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.