Thursday, December 29, 2016

Irish Colostrum Bacteria Counts

An Irish study included colostrum collected from 49 cows that calved between February 9 and March 5, 2014. All the cows were milked as soon as practical after calving. The colostrum was very high quality averaging 94g/L (the lowest quality was 62g/L). They fed colostrum at the rate of 8.5% of birth weight. [40kg or 88lb. calf received 3.4kg or 7.5lbs colostrum] [7.5lbs = 3.5quarts]

There were five colostrum handling and feeding treatments:
1. [PST] Pasteurized and fed immediately after collection
2. [FR] Raw, fed immediately after collection
3. [ST4] Stored for 2 days at 4C
4. [ST13] Stored for 2 days at 13C
5. [ST22] Stored for 2 days at 22C

The total plate count sampled before feeding the calf by storage treatment was:

1. PST   = 35, 148
2. FR     = 372,907
3. ST4   = 1,198,947
4. ST13 = 7,509,309
5 ST22 = 54,865,583

Pretty much as you would have predicted?

Now here is the interesting conclusion of the authors:

"Although all precautions were taken in the present study to minimize bacterial contamination during colostrum collection, total bacteria count of the fresh colostrum in the present study was almost 400,000cfu/ml, exceeding the current suggested maximum bacteria level of 100,000cfu/ml. Because cleaned equipment was used for collection, the present recommendations may be unrealistic in a commercial setting." (p532) [emphasis added]

I do not agree with this conclusion. I have commercial dairy clients both large and small herds that consistently provide "as-fed" colostrum under 50,000cfu/ml total plate count. 

Furthermore, there are regular variations between farms on these colostrum bacteria counts with some farms producing consistently clean colostrum and others that do not have adequate collection and handling procedures to keep their total plate counts under 100,000cfu/ml. Low bacteria counts are both possible and practical - the key is good management.

In our veterinary clinic in-house lab I tell the technicians not to bother quantifying samples over 100,000cfu/ml because the colostrum is so badly contaminated we know the dairy needs to make significant management changes to clean up their colostrum.

I am not willing to throw in the towel and accept badly contaminated colostrum as "normal." 

If you have an opinion about this feel free to contact me at

Reference: C. Cummins and Others, "The effect of colostrum storage conditions on dairy heifer calf serum immunoglobulin G concentration and preweaning health and growth rate." Journal of Dairy Science, 100:525-535 (January 2017).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cryptosporidia Control - a Weak Link

It is important to be comprehensive when trying to reduce exposure to parasites - especially cryptosporidia.

Remember that now winter is here that our calf coats need to be clean. 

I was on farm last Thursday and was pleased to see that every young calf had a CLEAN calf coat.

It is so easy to get busy and let the supply of clean coats get low. Then a soiled coat goes on the next newborn calf. Ooops - that is our weak link. 

The farm I was on has a commercial clothes dryer that heats above 140F. That will take care of any Cryptosporidia oocysts that make it past the washing process.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Preventing Disease Outbreaks

During a presentation, "Preventing Disease Outbreaks: Records and Oversight," at the NY Calf Congress in Syracuse on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 Dr. Terry Ollivett (School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin) reviewed best management practices.

Her list of best management practices included:

  • Find out if you are understaffed in the calf barn - is it impacting the ability to detect, treat, or document disease?
  • Assess your health event recording system - it is capturing what you need?
  • Find opportunities by looking for protocol drift within the records.
  • Monitor specific calf-level health outcomes that will direct changes.
  • Establish a daily routine for finding individual sick calves.
  • Establish a screening examination 2x weekly to identify subtle cases.
  • Use fecal and respiratory diagnostics to aid disease management.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Colostrum Bacteria Control

This is the title of the December issue of the calf management newsletter, Calving Ease. 

The content is in 8 parts - steps in minimizing bacteria in colostrum
1. Clean teats.
2. Clean milker or catch buckets.
3. Clean pails for colostrum.
4. Covers for pails and buckets.
5. Prompt feeding of colostrum.
6. Prompt cooling of colostrum to be stored.
7. Clean containers for stored colostrum.
8. Prompt feeding of stored colostrum once it is warm.

The link is HERE.

or to paste to your browser 


Monday, December 19, 2016

Tagging the Best Colostrum

A western New York dairy stores its colostrum in bags with a tab at the bottom.

They estimate the colostrum quality before it is bagged and chilled. They use the Brix refractometer reading to determine the number of holes to be punched in the tab of the bottom of the storage bag.

Their method is this:

Brix reading greater or equal to 25    = one hole [Excellent quality]

Brix reading of 22-24                        = two holes

Brix reading less than or equal to 21 = three holes [Marginal quality]

Thus, it's quick and easy to spot the "best" colostrum - only one hole in the tab.

Remember the "Q's"

Quickly - as soon as practical, always before 4 hours
Quality - best stuff is for first feeding for heifer calves
Quantity - 10 percent of body weight - 90# calf gets 4 quarts
Quantify - blood test regularly to see that 90% at 5.0 BSTP or higher, 80% at 5.5 BSTP or higher
sQueaky clean - all equipment is washed after every use

[BSTP = blood serum total protein]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cryptosporidiosis - Goals

During a presentation, "Preventing Disease Outbreaks: Records and Oversight," at the NY Calf Congress in Syracuse on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 Dr. Terry Ollivett (School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin) addressed screening techniques to help determine etiology.

Dr. Olivett suggested fecal testing. She recommends testing groups of six to ten animals - a group of affected and unaffected.

During this discussion she mentioned it was good to keep records of these tests in order to build a history for your farm. 

When asked about what was a reasonable positive level for cryptosporidia she replied that commercial dairies should be looking for less than 20 percent positives on fecal samples. 

My field experience on New York dairies gives a somewhat pessimistic picture. It is common to get over 50 percent positives and some dairies will have over 70 percent positive. Thus, I conclude it is not easy to get the positives rate down to 20 percent.

Some of our best management practices to keep these cryptosporidia infections down include:
  • Clean calving environment
  • Removing calves from calving pen as soon as they stand up and increase their risk of fecal exposure
  • Moving calves in clean equipment 
  • Moving calves into a clean environment
  • Using clean feeding equipment
A background sheet on Cryptosporidia is HERE.
A protocol for manual washing of calf feeding equipment is HERE. A checklist for manual cleaning of equipment is HERE.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Weaning with Computer Feeder

A presentation at the New York State Calf Congress (December 7 and 8) focused on calf care at Champion dairy in Clinton NY.

They feed with automatic computer feeders. The calves are fed a 28-20 partially acidified milk replacer for 54 days. The maximum amount fed per calf is 9 liters. Meal sizes range from 1.8 to 2.5 liters depending on the calves stage in the feeding plan. A typical calf will have 4 to 6 meals per day.

Weaning - Calves are weaned in a "step" program. Weaning occurs in a two week long period.

The first week is an abrupt three liter reduction.

The second week is a gradual six liter reduction.

Of special note was the calf manager's presentation regarding the weaning process. They are quite satisfied with the "step" program that begins with the abrupt three liter reduction. After this drop in total milk availability the calves have been observed to make significant increases in dry feed consumption within just a few days after the change.

This increase in starter consumption is in contrast to what I often see on calf enterprises that follow a weaning program with small incremental decreases. In those facilities following a very gradual decrease in milk allotment protocol it appears to be common to see little change in calf starter grain intakes for as long as a week into the weaning process.

I plan on following this calf care program into 2017. I want to see if the calf care folks are still using the "step" down weaning next May or June. And, I want to listen to their comments about calf starter grain intakes and successful transitioning into the next growth stage. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Estimating Calf Weights Using a Heart Girth Tape

I was reading the monthly newsletter from the Miner Institute and found this resource (even includes pictures of correct and incorrect use of heart girth tape).

If you do not receive the Miner Institute newsletter you might find it useful. The link to the newsletter is HERE

The link to the the October, 2016 issue with the weight tape article is HERE. Scroll to page three to find the article with pictures.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November Calf Management Newsletter
"Preventing Scours and Pneumonia vs. Treating Sick Calves"

The November issue is now posted at, click on "Resources" and then "Calf Management Newsletter."

The key points:
  • Long-term consequences of calfhood scours and pneumonia.
  • Shifting emphasis to "calf wellness" rather than treating "scours" and "pneumonia."
  • How to start a "calf wellness" program.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Impact of Being Sick as a Calf on Later Growth and Milk Production

I am preparing a statement on the consequences of calfhood sicknesses on growth and milk production. Below is a paragraph summarizing the findings of a recent presentation.

In a summary of research using two large dairy farms Dr. Mike Overton gave us a listing of the impact of  infections resulting in scours and/or pneumonia during the first 70 days of life. These are listed:
  • Weight at 90 days of age: scours calves weighed 3.1 lbs. less than healthy calves
  • Weight at 90 days of age: pneumonia calves weighted 12.7 lbs. less than healthy calves
  • Likeihood of being culled before first calving: pneumonia calves were 2.8 times as likely to be culled compared to healthy calves. No difference for scours calves.
  • Likeihood of being culled after calving and before 150 days in milk: pneumonia calves were 1.4 times as likely to be culled compared to healthy calves. No difference for scours calves.
  • Milk (305 day estimated ME): 649 pounds less milk for pneumonia calves compared to healthy calves.

Bottom line is that both scours and pneumonia depress the growth and later production of the animals both as heifers and later as milking cows. These are some handy numbers. 

Reference: Overton, Mike “”Importance of Producing a Quality Dairy Replacement Heifer.” Proceeding of the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, 2016, pp 55-59.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Four Heifer Calves, One Dam

I ran across this picture - four heifer calves pictured with their dam. Just paste the URL in your browser window.

4 DAIRY CALVES ~ One California dairy cow beat out some major odds when 
she gave birth. The cow produced four healthy, female calves in one 
litter. The chance of that occurring are one in 179 million.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How Does Your Colostrum Compare?

Another national study of colostrum is reported in the November issue of the Journal of Dairy Science. These 24 dairies were in northern Victoria state in Australia.

Antibody concentration:
Australian dairies reported a Brix average of 21%. This compares to the US study average of 21%.
Are you testing colostrum with a Brix refractometer? If "Yes," what is your average reading?

Total bacteria count:
Australian dairies reported bacteria counts (Total Plate Count, cfu/ml) as 42 percent over 100,000cfu/ml. This compares to the US study with a values of 45 percent. 
Do you sample and culture your colostrum at least once a year? If "Yes," what percent of your samples were less than 100,000cfu/ml total plate count goal?

Coliform count:
Australian dairies reported bacteria counts (Total Coliform Count, cfu/ml) as 6 percent greater than 10,000cfu/ml. No comparable data are available for US.
Do you sample and culture your colostrum at least once a year? If "Yes," what percent of your samples were leass than 10,000cfu/ml coliform count?

If you combine all three criteria (antibody concentration, bacteria total plate count, bacteria coliform count) the percent of samples that met all three acceptable thresholds was 23 percent for Australian samples. The comparable figure for US study was 39 percent. 

The message is that the chances of feeding colostrum that is either too low in antibodies or too high in bacteria can get pretty high on a dairy farm. Only good management practices, including testing, can prevent this from happening. 

Reference: A.J. Phillips and Others, "Survey of bovine colostrum quality and hygiene on northern Victoria dairy farms." Journal of Dairy Science 99:8981-8990 Nov 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Johne's Dam and Her Calf

I was asked about Johne's control on a dairy and managing the calving process to reduce risk of transmission.

In my opinion, the risk of transmitting Johne's [mycobacterum avium ss. paratuberculosis] to calves can be reduced by following three straightforward steps:

1. For the calf born to a known Johne's dam, do not feed this dam's colostrum to any calf. 

2. For the calf born to a known Johne's dam, take the calf away from the dam as soon as practical -  always before the calf stands. Remember that mother (hair coat, licking the calf, fecal contamination of calf surroundings) is a pathogen factory.

3. For all calves, if possible calve known Johne's dams in a place separate from where other calves are being born - isolate the feces from known dams as much as possible from all newborn calves.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Somatic Cell Counts and Feeding Waste Milk

I was asked today if I knew of an upper limit for somatic cell counts (SCC) in pasteurized waste milk (nonsaleable milk) being fed to calves. If the SCC is over 500,000 or 1,000,000 should it still be fed to calves?

First, how do we expect the nonsaleable milk to be any different that the  milk we are selling? That means we have to think about where this milk comes from. The reason we are not selling the milk is frequently the presence of antibiotic residues. While some cows are being treated for a uterine or respiratory infection others have received treatment for mastitis. 

So, it is logical that this nonsaleable milk partly from mastitis cows could be higher in SCC than the milk being sold. In addition some farms supplement their volume of sick cow milk for calves with that from one or more of the highest SCC cows in the herd - this keeps the SCC in the saleable milk tank lower and effectively increases the calf milk supply.

Second, do we have published research showing that the SCC in pasteurized nonsaleable milk has negative consequences for calves? That is, do calves avoid drinking it? Or, does high SCC milk cause digestive upsets or lower rates of growth? I have no knowledge of any such research.

Third, is high SCC milk different from low SCC milk in some other ways? We do know there is a tendency for high SCC milk to be lower in total solids and protein than low SCC milk. 

So, are there guidelines for SCC in milk fed to calves? 
1. I do not think so at least based on published research. If any reader knows about such research do me a favor and send me an e-mail with the reference [].

2. If SCC is at 1,000,000 or higher it probably is a best management practice to check the milk solids level with a refractometer before feeding this milk to calves. We might need to supplement our milk with milk powder of our choice to bring it up to our desired level (e.g., 12%, 15% solids). 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Calf Coat Care: Let's not pass on cryptosporidia from one calf to another

At a recent event Andy Dodd, AHDB technical manager (UK) had a few words to say about calf coat care ( see ).

His point was that improperly cleaned calf coats can easily pass the eggs of this nasty parasite from one calf to another. 

The essentials for getting rid of the parasite eggs? If possible wash at a temperature at 60C (140F). That cooks the eggs.

I observe that if washing at that temperature is not possible, then set the dryer on the "HOT" setting and cook the eggs that way. But, remember the critical temperature is 140F or 60C.

Disinfectants? The only one that I know about that will kill these persistent parasite oocysts is chlorine dioxide solution. See HERE for more information about this disinfectant.

The point of Andy's presentation is valid no matter how you clean calf coats - do a good enough job so we are not passing parasite oocysts from one calf to the next.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Estimating  Calf Weights

We all have looked at a calf and mentally estimated about how much she weighs. The true of the matter is that studies have confirmed that people are abysmal at estimating weights.

So, yesterday I am on a dairy. The calf manager pulls a dairy weight tape out of his pocket as says, "Take a minute and show me the right way to use this."

I took the rolled up tape, shook it out and after cornering a calf slipped the tape around her body just behind the front legs - technically the heart girth position.

I showed him how to pull the tape "just right." Tight enough to flatten the hair coat but not enough to begin to stretch the tape.  

After I took a reading he tried it and came up with almost the identical number. Good. Lesson learned. 

HOWEVER, I asking him, "Where is your Holstein calf weight tape?"

"Huh?" he said.

Then I explained that the mature animal weight tape was developed to be most accurate at  breeding size for Holstein heifers. It is pretty sloppy when we get under 440 pounds (200kg). That was the reason that the Penn State research team developed a tape that was specifically for calves (under 220 lbs, 100kg).

So, I mailed two Holstein calf weight tapes to the farm today and now they can get more reliable weights for the calves as they leave the hutches. 

I f you Google "Holstein calf weight tape" you will get a series of places to buy one as well as some background links to how the tape was developed. 


Monday, October 10, 2016

Stress for Calves

In a short article published in the October issue of the Bovine Veterinarian magazine the author, Dave McClellan, talked about respiratory illness in young cattle. Quoting a study for which I do not have the full reference (Bagley & Griffin, et al.) they were summarizing causes of respiratory illness:
1. Stress
2. Viral
3. Bacterial

Then under stress the authors listed these - this is a nice summary of stress, it got me thinking

Irritant gases
Nutritional deficiencies

Now, isn't that a nice checklist if you want to see  how you are doing to limit stress for your young dairy animals?

Friday, October 7, 2016

Feeding the "Left-Over" Milk

Not every batch of milk is just exactly the correct volume to feed the calves this feeding. Usually we try to have just a small amount of milk left over. That can be dumped when we are getting ready to wash our transport tank.

But, sometimes the volume is clearly going to be more than we feel comfortable dumping. We know how to fix this problem. Just feed extra to the oldest calves - feed six or seven quarts rather than the prescribed four quarts.

Now, here is the question. Is this a best management practice?

Answer? NO.

What's the problem with feeding out the excess milk to the oldest calves?

1. If these calves are being weaned the extra milk is going to provide a slug of extra energy. This energy acts to suppress calf starter grain intake. This is just the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish - that is, getting these heifers to eat MORE grain so they are "rumen ready" for the transition pens.

2. If these are the calves just before we are starting to the weaning process the extra milk is going to provide a big slug of extra energy. This energy further delays these calves coming up on their consumption of calf starter grain. Again, this is not what we are trying to do with five to seven week old calves - they should be on a plateau or level feeding milk feeding program.

With my intensive-fed calves as they got past about three weeks their grain intake began to pick up slowly from day-to-day. I held their milk intake even from two to six weeks of age. Then, since I monitored grain intakes, as soon as their grain intake was consistent and at least one pound a day I began to taper down the milk. Imagine how I could have messed up this process if I just "dumped" extra milk on these calves.

I had a lot of open pasture land near my barns so extra milk fertilized the pasture before I went into the barn to clean up. As long as I spread the milk around the plants seemed to do just fine. It is, however, a great way to kill thistles and burdock plants.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is an Intensive Milk Feeding Program?

The one simple definition of an intensive milk feeding program for preweaned dairy calves is probably not possible.

What is the baseline or standard milk feeding program? Thirty  years ago it was two quarts of either milk or milk replacer fed twice daily. That usually delivered 1# of milk replacer powder daily. Twenty years ago it was the same. I am not sure but it may be the same on some dairies in 2016.

Let's compare this to three feeding programs reported in a recently published research project.

Recently published research (Hill and others, 2016) fed three intensive-feeding preweaned rations:
(weights are as-fed milk replacer powder, 28-20 and it was reconstituted at 14% solids)
  • Lowest    = 1.45#(0,66kg) for 39 days, 0.7#(0.33kg) for 3 days (2x feeding at 6:30AM and 2:00PM)
  • Middle    = 1.9#(0.88kg) for 5 days, 2.4#(1.1kg) for 23 days, 1.45#(0.66kg) for 18 days, 0.7#(0.33kg) for 7 days
  • Highest   = 1.9#(0.88kg) for 5 days, 2.4#(1.1kg) for 37 days, 1.2#(0.56kg) for 7 days

The lowest ration is 45% higher than the "standard" or baseline ration. Thus, this might be called an "intensive" feeding program.

Note that the "middle" ration feeds at a much higher rate for four weeks and then starts stepping down until it levels out at 0.7# per day.

One of the consequences of higher milk/milk replacer feeding rates is a delay in consuming calf starter grain. My experience over several years was as I edged up in my milk replacer feeding rates I added days to when calves started regularly eating grain. 

I followed the "middle" ration program for several years. I dropped from 2# to 1# powder fed daily as soon as calves were regularly eating about 1/2 quart or 1/2 # of grain daily for several days in a row. Most of my calves compensated easily by eating a greater amount of grain. They were eating around 5 # of grain daily before they went off milk entirely one to two weeks later.

However, it was significant that not all calves behave the same way. If I recall correctly about 20 percent of the calves needed a few extra days before their initial grain intake came up to the minimum of one-half quart a day. I had to put a tag on their hutches so we would remember to continue the regular milk feeding. I think being flexible on the weaning program helped me have healthier calves in the transition pens. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Storing Chlorine Dioxide Solution

I had a question about storing chlorine dioxide solution. You recall that this solution may be used to disinfect both calf feeding equipment and calf pens. [Usually stronger solution for pens.]

The solution starts to degrade (weaken, go down in ppm) as soon as it is created. Ideally, the dairy makes up the solution and uses it right away.

On the other hand, it may not be practical to use all of it at one time. Therefor, our goal is to slow down this process. Warm temperatures and exposure to air speed up this process. Using a 20L pail in our clinic garage without a lid at 18C our solution went from about 500ppm to 50 ppm in 5 days. 

A one of our clients,  however, uses a 15 gallon chemical barrel for chlorine dioxide solution storage. (see picture below). It has a tight screw plug that virtually eliminates air movement. Right now they are getting two weeks storage with less than 100 ppm losses.

More on the use of chlorine dioxide click HERE.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Extended Weaning Time Needed

Many dairies have adopted some form of intensive milk/milk replacer feeding programs for their calves. [Intensive feeding is used here to refer to any program that feeds more than 1# of m.r. daily.] 

Research findings are emerging that emphasize the need for extending weaning times for intensive-fed calves in order to provide for adequate rumen development when they are fully weaned.

Recently published research (Hill and others, 2016) fed three intensive-feeding preweaned rations:
(weights are as-fed milk replacer powder, 28-20 and it was reconstituted at 14% solids)
  • Lowest    = 1.45#(0,66kg) for 39 days, 0.7#(0.33kg) for 3 days (2x feeding at 6:30AM and 2:00PM)
  • Middle    = 1.9#(0.88kg) for 5 days, 2.4#(1.1kg) for 23 days, 1.45#(0.66kg) for 18 days, 0.7#(0.33kg) for 7 days
  • Highest   = 1.9#(0.88kg) for 5 days, 2.4#(1.1kg) for 37 days, 1.2#(0.56kg) for 7 days
Note that they fed a 28-20 milk replacer - this provides a very high energy input at feeding levels of 2.4#(1.1kg) daily and depending on environmental challenges (cold weather) the energy:protein ratio may over feed energy. The authors suggest that lower fat levels might be considered - and, I would add, "depending on cold weather challenges."

Note that the feeding interval was 7.5 hours (6:30 and 2:00PM). When calves were fed 2.4#(1.1kg) daily that was 4 quarts twice daily. I wonder if the study results (efficiency of m.r. digestion) might have been different if the feeding interval had been stretched out to 9 to 10 hours? Or, even 3x feeding?

Note that for the "Middle" ration how the "step-down" period starts at 28 days of age (4 weeks) providing a 25 day-long step-down. This is in contrast to the 7 day-long "step-down" for the highest treatment group.

So, was the milk replacer ration (Lowest, Middle, Highest) related to rumen maturity at 11 and 16 weeks of age?

Number One: If we compare the Lowest m.r. feeding rate (i.e., 1.45#(0.66kg) daily) to the Middle ration with the extended step-down protocol they found similar levels of rumen maturity as measured by ADF and NDF at both 11 and 16 weeks of age.

Number Two: The heifers fed with the Highest m.r. feeding protocol had less rumen maturity than either the Lowest or Middle rations.

If "step-down" interval has to be uniform for all calves (in contrast to weaning based on calf starter grain intake) longer intervals work better than shorter ones in achieving higher levels of rumen maturity.

Reference: T.M. Hill and Others, "Effect of milk replacer program on calf performance and digestion on nutrients in dairy calves to 4 months of age." Journal of Dairy Science 99:8103-8110 October 2016.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Clean Bottles Don't Stay Clean

During a routine sanitation audit on a dairy farm I always include checking a nursing bottle and nipple carried on the milk feeding cart. I use a luminometer to pick up the presence of bacteria (see note below on this tool). This dairy is using an ATP value of 100 as an upper threshold for acceptable cleanliness.

The audits in March and June showed these values respectively:

Bottle:  0 and 83
Nipple: 0 and 7

At the September audit the values were:

Bottle:  3027
Nipple: 7976

What is going on here?

As a result of very high ATP values last year a sanitizing protocol was being followed before each feeding. The bottle was filled with a warm strong bleach solution at the beginning of each feeding. It was dumped out before using or if not used dumped out at the end of the feeding routine. 

With a change in personnel this sanitizing protocol was discontinued. The "clean" equipment sat unused for a full week before I checked the bottle and nipple. 

The lesson here is that "clean" equipment does not stay clean. 

[I use the Hygiena SystemSure Plus unit (luminometer) to do adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring. The ATP test is a process of rapidly measuring organic matter including actively growing microorganisms through the detection of adenosine triphosphate. An ATP monitoring system can detect the amount of potential 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 often use a reading of 100 RLU as realistic on-farm upper threshold for calf feeding equipment.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Old Gaskets on Milker Lids

While on farm on Tuesday, September 13th, I checked the resident bacteria levels on milking equipment used to collect colostrum.

The stainless steel milker buckets were just fine. Nice low bacteria counts on the clean inside surfaces.

The lids were another matter. The flat stainless steel surfaces that were easy to brush had low bacteria counts. When I swabbed the inside of the two tubes to which the vacuum and claw hoses are attached to the lid the bacteria count went up a little.Then I added swabbing at the edge where the gasket came together with the inside of the lid - the count went up a lot. I did add lifting the edge of the gasket and the bacteria count skyrocketed up. 

The herdsman and I examined the gaskets closely. They were checked and had small cracks along all surfaces. Time to replace them.

Moral of the story? Take a close look at milker lid gaskets. If there are any signs of aging, let's replace them and stay ahead of bacteria buildup.

Friday, September 9, 2016

New Calf Management Letter
Fall Weather and Newborn Calves: Part 1

The link to this issue is or click HERE.

In brief this two-part series looks like this:
 Maintaining a constant body temperature in variable environmental conditions. (this issue)
 Defending against pathogen challenges. (Part 2)
 Developing the gut capacity to digest food. (Part 2)
 Eating enough easily digestible food to meet maintenance and growth requirements. (Part 2)


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Biofilms and Calf Care Equipment

I am preparing for a presentation focused on sanitation procedures. While doing this I have been reading a lot of literature on biofilms. How do they develop? Where do they develop?  How do they grow? 

One of the examples of biofilms in the articles I was reading related to dental plaque formation.

Yes, dental plaque in your mouth is a biofilm. They form when bacteria stick to our teeth. If we do not remove these bacteria through frequent and regular flossing and brushing within 48 hours the bacteria can begin to stick to the tooth surfaces. This article continued by telling me that after two days this coating or plaque will begin to harden becoming more difficult to brush away.

Within ten days the plaque hardens and the dental hygienist will recognize this as dental tartar. This is the stuff that ultimately damages teeth and surrounding tissues. 

Other literature (mostly from the food processing industry) mentioned how difficult it is to be sure that ALL surfaces get cleaned. That's why food slicers and grinders are made to breakdown for cleaning. 

As I thought about calf feeding equipment I thought about mixers, whisks and pails. Where are the "hidden" places that never get brushed? [This assumes that you know that brushing is one of the key elements in removing the residues that hide bacteria and provide food for them to develop biofilms.]

For example, many of us use calf pails for feeding both milk and water. They do not get washed between feedings. Whoa! What a great place to grow biofilms. And, get this, ATP meters are ineffective in picking up biofilms as well as swabbing for culturing because the bacteria can be below the biofilm surfaces.

Or, we mix milk replacer with a whisk (often stainless steel). How well is this cleaned? The part up by the handle where the individual strands are anchored is a perfect place for biofilms - hard to brush - potentially a huge reservoir for bacteria even if it looks clean.

Literature suggests that one pretty reliable indicator of biofilm presence on supposedly clean equipment is a slimy feeling when touched. Yum! I want to run right out and eat food prepared with slimy equipment.

Friday, September 2, 2016

More Than One Feeding of Colostrum?

Apart from the process of creating immune defenses against pathogens another good reason to feed colostrum to newborn calves is to provide energy.

In a unique analysis of energy needs of newborn calves and energy provided by colostrum we can see how colostrum feeding provides for maintenance needs of these young animals. 

The author selected four difference environmental temperatures: Thermoneutral (about 60F), 52F, 43F and 34F. then she calculated the number of grams of fat needed per hour to meet the newborn calf's needs to maintain her normal body temperature (102F). 

This is what is needed:
                                    Environmental Temperature (F)
                                         60       52       43       34
Grams of Fat                    8.2      9.9      11.6    13.4

It's easy to see that as the temperature goes down the grams of fat needed go up. 

Then she calculated how many hours at each temperature one 3.8L (4 quarts) feeding of maternal colostrum containing 20 percent fat would sustain the calf.

These are the hours one feeding of 4 quarts of 20 percent fat colostrum would support the calf:
                                    Environmental Temperature (F)
                                         60      52       43       34
Hours of support              9.2     7.7      6.5      5.6

What do these numbers tell us? 

First, as temperatures go down, the number of hours one 4 qt. feeding of colostrum also go down. 

Second, when temperatures come close to freezing at less than six hours post feeding with the 20% fat colostrum the calf must begin to draw on body stores of fat to maintain her core body temperature.

Using data from Davis, C.L. and J. K.Drackley,"The Development, Nutrition and Management of the Young Calf." Iowa State Univ. Press, 1998, p 182 I picked up the the average dairy cow colostrum (first milking) fat content as 28.8 percent. That is higher than the 20 percent used by the author. 

Using the 28.8 percent fat value the hours of support given by one 4 quart feeding look like this:
                                     Environmental Temperature (F)
                                          60       52       43       34
Hours of support               13.2    11.1    9.4      8.1

If one uses a colostrum replacer with 25 percent fat the same support hours values are:
                                     Environmental Temperature (F)                                                                                                                     60       52       43       34
Hours of support               11.5    9.6      8.1      7.0
[note that this colostrum replacer fat content is much higher than the average replacer.]

BOTTOM LINE? Second and third feedings of colostrum can do a lot to support the energy needs of newborn calves.

And, as temperature fall closer to or below freezing the additional feedings of colostrum with its highly digestible fat are an ideal way to meet energy needs of newborn calves.

Reference: Haines, Debbie, "Colostral Immunity - Improving Passive Transfer in Calves." 25th DISCOVER conference, "New Developments in Immunity, Nutrition and Management of the Preruminant Calf." May 2013

Friday, August 26, 2016

Calves and Forage Consumption

Are calves clever enough to sort a TMR for different length particles?

A study initially offered calves both TMR (49% dry matter) and a pelleted concentrate after weaning on an ad libitum basis. The concentrate was fed separately from the TMR. Feed was managed so there was always some TMR and concentrate available. During the time both feed sources were offered free-choice the calves were quite effective in sorting the long particles out of the TMR. 

Then, the pelleted concentrate was withdrawn. Calves had free-choice access to the TMR. The particle size distribution of the left-over feed was compared to the TMR as delivered. This showed that the calves pretty much stopped sorting for long particles and began eating the TMR as delivered. There was some preference for fine particles (ground concentrates).

Yes, calves are clever enough to sort a TMR even at two months of age. 

Reference: J.H.C.Costa and Others, " Short Communication: Effect of diet changes on sorting behavior of weaned dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 99;5635-5639 September 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How Good a Job Are We Doing Spotting Sick Calves?

As part of a research project that focused on diagnosing illness among preweaned calves 206 group-housed calves on a total of four farms were given health exams. The examination results were matched with treatment records on the farms. 

How well were the farm calf care workers doing finding and treating sick calves?

Diarrhea (scours) - the university staff found 45 calves (22 percent) with very loose feces. Of these 45 calves the calf care workers were treating 12 (27 percent identified and treated)

Navel infection - the university staff found 8 calves (4 percent) with infected navels. Of these 8 calves the calf care workers had treated 1 (13 percent identified and treated)

Severe pneumonia - the university staff found 31 calves (15 percent) with severe respiratory infections. Of these 31 calves the calf care workers were treating 9 (29 percent identified and treated).

Elevated temperature (fever) - the university staff found 25 calves (12 percent) with a temperature greater than 103F (39.4C). Of these 25 calves the calf care workers were treating 6 (24 percent identified and treated).

In summary, how good a job were the calf care workers doing in diagnosing and treating sick calves? What proportion of sick calves were not being diagnosed and treated?

87% of the calves with a navel infection not diagnosed and treated
76% of calves with a fever not diagnosed and treated
73% of calves with scours not diagnosed and treated
71% of calves with severe pneumonia not diagnosed and treated

[Note that there was some duplication in the categories of severe pneumonia and fever.]

Further, among the four farms there were large differences among percent of the sick calves identified and treated. For example, one farm diagnosed and treated all the calves with severe pneumonia (5 out of 5) while one of the other farms had not treated any of their pneumonia calves (0 out of 9). 

Reference: M.C. Cramer and Others, "Associations of behavior-based measurements and clinical disease in preweaned group-housed dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 99:7434-7443 September 2016

Monday, August 22, 2016

Using a Brix Refractometer to Test Colostrum

The results of a study suggest using two criteria for assessing colostrum quality.

"Based on this study, the 2 cut-points could be alternatively used to select good quality colostrum (sample with Brix greater than or equal to 22%) or to discard poor quality colostrum (sample with Brix less than 18%). When sample results are between these 2 values, colostrum supplementation should be considered." [S. Buczinski and J. M. Vandeweerd, "Diagnostic accuracy of refractometry for assessing bovine colostrum quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of Dairy Science 99:7381-7394 Sept 2016]

This two-cut point idea maintains the upper value that has been published in the dairy magazines in the past few years - greater than or equal to 22 percent. At or above this value it's okay to use for first feeding as fresh or frozen.

So what is different? Well, they are saying that on one hand there is enough uncertainty about the Brix values that tossing out anything below 22% can result in discarding a fair amount of pretty good colostrum.

On the other hand if the test value is below 18% the chances of correctly classifying this colostrum as poor are quite high - few mistakes.

Thus, we end up with the colostrum between 18 and 22% that may be important to fill our needs. I feel this is good stuff to feed as second or third feeding. If it has to be fed as first feeding their suggestion of using a colostrum supplement is good advice. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

August 2016 Calf Management Newsletter

The August issue of the calf management newsletter is now posted - click HERE.

This issue summarizes the content of 5 new calf management resources posted in the Calf Facts section of the website. These resources may be accessed directly at

The five new resource titles are:

Colostrum: Feeding Strategies
Colostrum: Quantity and Quality
Ventilation- Managing Calf Barns
Surges in Calvings: Responding Positively Rather than "Muddling Through"
How Much Will Calves Drink? (Ad libitium milk intake by calves day 1 through 35)


Monday, August 8, 2016

Benefits of Feeding 2nd, 3rd and 4th Milking to
Dairy Heifer Calves

Have you tried out a webinar? 

Dr. Robert James, retired professor of animal science at Virginia Tech, gave a webinar on calf rearing on Monday, August 8th. The webinar, "An Update on Raising Better Calves" was presented by Hoard's Dairyman and sponsored by DeLaval. The recording is available at   or click HERE. You scroll to the bottom the page to find the archived webinars.

Among many other ideas, Dr. James made a point of talking about the value of feeding the "colostrum" or what is usually called transition milk that comes from the cow during the 2nd, 3rd and 4th milkings post calving. 

The first benefit is the increased presence of antibodies on the surface of the gut. They help defend the calf against the pathogens that enter the calf through her mouth. 

The next benefit is the continuing presence of assorted compounds that promote the normal development of the intestinal lining. They support the "normal" maturation that has to take place in the first few days of life. 

The other benefit is the enhanced nutrition (i.e., fat and protein) in this post-calving milk. Transition milk is much higher than regular milk in both fat and protein. Compared to powdered milk replacers often fed to calves after the first day of life this early post-calving milk is a very nutrient-rich feed. 

The entire webinar was a really rewarding hour for me. If you choose to watch and listen I am sure you will find at least one new idea for strengthening your calf management program. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Helping Calves Find Water

We all know that calves need water. Once calves know where to find water they usually do a pretty good job of keeping themselves hydrated.

But ... sometimes we have to help calves FIND the water. When livestock producers move older feeder calves into large pens they often help feeder calves find water by either placing waterers perpendicular to the outside fence or let the waterers run over for a couple of days.

In a recent farm visit we talked about an idea for helping young dairy calves find water during the first two weeks of life. These calves are group housed and fed with an automatic computer-controlled milk feeder. The pen has a water basin attached to the same wall of the utility building as the stalls for the automatic feeder. 

It takes three to five days to fill the pen with about fifty calves. All the calves segregated and fed with a bottle for the first three days. Then they are introduced to the group pen and taught to use the feeder nipple. The staff noticed that very few calves used the waterer during the first seven to ten days in the group pen. 

An idea came up to help these young calves find water. The bottom foot of a 55-gallon barrel was placed in the pen near the entrance to the autofeeder stalls. It was filled half full with water. Amazing! Calves were observed repeatedly exploring this THING that was in their pen. And, they discovered they could drink water. The barrel is placed on a concrete apron near the feeder stalls where it can be dumped daily in an adjacent floor drain.

Right now by observing how much water disappears from the barrel waterer the staff can tell calves are busy drinking from it. The current challenge is to figure out when to remove this water source and have the calves drink from the waterer on the wall of the utility building.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Coccidiosis: Our Constant Companion

A new calf management resource sheet with this title is now posted at our website. Click HERE to access the sheet.

A quick summary of content:

  1. The chances of 100 percent of our calves in their first week of life avoiding an infective dose of coccidia oocysts is close to zero. 
  2. Reducing shedding of oocysts is an effective control measure. 
  3. Coccidia infections, called coccidiosis, may begin to decrease feed efficiency as early as the first week of life.
  4. Immunity to coccidia comes from successful response of calves’ immune system, not from colostrum.
  5. Successful immune response to coccidia depends on limiting the infection and keeping the calves well fed and healthy.
  6. Treating all calves with coccidiostatic drugs to limit infections before some of them get sick is more cost effective than waiting to treat the clinically ill calves. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Much Milk Should We Expect Calves to Drink?

As part of a study looking at the effects of ad libitum consumption of milk by calves, milk intakes were recorded daily for days one through thirty-five.

What did they find?

Not surprisingly, intakes go up the first week in life. Average intakes for Holstein calves peaked a little over 9 quarts (8.5L) daily at six to seven days of age. There was considerable variation among calves with some calves peaking at 8.5 quarts (8L) and others going up to 10.5 quarts (10L). 

Not so anticipated was the uniform decline in milk consumption from day seven through thirteen. The average intakes dropped from a peak of 9 quarts (8.5L) to 6.5 quarts (6.2L) over those six days. The lowest-intake calves dropped just below 6 quarts (5.7L) daily.

The research dairy environment has a history of cryptosporidia exposure for calves. One might speculate that a mild case of cyptosporidiosis may have contributed to some degree of gastrointestinal upset that was associated with a reduction in appetite.

After day thirteen the trend was up and up and up. Most calves reached peak intake around twenty-three to twenty-five days. Again, lots of variation among calves. A few peaked as high as 12.5 quarts (11.9L) while a few others peaked well below that at 10.5 quarts (10L). 

When expressed as a percentage of live weight, naturally the percentages go down as the calves grow. While the intakes started out at an average of about twenty-one percent of live weight (days four-seven) they declined steadily to an average of fourteen percent (days twenty-two through twenty-eight).

Bottom line: One, when milk availability is not restricted we should expect calves to drink large amounts of milk. Two, lots of differences of intakes among calves is normal biological variation, not necessarily some aspect of mismanagement on our part.

For graphs showing intakes by age click HERE.

Reference: J. Jasper and D.M. Weary "Effects of ad libitum milk intake on dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 85:3054-3058.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorting Behavior of Weaned Dairy Calves

The investigators in a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Dairy Science (Costa, J.H.C. and others. "Effect of diet changes on sorting behavior of weaned dairy calves" 99:5635-5639) examined the kind of sorting behavior among weaned dairy calves.

The calves were fed a TMR with supplementary calf starter grain (pellets) until 65 days and sorting behavior was measured. Then after 65 days the supplementary grain was removed. At 70 days the sorting behavior was measured again.

While receiving TMR with the supplementary grain the calves sorted for long particles. They preferred the forage part of the TMR.

After the supplementary grain was removed and TMR fed only, the calves sorted for fine particles. They sorted for the grain in the TMR.

1. Calves are capable of sorting a TMR.

2. Calves adjust their TMR sorting behavior in response to the availability of supplementary grain.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Preventing Disease in Baby Dairy Calves

This is the title of a short summary of a webinar on DAIReXNET by Dr. Goef Smith from North Carolina State University.

The summary is

 or just click HERE.

A lot of the content will be familiar to those with experience in calf management. However, it's a nice review - is there something that this summary will remind us that is important. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Price Tag on Raising Replacements

The folks at the University of Wisconsin have updated their cost data on replacement heifer raising. The report appeared in the April 10, 2016 issue of Hoard's Dairman (p 237).

In summary:

Year                             2013    2015

Total Cost                $2,427   $2,510

Value of Calf                150        400

Total expense
not including cal     $2,277   $2,110

For more on expenses related to calf and heifer raising you may want to go to or click HERE.  Scroll to the bottom of the list of resources until you come to the heading REAL HERDS REAL HEIFERS.  

Some of the reports have data that are rather old but the methods used to assess expenses are still valid and can serve as guidelines for making your own estimates. 

The Penn State Extension web site has a spreadsheet for calculating the expense of heifer raising. or click HERE. Even if you do not use the entire spreadsheet there are plenty of ideas for items that contribute to heifer raising.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Action Steps for Calving Pen Management

In a brief note in the July issue of Hoard's Dairyman two folks from Michigan State shared these action steps to improve cow health with superior calving pen management. 

Their recommended steps are:

"1. Wear clean boots in the calving pen. Don't bring manure in with you. 

2. Check the bedding by kneeling in the pen. If it is wet, it needs to be removed and replaced.

3. Make sure that the first milking extra care is taken to clean teats very well. Cows have not been prepped for milking for approximately two months. It is important to get their teats and teat ends very clean and to remove any internal teat sealant.

4. Track fresh cow mastitis and set a goal to drive your efforts toward improved udder health." page 436 [emphasis added by me]

Note well the third item - in my experience this is the most common error in collecting clean colostrum - inadequate teat preparation.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Calf Heat Abatement Strategies

This is the title of a short article in the W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute Newsletter July 2016 issue.

To go to the article click HERE.

Article is short and contains practical ideas.

Enjoy with a tall glass of a cold drink of choice.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Surges in Calvings:
Muddle Through or Manage?

During two farm calls the last week in June the calf care person and I talked about the "surge" in expected calvings during the next four or five weeks. I shared with them the content in the attached resource.

Surges in Calvings: Respond Positively
Rather than “Muddling Through”

  • Breeding records allow us to accurately predict sustained surges in calvings.

  • These sustained surges in calvings can overload the calf care system creating sub-standard care.

  • It is better to manage overloads rather than just “muddle through” and have compromised calf care.

  • Choose between decreasing the calf population, increasing resources or some combination of the two.

Make use of breeding records to predict surges – no surprises!

A significant “surge” is not a few extra heifer calves on one day. It is a sustained, continuing heifer birth rate well above the annual average for the dairy.

These surges do not have to be a surprise. All breeding record systems allow us to predict quite reliably how many animals are due to calve at least six months in advance.

For example, one of my client’s dairy is set up with labor and facilities to provide newborn and preweaned calf care for about twenty calves per week.

Lowest month? Last year they projected 105 total calvings during February. Taking into account the use of sexed semen (2/3 calves are females) and a few calves born dead (eight percent DOA rate) they probably will have about sixteen calves per week. The actual number of live heifer calves during February was sixty or fifteen a week – a light month for the calf care crew.

Highest month? Confirmed pregnancies for this same farm projected 200 total calvings in July. When taking into account heifer:bull ratio with sexed semen used in heifers and mortality at birth the projected live heifer births were 125 July heifers.

Again, this farm’s calf care facilities and labor force are set up to provide quality calf care for about twenty heifer calves a week. What to do with the 130 live heifer calves actually born during July? How to deal with the extra eight to ten calves every week, week after week in July?

Everyone with experience with calf rearing knows about “system overload.” Sustained surges in calvings like the one described above deliver more calves than the calf enterprise is set up to handle. My on-farm experience suggests that the quality of calf care doesn’t suffer too much the first week of a surge.

By the second week if one is trying to just “muddle through” significant shortages appear in labor to care for newborn calves, calf housing, labor to feed calves, time to observe calves for sickness and to treat sick calves, labor to bed, vaccinate and dehorn calves. By the third and fourth week every bull calf born is cause for a celebration!

Once compromises in calf care take place starting in the calving pen throughout the whole enterprise, treatment rates for scours and pneumonia increase. Even more time is diverted from quality calf care to sick calves. Mortality and growth rates suffer.

Alternatives to managing surges positively rather than “muddling through.”

  1. Know your enemy – use the breeding records to project when the tsunami wave or “surge” is going to hit.

  1. Decide how to maintain quality calf care. Choose between decreasing the calf population, increasing resources or some combination of the two.

Decreasing the calf population

  • Get someone else to raise the extra calves. A few of my clients have a “trigger” threshold for the number of calves they raise on the home farm. When calf numbers go above this level the extra calves go to a heifer raiser.

  • Sell the extra calves. On one hand, one could just sell the “extra” calves as they are born. On the other hand, if one anticipates the “surge,” during the weeks before the expected surge the dairy could begin selling the calves with the lowest genetic potential. Computer-based programs will help identifying these calves.

Increasing resources

  • Expand the places to calve that are clean during appropriate seasons by going to outdoor paddocks. My client housed some of their close-up cows on grass paddocks in June to provide cleaner environments for calvings during the July surge.

  • When not enough time is available to properly collect, handle and store colostrum so that it can be delivered wholesome and clean, consider using potassium sorbate additive for colostrum to buy extra time for colostrum handling or consider using colostrum replacer as the first feeding after birth.

  • Cross-train one or more employees who normally do not work with calves to feed colostrum, dip navels and tag newborn calves, or feed milk, water or grain to preweaned calves.

  • Hire one or more temporary employees – this may be crucial in providing newborn care and to provide timely colostrum feeding.

  • Use unlikely spaces to house overflow calves. I have seen calves housed in wire pens set up in straw barns and machinery sheds or even under shade trees when the weather is favorable.

  • Contract with a veterinary service to maintain timely vaccinations and dehorning.

  • Review standard operating procedures for all aspects of calf care. If monitoring compliance for these SOP’s reveals problems, set up re-training before the “surge” so that calf care quality is optimal before the system is overloaded. [See, Calf Facts section, “Monitoring Compliance with Protocols Checklist.”