to conclude that the calves were raised in non-freezing weather - probably between May and September. 

Daily water intakes were: [water free access]

Age of calf  Quarts (Liters)
Week 5          0.6 (0.6) - still drinking 8.5 quarts milk replacer
Week 6          1.5 (1.4) - still drinking 8.5 quarts milk replacer
Week 7          3.7 (3.5) - milk replacer cut back to 4.25 quarts at 49 days
Week 8          9.5 (9.0) - no milk on day 56
Week 10      11.7 (11.1) - this is second week after full weaning

The main point of passing on these data is to emphasize how important it is to provide free access (ad lib.) water at weaning time. During weaning when milk replacer was cut back to one-half these calves drank 150 percent more water than the week before. 

For the weaned calves the research team had to provide two 8-quarts pails for water for each calf to be sure they did not run out of water! 

I used to switch to a 5-gallon pails tied to the hutch at weaning time for my calves so they did not run out of water between my AM and PM feeding times - especially during hot summer weather.

There are 10 resource sheets on water and water feeding at The one comparing weight gains for intensively-fed calves with and without free choice water is HERE.

E. Eckert and Others, " Weaning age affects growth, feed intake, gastrointestinal development, and behavior in Holsten calves fed an elevated plane of nutrition during the preweaning stage." Journal of Dairy Science 98: 6315-6326 (2015).

Monday, September 7, 2015

Gradual vs. Abrupt Weaning: 
The Case for a Step-Down Strategy

A research trial compared rates of gain both during and after weaning for dairy calves that were abruptly weaned at 48 days with those calves weaned gradually (35 to 48 days) (N=55).

On one hand, the gradually weaned calves gained more slowly during the weaning period than calves left on full feed until 48 days of age.

Gradually weaned (days 35-48) - gained  1 pound per day (0.48kg).
Left on full milk (days 35-48) - gained 2.2 pounds per day (1.0kg).

I estimated the cumulative difference in gain between the two feeding treatments over the 14 day period between 35 and 48 days as slightly above 15 pounds (7kg).

On the other hand, the gradually weaned calves gained more rapidly after full weaning period than the calves that were weaned abruptly at 48 days.

Gradually weaned calves post-weaning gain was 1.9 pounds per day (0.86kg).
Abruptly weaned calves post-weaning gain was 0.3 pounds per day (0.15kg). Basically, flat lined!

I estimated the cumulative difference in gain between the two feeding treatments for the first 14 days after full weaning as slightly below 22 pounds (10kg).

Thus, the net effect in terms of gain at two weeks post-weaning (62 days) was plus 6.6 pounds (3kg) in favor of the gradually-weaned calves. 

And, the chemical composition of the rumen fluids was much more favorable for the gradually-weaned calves on the day of full weaning compared to the abrupt-weaned calves (volatile fatty acids were measured). This partially explains why the gradually-weaned calves did not suffer from the transition-calf growth slump observed in the abrupt-weaned calves.

For a checklist of best management practices for weaning dairy calves click HERE or go to and click on "Weaning calves: A Checklist."

[M. A. Steele, "Gradual weaning affects pre- and postweaning feed intake, growth, and gastrointestinal development in Holstein calves fed an elevated plane of nutrition during the pre-weaning stage." Journal of Dairy Science, 98 Suppl 2, page 242, abstract 158.]

Friday, September 4, 2015

Why TMR Works So Poorly
for Calves

Recently completed research compared growth rates among calves fed one of four rations in addition to their milk:
  • Silage-based TMR
  • Concentrate
  • Concentrate with chopped hay mixed in
  • Concentrate with chopped hay fed separately
Calves were offered up to 12.7 quarts per day of acidified milk daily free-access (12L)for the first 38 days and then they began weaning until no milk was fed at 50 days. For a resource on free-access feeding of acidified milk click HERE.

Preweaning - all calves gained about the same - about 2.4 pounds per day (1.1kg).

During Weaning:
  • The TMR calves dropped to about 0.4lbs/day.
  • The other three treatments dropped back to about 1.5lbs/day from 2.4lbs/day.
There was a big disadvantage for TMR calves.

After Weaning
  • The TMR calves improved coming up to 1.1 pounds a day from 0.4lbs/day.
  • The other three treatments averaged around 2.6 pounds a day up from 1.5lbs/day.
There was a big disadvantage for TMR calves. 

[By the way, no significant differences appeared in this study among the other three treatments - all offered free-choice along with free-choice water.]

Note - all four treatments had about the same "as-fed" level of intakes. The disadvantage for the TMR calves was that their ration was only 54 percent dry matter while all the other calves had rations that were 89-90 percent dry matter.

So, why does TMR work so poorly for calves? They have limited rumen volume capacity. Consuming high dry matter feeds provides them with more energy and protein than feeds with high moisture levels like silage-based TMR.

Reference: M. A. Overest and Others, "Effect of feed type and presentation on feeding behavior, intake,and growth of dairy calves fed a high level of milk." Journal of Dairy Science 98 Suppl 2, page 240, Abstract 154. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Does Feeding More Colostrum Make
a Difference for Immunity?

The research group set up 4 different colostrum feeding procedures: (76 calves, 19 calves per procedure)
  • 3-2-2: That is 3 quarts at birth, 2 more quarts at 6 hours and 2 more quarts at 12 hours.
  • 4-0-2: That is 4 quarts at birth, none at 6 hours and 2 more quarts at 12 hours.
  • 4-0-0: That is 4 quarts at birth and no more later.
  • 2-2-0: That is 2 quarts at birth, 2 more quarts at 6 hours and no more later. 
How did the 48-hour blood test results come out for these treatments? (average for group)

  • 3-2-2    6.37g/dL
  • 4-0-2    6.12g/dL
  • 4-0-0    5.58g/dL
  • 2-2-0    5.66g/dL
Conclusion: Feeding more colostrum gives better results for passive immunity. Note that none of these test values are considered "poor."

My goals for these tests are 95% at or above 5.0g/dL and 75% at or above 5.5. For more on testing for passive transfer of immunity click HERE or go to and select "Passive transfer of immunity: How to test for."

One of my clients follows a 4-2-2 protocol (that is, 4 quarts at birth, 2 more quarts at 6 hours and 2 more quarts at 12 hours, (all colostrum at Brix at least 22). I just checked my latest report for them - for the last 616 calves for which blood serum total protein values are available the average value was 6.4g/dL. The 3-2-2 procedure in this research trial came up with about the same results. 

As a side note the research group also kept track of scours and concentrate intake.

The frequency and incidence of scours tended to follow the colostrum intake pattern - more colostrum was associated with lower rates of scours. 

How did the first week post-weaning concentrate intakes compare for these treatments? (56-63 days of age)

  • 3-2-2    3.4 pounds per day (1536g/d)
  • 4-0-0    2.9 pounds per day (1321g/d)
  • 2-2-0    2.6 pounds per day (1162g/d)
Calves receiving higher rates of colostrum ate significantly more concentrate.

Reference: W. Shi and Zhijun Cao, " Effects of colostrum feeding program on passive immunity, health, and performance of Holstein dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 98 Suppl 2 p240 abstract 152.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Feed Efficiency for 
Intensively Fed Dairy Calves

A recently presented research abstract  reported the feed efficiency for their dairy calves. 

This was a small sample - 18 calves. They were fed free-access milk up to 16L (17 US Quarts) per day. 

At the end of 7 weeks of milk feeding the average feed conversion was 0.10kg weight gain per kg of milk intake.

I used this equation to figure feed conversion.


0.10kg gain / 1 kg intake

I figured 1kg of milk at 12.5% solids = .125kg of dry matter

0.10kg gain / .125kg dry matter intake = .8 or 80% feed conversion.

They are repeating the trial this coming winter (Ontario province in Canada) so maybe by this time next year we will find out the impact of a cold environment on feed conversion.

[L.M. Wormsbecher and Others, "An outdoor method of housing dairy calves in groups using individual calf hutches." Journal of Dairy Science, 98, Suppl 2, pg 563, Abstract 496]

Monday, August 31, 2015

Harvest Illness

"Harvest illness usually rears its ugly head when farms can’t dedicate an employee to calves full-time.  It’s also challenging for farms that do their own harvesting. Harvest illness isn't caused by a strain of bug that shows up at a certain time of the year, but is due to the producer needing to direct their attention elsewhere on the farm."

This is a quote from an interesting column that you can access HERE. The author, Rebecca LaBerge, offers several practical steps to minimize this unique kind of illness. 

When I was responsible for calves on a 1,200 cow dairy I also found myself "paddling upstream" trying to keep calves healthy for about a month - but in contrast, for me it was in the spring - I called it "Spring Work Blues." It was the same issue of too much work at a peak time and too few folks to maintain high quality care especially for newborn calves. 

I found it helpful to track immunity levels during these stressful times. For a "how-to" guide on measuring immunity levels you may go to and click on "Passive transfer of immunity - how to test for." Or just click HERE

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Staff Turnover and Training

In an August 25 article entitled "A Fresh Perspective on Cleaning Calf Housing" published in Progressive Dairyman Brian Wesemann made a great point about staff turnover.

He pointed out that relative to cleaning and sanitizing calf housing the calf supervisor must keep in mind that cleaning calf housing does not have the repetition cycle that many other jobs do. Feeding is every day. Cleaning equipment is daily. Cleaning calf housing is almost always on a significantly longer cycle.

The cleaning cycle for calf housing may be long enough to span employee changes. Therefore, it is good to keep in mind the need for both training and re-training. 

For example, if part of sanitizing includes using a foaming agent to prolong the disinfectant exposure time the worker must follow the correct steps in measuring the foaming agent, mixing with the proper volume of water and applying the foam according to the manufacturer's recommendations. 

Doing this step correctly depends on receiving instructions that are more complete than, "Foam the hutches after you pressure wash them."

Thanks to Brian for reminding us of the implications of staff turnover for training. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Failure Rate for Calves Nursing Colostrum on Their Own

Yet another study has documented the passive transfer failure rate for dairy calves allowed to nurse from the dam on their own. This is in contrast to hand feeding a known volume of colostrum with a known concentration of antibodies. 

The study included 2,500 calves from 50 dairy farms. Cows were Holsteins, Jersey and Holstein-Jersey crosses.  Blood was drawn between 1 and 7 days of age, refrigerated overnight, centrifuged and the serum separated from the clot within 24 hours of collection. The average blood serum total protein level for 2,500 calves as 5.9 g/dL. Successful passive immunity was defined as a blood serum protein level of 5.5 or greater.

"Calves that were allowed to suckle their dams showed a 44 percent failure of passive immunity."

Can we do a better job when we hand-feed colostrum? One of my clients feeds six quarts of colostrum testing 22 or greater using a Brix refractometer within the first 12 hours of life. As of July 24, 2015 since September 2014 they have tested 756 calves. Ninety-seven percent of these tested at 5.5 or greater.

A. Elizondo-Salazar and Others, "Passive Transfer of immunity in dairy heifer calves on Costa Rican dairy farms," Journal of Dairy Science, Vol.98, Suppl.2, Abstract W23.