Thursday, June 22, 2017

Automatic Calf Feeders - Bacteria Control Challenges

During a study including 38 farms over 18 months the research team assessed the bacteria contamination levels of milk consumed from automatic calf feeders. Each farm was sampled from both the automated feeder mixing tank (mixing tank) and the point of connection between the flexible dispensing tube and the nipple (tube end). 

Bacteria counts reported:

Source of Sample           Value                         Standard Plate Count      Coliform Count
                                                                                   (cfu/ml)                         (cfu/ml)
1. Mixer tank                  Median                              166,916                             336
                                        Range - lowest                         125                                 0
                                                   - highest              59,396,100               25,621,330

2. Tube end                     Median                            2,566,867                       10,430 
                                        Range - lowest                       6,668                              45
                                                   - highest              82,825,000               28,517,000

Using the thresholds of 10,000 cfu/ml coliforms and 100,000cfu/ml standard plate count (SPC) they reported:

Source of Sample                 SPC>100,000            Coliform Count >10,000
                                         (% farms above)            (% farms above)
1. Mixer tank                          32                                   15
2. Tube end                             68                                   28

What are the messages for me?

First, RANGE values for both SPC and coliforms demonstrate that while it is possible to deliver clean food to autofeeder calves it clearly is possible to screw up badly - very, very badly - 82,000,000 plus cfu/ml!

Second, when I culture "as-fed" milk samples for my clients we use these upper thresholds to determine if on-farm cleaning and handling procedures are being met (usually fed in bottles or buckets manually):
                              SPC     <10,000cfu/ml
                       Coliforms   <1,000cfu/ml

If my clients' samples came back looking like those from theses 38 farms I would be all over their cases - all cleaning procedures would be examined closely for protocol compliance slip-ups. Weekly samples would be taken all along the handling stream to isolate possible points of inoculation and growth.

Third, in terms of calf care and calf health, I consider feeding milk with these levels of bacteria contamination irresponsible and perhaps bordering on animal abuse.

As an aside, one time when we were monitoring bacteria levels with automatic feeders for a client we discovered that the warm-water holding reservoir was serving as a bacterial incubator because the feeders were being used most of the time for whole milk. Contaminated water was leaking into each batch of milk as it was heated. By changing the settings to use 10g of powder in every mixer bowl the reservoir problem was eliminated. So, I have to admit that issues beyond cleaning can sometimes contribute to high bacteria counts. 

Jorgensen, M.W. and Others, "Factors associated with dairy calf health in automated feeding systems in the Upper Midwest United States." Journal of Dairy Science 100:5675-5686 June 2017. Dietrich, M. and Others, " Factors associated with aerobic plate count, coliform count, and log reduction of bacteria in automated calf feeders." Journal of Dairy Science, 93, Suppl. 2, p214 #86.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Variation in Colostrum Yields

In response to a recent question about variations in colostrum yields I pulled together data from two studies published in the Journal of Dairy Science in 2016 and 2017. All cows were second lactation and greater.

The first study was with Holstein breed cows from 9 farms with a total of 111 first milkings. They averaged 17 pounds of colostrum at first milking. However, the overall variation was from 1 pound to 87 pounds! Two-thirds of the samples (N=74) fell between 2 and 33 pounds.

The second study was with Jersey breed cows from one 3,500 cow dairy in California. They collected data on 134 first milkings. The average yield was 9 pounds. The overall variation was from less than 1 pound to 30 pounds. Two-thirds of the samples (N=90) fell between 3 and 15 pounds.

The answer to the question "How much variation in volume of colostrum production is 'normal'?" is:

1. Widely varying amounts among cows for any given lactation, length of dry period, dry-cow ration and season of the year are "normal." Further, predicting this variation based on production in previous lactation is not very reliable.

2. If we plan on feeding about 17 pounds (4 quarts) of colostrum for newborn calves during the first 4 hours of life (Jersey calves = 13 pounds or 3 quarts) then we need to be prepared to supplement the dam's yield for many of our calves.

3. Having a provision to store excess colostrum while minimizing bacteria contamination is a best management practice. Remember rapid chilling to 60F (16C) after collection is a cost effective way to maintain high colostrum cleanliness.

References: Cabral, R. G. and Others, " Predicting colostrum quality from performance in the previous lactation and environmental changes." Journal of Dairy Science 99:4048-4055 2016 Silva-del-Rio, N. and Others, "Colostrum immunoglobulin G concentration of multiparous Jersey cows at first and second milking is associated with parity, colostrum yield, and time of first milking, and can be estimated with Brix refractometry." Journal of Dairy Science 100:5774-5781.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Second Milking - A Colostrum Resource?

Colostrum in short supply? Try collecting and testing second milking from fresh cows.

In a study involving second lactation and greater Jersey cows the investigators collected both first and second milking (N=68 cows).

This is what they found from the second milkings:

                                                                  Average(Mean)   Minimum    Maximum
Amount of colostrum collected (lbs.)            9.5                       0.9               25.3
Brix value (percent)                                     18.7                     13.4               29.3
Antibodies (IgG) in lab test                         46.9                       6.2              100

Nearly one-half of the second milkings (43 percent) had the industry standard of 50g/l minimum for colostrum acceptable for first-feeding newborn calves. 

TEST, DON'T GUESS.  That's the message - your second milking from cows may be a "hidden" colostrum resource on the dairy. 

Reference: Silva-del-Rio, N. and Others, " Colostrum immunglobulin G concentration of multiparous Jersey cows at first and second milking is associated with parity, colostrum yield and time of first milking, and be estimated with Brix refractometery." Journal of Dairy Science 100:5774-5781. July 2017.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Value of Being Raised on a Farm

Right away you need to know that this post has nothing to do directly with animal science for managing calves.

A mom wrote this about her son, a recent college graduate, and his experiences on his first job. Click HERE to access or paste in your browser this URL   Scroll down to the article on page 9.

For those of us who grew up working on farms it will resonate soundly with our life experiences.

By the way, it is in a really interesting  monthly report from the Miner Institute, a research and educational institution in northern New York State. It's easy to subscribe and receive it monthly. Just send an e-mail to and tell her to sign you up for their monthly publication notice.


Monday, June 12, 2017

More on Group-Housed Calves
on Automatic Feeders

"A study of farms using automatic feeders and group housing revealed some practices that point to success in these calf rearing systems." This is the lead for an article by Dr. Marcia Endres (University of Minnesota, St. Paul) that summarized factors that can be important for the successful use of automated calf feeder systems.

She listed these nine factors:

"1. Reduced time to reach peak milk allowance.
2. Milk or milk replacer with low bacteria counts (cleanliness of equipment is key).
3. Positive pressure ventilation tubes.
4. Sufficient amount of space per calf in the resting area.
5. Small number of calves per group.
6. Adequate farm serum total  protein concentration averages (an indicator of passive immune transfer.
7. Drinking speed used as a warning signal to identify sick calves.
8. Consistent navel dipping and disinfecting.
9. Narrow age range within calf groups." (p349)

You may want to read the entire article including her nine "Rules of Thumb" or specific recommendations for automated calf feeder systems.

Reference: Endres, Marcia "Lessons learned from group-housed calves." Hoard's Dairyman May 25, 2017, page 349.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Hay for Preweaned Calves

"Hay for Preweaned Calves" is the subject for the June, 2017 issue of the calf management newsletter. In summary you will find:

  • Calf-care persons have widely different opinions about feeding hay to preweaned calves.
  • Discussions about feeding hay to preweaned calves need to to specify (1) the physical form of hay, (2) volume hay fed, (3) nutrient profile, (4) species present, and (5) calf age at which hay is introduced to the ration.
  • Discussions about feeding hay to preweaned calves may focus on papillae development and health and lack emphasis on the microbial population essential for forage digestion.
  • Recent research is leading me to conclude that limited hay intake has a variety of positive outcomes for preweaned calves.
  •  Practical aspects of feeding hay to preweaned calves.
If you have any stories to share dealing with feeding hay to calves please feel free to forward them to me at I would enjoy hearing from you. 


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Calf Articles All in One Issue

When I checked my mailbox this morning I found the May 25th issue of Progressive Dairyman. I was pleased to find articles on calves and heifers - can you believe 13 articles in one issue!

If you do not have access to the hard copy you can go to, click on the image "Current Issue."

1. Dairy Dialogue with PDmag - Just a teaser in print but a neat interview-style article on calf rearing from two Indiana calf operations - found at . The two big questions were on colostrum management and preweaned calf nutrition.

2. "Optimize starter ration management for a more successful calf program" - p62 - discusses weaning programs related to concentrate intake. Has a nice summary of data to collect to evaluate a calf management program. 

3. "Endres Jazzy Jerseys: All-in, all-out calf barn minimizes death loss" p64 - good details on all-in, all-out management.

4. "Fatty acids cushion calves from heat stress" p65-67 - great graph showing changes in calf body temperature over 24 hrs under cool, moderate and hot ambient conditions - did you know that under hot conditions calf temps peak around 10 PM? Nice sidebar "5 suggestions for improving heat stress in calves."

5. "Jersey nutrition: Small size doesn't mean small appetite" - 68 - good section on "Misconceptions"

6. "What additive are available in milk replacers and what should they do?" pp69-70 - Noah Litherland has a good summary table showing additive, mode of action and examples.

7. "Dairy replacement heifers - weaning to freshening" pp71-72

8. "Crank up your fans to improve summer calf performance" - pp 73-74 - two good practical ideas for evaluating your ventilation system. 

9. "Improve your calf health: Focus on 4 key areas" pp76-77

10. "When milk is not enough ... and it isn't for some vitamins" pp78-79 the author makes the case for supplementing whole milk with additives that boost intakes of selected vitamins (esp. D and E).

11. "Protein and bypass protein for calves and heifers" pp80-81

12. "Injectable trace minerals: Enhancing immune system response" p82 - a summary based on a presentation at the Cornell Calf & Heifer Congress 2016 "Role of Trace Minerals in Active Immunity and Respiratory Vaccine Effectives" Roberto Palomares.

13. "Are you asking the right questions regarding heifer raising?" pp85, 105 - good examples of how to do a cost analyses for both home-raised and outsourced heifers.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hazards of Bacterial Contamination of Colostrum
Dr. Sandra Godden, Univ. MN

I was working on a post to our clinic website in the Metric Calf Resources section when I found this link to this resource by Dr. Godden. She gave this talk at a dairy meeting in Arizona in 2009. But, it does a great job on this topic. Why should we avoid feeding contaminated colostrum.

And, it summarizes the research work done on using potassium sorbate to slow down bacteria growth in colostrum.

So, click HERE for her paper. Or, paste this URL in your Internet browser: .


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Feeding Enough Colostrum to Meet
Energy Needs for First 24 Hours

Mike VanAmburg (Cornell) gave a nice summary of energy needs of dairy calves during their first 24 hours of life. in his presentation at the national Dairy Calf and Heifer Association meetings at Madison WI in April, 2017.

This is his statement:
"Also, colostrum is the first meal and accordingly it very important in establishing the nutrient supply needed to maintain the calf over the first day of life. ... We tend to underestimate the nutrient requirements of the calf, especially for maintenance."

"For example, a newborn Holstein calf at 85 lbs. birth weight has a maintenance requirement of approximately 1.55 Mcal ME (megacalories metabolizable energy) at 72 degrees F. "

He continues, "For comparison, if the ambient temperature  is 32 degrees F the ME requirements for maintenance is 2.4 Mcal."

By my calculations if a calf is only fed 2 quarts of colostrum her first feeding (2.6 Mcal) she will not have much energy left for growth even in summer. Winter weather challenges her to just stay alive on the energy in two quarts of colostrum.

The message to me is to plan in getting at least 4 quarts colostrum into our newborn calves in the first 12 hours with the first feeding preferred in the first 4 hours.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Poop Patrol:
Making Sense From Loose Poop

When preweaned dairy calves are housed individually the calf care person has an opportunity to look at poop (aka feces) from each calf.

One of my biggest training challenges while managing a calf enterprise was teaching new workers what to look for in poop and how to assign the correct meaning to various qualities. 

 When I made a major change in my milk feeding program I had to re-learn this business of making sense from loose poop. The new milk feeding rate was increased gradually during the first two weeks with the goal of feeding four quarts twice daily to deliver approximately two pounds of milk replacer powder a day. This was an increase from 1.25 pounds per day.

In my note on Milk Feeding in An Intensive Feeding Program I have a section, "Manure Patrol." [Click HERE for this resource] I had a lot to learn about manure from intensively-fed calves. When you put a lot in the front a lot comes out the back!

A recent presentation at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association annual conference highlighted this challenge of interpreting the fecal output from intensively-fed preweaned dairy calves.

The author commented,
"A couple of recent studies from my lab are confirming that calves fed greater quantities of milk solids early in life have greater fecal scores [vet-speak for looser poop]; however, when the dry matter percentage of the calves feces were determined there were no differences between calves fed differing quantities of milk solids." (p37).

Bottom Line? Loose poop is normal and okay among these intensively-fed calves.

So, what was my training challenge?

Well, there is loose poop and there is loose poop. I had to show my new helpers the difference between "normal" colored poop (yellowish, straw colored) and white and/or containing blood. They needed to be able to judge consistency differences between "watery" (sick calf) and "loose" (runny, seeps into bedding). 

Just a reminder if you move from limit-fed calves to either free-choice acidified milk or to an automatic feeder, as you increase liquid intake plan on lots more urine. An lots more bedding is always needed to maintain reasonably dry resting space compared to limit-fed calves.

Reference: Ballou, Michael A., "Nutritional strategies to improve the health of pre-weaned calves and growing heifers." Proceedings of the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, April 11-13, 2017, Madison, WI pp33-40.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

More on Using Automatic Feeder Data

More data from the joint Minnesota and Virginia researcher team.

Among other findings they found that calves that were diagnosed with treatable diarrhea had significantly slower eating rates up to 3 days before they showed visible signs of scours.

For me the implication is that when we scan the feeding rate screen and spot a calf that has a significant decrease in eating rate she should go on my "watch" list - especially for scours. 

At this point in our understanding of the eating-rate data I don't feel comfortable starting any kind of intervention to prevent scours based on a decrease in eating rate. The difference in rate (healthy calves ate 88ml/minute faster than calves that later had scours) might not be great enough to justify anything more than closer observation.

However, if we diagnose a case of scours right away rather than missing it for a day or two we are more likely to have a positive treatment outcome. 

Reference: Knauer, W.A.,and Others, "The use of day level feeding behaviors to detect illness in group housed automatically fed pre-weaned dairy calves." Proceedings of American Association of Bovine Practitioners, September 15-17, 2016 p.150.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Improving Weaning Results: Keeping
Weaned Calves Growing and Healthy

May 2017 calf management newsletter is now posted on vet clinic website. Click HERE to go to the newsletter. Or, paste to browser 

  • Rate of rumen development is determined by how we care for our calves.
  • Our level of milk feeding is going to influence the consumption of calf starter grain. 
  • What to do with calves that are not ready to wean?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We Still Need to Keep our Colostrum Clean

A study including 18 dairy herds in Quebec Province, Canada, measured bacteria in  "as-fed" colostrum as well as assessing adequate passive transfer of immunity. There were 333 samples.

A total of 219 calves were bled to estimate the level of passive transfer of immunity. The median herd level of successful transfer of immunity was 70 percent (range of herds was from 41% to 1005).

Of the 333 colostrum samples that had standard plate counts completed (total bacteria, aerobic culture). The standard used was 100,000cfu/ml. Above this was considered failure. 

The herd-level success (sample below 100,000cfu/ml) ranged from a low of 3 percent to a high of 75 percent. The median value was 38 percent. This tells us that a lot of highly contaminated colostrum was fed on these 18 farms. 

These data reinforce the facts from a study in Quebec Province nearly ten years ago that had roughly the same results. Colostrum has not gotten cleaner in the past decade.

What can we do to be sure our colostrum meets at least this standard of cleanliness?

1. Sample and culture. We cannot manage what we do not measure. 

2. If bacteria counts are above this threshold (100,000cfu/ml) there are specific steps we should consider to reduce both inoculation and growth. Click HERE to access this 8-point list). 

3. Sample and culture some more. 

Reference: Freycon, P. and Others, "A herd-level study of colostrum management and its association with success of passive transfer in newborn dairy calves." Proceedings of American Association of Bovine Practitioners, September, 15-17, 2016, Volume 49 , p147.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Variation in Growth Rates, Preweaned Calves

The University of Minnesota included 102 heifer calves in a feeding trial. They compared growth and behavior among group-fed calves on an organic dairy. The calves were fed whole milk with Skellerup peach teat feeders either once a day or twice a day for a total of 6 L (6.3 quarts) daily. (13% solids, 4.2% fat, 3.3% protein).

The NRC calf model projects the estimated gain for calves about 81 pounds in a 60F environment with this ration (6.3 quarts daily) at 1.4 pounds per day (protein limited ration, lots of leftover energy with this high fat milk). Calves had a 19% protein calf starter available free-choice.

The variation among calves was evident at 60 days of age:

Holstein calves -                                             low = 0.55kg/day, high = 0.97kg/day [1.2 - 2.1 lbs/day]
HolsteinXMontbeliardeXViking Red -          low = 0.4 kg/day, high = 1.07kg/day [0.9 - 2.4 lbs/day]
HolsteinXJerseyXNormandeXViking Red - low = 0.5kg/day, high = 0.98kg/day [1.1 - 2.2 lbs/day]

The once-a-day calves achieved 85 percent doubling their weight by 60 days. The twice-a-day fed calves achieve 96 percent doubling their weight by 60 days.

When I used a sample of Holstein calves for which I had individual growth rates to compare rate of gain by sire I found that about one-third of the variation could be tied to the sire.

The messages for me are:

1. Expect lots of variation in gain among calves that receive the same care under the same farm conditions. There will be "laggards" (low growth rate) among every group of calves.

2. Given variation the most effective way to get better gains from the "laggards"is to raise the level of nutrition for the entire population.

Reference: Kienitz, M.J., and Others, "Growth, behavior, and economics of group-fed calves fed once or twice daily in an organic production system." Journal of Dairy Science 100:3318-3325. March 2017 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

How Urgent is "Sooner" for Colostrum Feeding?

Have you wondered about how soon is soon when you hear colostrum should be feed to newborn calves as soon as possible (ASAP) after birth?

A research group at North Carolina State University collected colostrum feeding data on 100 Holstein heifer calves with unassisted deliveries.  Time of first feeding was recorded - all calves received their first feeding of colostrum within the first 4 hours of life. At least four quarts was fed first feeding with some calves receiving a second smaller feeding in the next twelve hours. 

They measured apparent efficiency of absorption of antibodies. No difference in antibody absorption rates was observed as long as the first feeding was no later than 4 hours. 

Thus, although "sooner" may be better, as long as the first feeding came before four hours calves did a good job absorbing the antibodies in colostrum.

Worth noting was the wide variation among calves being fed colostrum with a common protocol. The lowest absorption rate was 7.7%. The highest rate was 59.9% - wow! The authors suggest a large genetic component in the variation from the average absorption rate of 28%.

Just in case you are not already monitoring the success of passive transfer among your calves a "How To" resource for monitoring can be found by clicking How to Test for Passive Transfer of Immunity"
in our Calf Resource library at website. 

Reference: Halleran, J., and Others, "Short Communication: Apparent efficiency of colostral immunoglobulin G absorption in Holstein heifers." Journal of Dairy Science 100:3282-3286. March 2017.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hidden Cases of  Pneumonia

"On the average, for every calf with clinical pneumonia, we can expect almost two additional cases of subclinical pneumonia. In some situations, we have seen as many as six additional cases of subclinical pneumonia." page 68 "Why aren't my calves growing?" Dr. Theresa Olivett, School of Veterinary Medicine, Univ. Wisconsin writing in Progressive Dairyman, April 19, 2017.

What's the big deal about "subclinical" pneumonia - it's not bad enough to treat!

Dr. Olivett observes
"Sources of infection provides constant draw of metabolic energy by the immune system. ...Even calves with subclinical respiratory disease may suffer 0.1 pound a day decrease in average daily gain during the preweaning period." (p68)

Thus working with the herd veterinarian to describe disease patterns, protocols for early detection of pneumonia and effective treatment protocols is a cost effective approach to calf management. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Impact of Colostrum Fed During First Two Weeks of Life

The authors' summary:

"Based on the results of this and a previous study (Berge, et al., 2009), this dried-colostrum replacement product could be used as a supplement of the milk replacer diet to decrease the occurrence of disease and the associated need for antibiotic therapy in  pre-weaned calves irrespective of their status in the transfer of passive immunity." (p. 1386)

Sounds like a great way to keep calves healthy. BUT!

Before you run out to purchase a supply of dried-colostrum replacement product you need to be aware that the cost per day per calf of product used in the study was US$12. OOPS!

Subsequent studies need to examine lower feeding rates - will rates of 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/10th give similar results at much lower costs? 

One effect that is not captured in the authors' summary was the difference between control and treatment calves in average daily gain during the first two weeks of life. The average gain for all calves was 1.5 pounds per day. Both groups of calves had one or more calves that grew very well (over 2 pounds/day) or very poorly (less than 0.1 pounds/day). 

However, the colostrum supplemented calves had much more uniform growth rates. This finding stimulated me to think back to when I had the opportunity to feed transition milk (2nd, 3rd,  & 4th milkings) to my calves. 

I collected this milk twice a day. Within an hour after collecting this milk it was fed to the youngest calves - I fed 2 quarts twice daily. At the time I was impressed by the health of these calves - very low rate of scours, virtually no pneumonia treatments. At that time I did not think to observe the degree of uniformity of growth among these calves.

Unfortunately, the dairy "improved" management of fresh cows by milking them in the production parlor rather than the special-needs parlor that I had been using. That was the end of collecting transition milk. That was the end of super-healthy young calves - we went back to feeding electrolytes to scouring calves.

Transition milk feeding can give positive results. But is it practical?

This research on colostrum supplementation makes me think about the benefits of collecting and feeding transition milk. Could a dairy come up with a cost-effective way to collect, handle and feed this valuable product?

Chamorro, M.F., and Others, "Evaluation of the effects of colostrum replacer supplementation of the milk replacer raiton on the occurrence of disease, antibiotic therapy, and performance of pre-weaned dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science, 100:1378-1387 February, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Avoiding Passive Transfer Failure

The April 2017 calf management newsletter title is "Avoiding Passive Transfer Failure." To access the newsletter click HERE.

Key points include:
  • Don’t guess; use hard numbers. Use a minimum of blood samples from 12 calves; more samples give a better estimate of passive transfer rates.
  • Once the failure rate is established get hard numbers for critical control points: calf age at first feeding, quality and quantity of colostrum fed.
  • Write protocols, train calf care workers to follow protocols, monitor protocol compliance.
  • Test, test, test. Keep sampling blood until the passive transfer failure rate drops to the farm’s goal.
Read about one farm's success story:
This was in 2010. The first round of blood serum total protein results were: (for more on blood serum total protein see and select “Testing for Passive Transfer of Immunity”)
At 6.0 (5)                                24%     (number of calves tested)
Between 5.5-5.9 (5)                24%
Between 5.2-5.4 (1)                  5%
Between 4.5-5.1 (2)                29%
Between 4.0-4.4 (4)                28%

It took several years of persistent emphasis on colostrum collection, handling and feeding to achieve better passive transfer of immunity. These are the most recent (2017) results (same dairy as in 2010):

At 6.0 and higher (22)                        65%
Between 5.5 – 5.9 (10)           29%
Between 5.2 – 5.4 (2)               6%
Less than 5.2 (0)                       0%
One hundred percent at 5.2 and above – YES! WooHoo! Success is Sweet!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Helping Calves Beat the Heat

This is the title of a short, one page article in the Miner Institute Farm Report, April issue. 

Click HERE to go to the Report. This article is on page 4, "Helping Calves Beat the Heat." 

The article looks at the role of fat in preweaned calves rations during heat stress days. 

The summary:
1. "The results of this study indicate that calves did not benefit from being fed supplemental fat during the summer months. "

2. "Based on the results of this study, producers should consider feeding a lower fat milk replacer to maximize feed efficiency and lean growth in their calves during the summer months."

An interesting study.

If you are not already familiar with the W.H.Miner Institute in Chazy, NY you may want to visit their web site,

The Farm Report is found HERE. There is an archive section - access is at the bottom of the Farm Report page. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Super short summary for 
Automated Milk Feeding Systems for Dairy Calves

This brief two-page summary includes:
1. Housing
2. Transition calves to AMF
3. Milk allowance
4. Management practices

Very, very condensed summary. Click HERE to find this resource.

For a 10-page discussion on the same topic by James and Others presented at the most recent Western Dairy Management conference go to this link: HERE

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Group Housing and Calf Autofeeder Systems

At the Western Dairy Management Conference, February 28-March 2, 2017 in Reno, NV, Dr. James, K. Machado and A. Dietrich presented a paper, "Group Housing Systems for Calves, Facilities, Equipment, Protocols and Personnel." 

Of special interest to me was the section "Computer controlled automatic calf feeding systems." There is a good section "General recommendations and features of calf autofeeder systems." 

In addition, there is a 9-point summary of risk factors for disease in autofeeder systems. 

If you have an interest in autofeeder management this is good resource.

This is the link - just click Here.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Confusion over Colostrum Supplements and Colostrum Replacer

I made a presentation at the Central Ontario Agricultural Conference on March 4. The audience was not shy - they asked plenty of questions. 

Several of the questions related to colostrum supplements and replacers. More than one person in the audience tried to use the terms to mean the same thing. 

So, I went through the definitions:

Supplements provide just that, they only add antibodies.

Replacers provide the full range of colostrum content (antibodies, protein, fat, carbs, etc) possible in a processed product.

Besides, I added, replacers typically cost four to five times as much as supplements. 

Click HERE for a background page on supplements.

Click HERE for the one-page Colostrum Replacer Guidelines.

The experiences with these products among those in the audience included using a supplement when feeding colostrum from a heifer, using supplements during weather-stress times (i.e., winter). I told them how easy it is to check antibody concentration in colostrum using a Brix refractometer. Click HERE for resource on doing this.

We also talked about using a replacer when the colostrum supply was tight, and using replacer when the dam was suspected of a disease that could be transmitted through colostrum.

As I always do during a presentation, I urged the dairymen (and women) present to work with their herd veterinarian to collect "as-fed" colostrum samples for bacteria culturing. Click HERE for a protocol for collecting colostrum samples. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Fly Control in March?

That is the title of the March calf management newsletter. The key points are:
·        How effective was our fly control last year?
·        Using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach, what will be the most effective methods this fly season?
·        Selecting fly control methods
·        Scheduling fly control activities

Included are links to pest management resources including Cornell University's IPM program and organic pest control recommendations. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hard Calvings and Dystocia Calves

I tried to use an Internet link in one of my resources in the library. It did not work. While trying to fix this non-working link I discovered that there was a whole library of resources on calving and calf care at my finger tips. 

So, here it is:

click HERE to go directly to the site.
type in

When you arrive there you will find the Table of Contents for the entire site including these major headings:

1. Dystocia
2. Calf delivery
3. Post-calving care of the calf - includes specific monitoring points with thresholds for each of the six points.
4. Post-calving care of the dam

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Is the Colostrum Warm Enough to Feed?

Ideal feeding temperature for feeding colostrum? Just above calf body temperature. If folks want a number I tell them 103F (39C).

So, what's a practical way to estimate this temperature? Sure, the old-time method of using the inside of your wrist just like Mom did with a baby bottle.

How about a more practical, quick way to use on-farm?

The calving barn supervisor at Bos Dairy in Indiana offers this suggestion. Don’t guess if the colostrum is correct feeding temperature. 

Just push a rapid-read dial thermometer through the vent hole in a nursing nipple on the bottle containing the colostrum. Set the bottle into warm water. It’s easy to see when the colostrum is up to calf-body temperature.

To make things even easier and reduce guessing, use a tag pen to make a mark on the thermometer dial showing the correct feeding temperature. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Colostrum Bacteria Control
(Up-dated February, 2017)

I spent time today checking to see that the Internet links are working on the back issues of the calf management newsletter. That is when I came to this issue, Colostrum Bacteria Control.

The basic principles I outlined in this issue are still as valid in February, 2017 as they were when I wrote about them initially in December, 2007.

I up-dated the links - of special interest is the short article on bacteria in milk - you can find this at or click HERE.

The key points in the article that apply to colostrum as well are:

1. Microbial contamination from within the udder

2. Microbial contamination from the exterior of the udder

3. Influences of equipment cleaning and sanitizing procedures

4. Milk storage temperature and time

Enjoy this great little "checklist" on how bacteria get into and grow in colostrum.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Low Cost Ways to Improve Calf Care

I was asked a question at a meeting of dairy producers.

"I enjoyed your presentation. But, what are some low-cost ways to improve calf care?"

So, we ticked off several management-based practices that would not require little or no capital investment in facilities or purchase of equipment.

Here is the short list: 

Dip umbilical cords on newborn calves. Click HERE for a short economic analysis of the profitability of navel dipping. Click HERE for "Navel dipping - advantages and alternatives."

Milk fresh cows soon after milking. At 10 hours post calving 27 percent of initial antibodies are gone. The best quality colostrum is collected as soon as practical post-calving.

Check colostrum quality before feeding to newborn calves. Go to and select "Colostrum: Testing using a Brix refractometer."  Click HERE for a quick review of variations in quality and quantity among cows.

Use human standards of cleanliness when managing colostrum. At see "Colostrum: Reducing coliform counts - a check list." Also, click HERE for a checklist to evaluate your sanitation procedures.

Feed colostrum to a newborn calf as soon as practical after birth. 

Feed enough good quality colostrum to newborn calves. By 4 weeks one estimate is a loss of $48 per calf by not feeding enough good quality colostrum  

Check colostrum management effectiveness by measuring immunity levels. See, select "Testing for Passive Immunity" or click HERE.

Are any of these alternatives viable ones you could use to upgrade your calf care?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Special Care for the Dystocia Calf

I updated several older issues of the calf management newsletter this morning. One of them had the title above - special care for the dystocia calf.

The summary is:
  • Calving difficulty, sometimes called dystocia, affects between 13 to 15 % of Holstein calves.
  • 48-hour survival rates drop drastically for calves when deliveries require 2 or more persons, mechanical or surgical intervention compared to unassisted births.
  • 120-day survival rates for calves when deliveries require 2 or more persons, mechanical or surgical intervention are 70 % less than unassisted births.
  • Treatment rates are higher for dystocia calves (scours 17%, pneumonia 70%) compared to calves experiencing unassisted births.
  • Providing special care, both in the first few hours and first two weeks, can cut both death losses and treatments for scours and/or pneumonia.
If you never saw this issue or don't remember (it was back in January, 2013) you may enjoy reviewing these low-cost recommendations that promise significant returns. 

Click HERE to select this issue. Other issues are at in the Resources section under Calf Management Newsletter.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Do All Preweaned Calves Have the Same
Pattern of Eating Concentrates?
(aka Calf Starter Grain)

I was searching today for information on automatic calf feeders and weaning. I ran across at bit of information that shows how much preweaned calves vary  in their patterns of consuming concentrates (calf starter grain).

The method of measuring concentrate intake was simply a computer-controlled concentrate feeder that recorded weights of grain eaten at every meal by every preweaned calf.

One treatment in the research trial was to decrease the amount of milk fed based on the volume of concentrate eaten. They set these thresholds for initiating decreases in milk fed:
     First step:    calves eat 200g/d (0.4 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 12 L to 9 L per day.
     Second step: calves eat 600g/d (1.3 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 9 L to 6 L per day.
     Third step:     calves eat 1,000g/d (2.2 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 6 L to 3 L per day. 
    Fourth step:    calves eat 1,400g/d (3.1 lbs.) daily for 3 days in a row, drop milk from 3 L to 0 L per day.

Now here is the interesting part!

The age at the first step down (from 12 L to 9 L per day) averaged 55 days. The full range was from 23 to 82 days.  Wow! That said, two-thirds of the calves fell in the range of 35 to 75 days - that's still a pretty wide spread.

What do I think these data have to do with day-to-day calf management?

1. If the goals of a weaning program is to minimize post-weaning illness and to maintain rates of daily gains then we should take into account the wide variation among calves in their willingness or ability to each concentrates. When weaning for calves fed a maximum of 12 L per day was tied to solid feed intake the earliest calves in this research trial were fully weaned at 56 days and the latest were fully weaned at 91 days.

2. Some provision may be needed for the "late weaners." When I was raising calves I called them the "left-back" calves. Eighty or ninety percent of my calves moved out of my hutches at 56 to 63 days - but there were those slow weaners that were "left-back." I had a row of hutches where I could stick these "left-back" calves for a week or two until their calf starter grain intakes improved enough to be moved into a transition pen with the next batch of calves. 

3. Lock-Step weaning (all the calves are weaned at the same age) may have hidden costs. The laggards (the ones that are slow to increase their concentrate intake) may need to be treated at a rate much higher than the "average" calves. And, if a weaned pen has several laggards that get sick they may infect the entire pen.

4. What holds us back from weaning based on starter intake? In my experience the major negative factor is monitoring calf starter grain or concentrate intakes. It takes little skill and effort to just dump some grain into a feeding pail (especially when it is kept one-half or two-thirds full). Compare this to frequent dumping of grain pails (even daily during hot humid summer months) and feeding a volume just a little bit greater than daily intakes.

This latter approach assumes the skill and  interest on the calf care person to actually observe individual calf intakes. Well, I actually fed about the same amount of grain to entire groups of calves based on age only watching for the exceptions to the rule. Probably one calf out of  eight or ten needed special attention - I usually flagged their pen to remind myself and others that this calf was an exception on grain feeding. 

Reference: Passille, A. M. and J. Rushen, "Using automatic feeders to wean calves fed large amount of milk according to their ability to eat solid feed." Journal of Dairy Science 99:3578-3583 May 2016.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Links to Calf Management Information

I just finished posting this new resource in the Calf Management Library. At this location the hyperlinks will work.

Note the link to AHDB resources in UK. I copied the text below. The links in this text do NOT work.

Links to Calf Management Information

We love to promote our own website, For a calf management library of resources click HERE or type in this address:
There are 158 (mostly 2-pages long) resources on many, many calf management topics listed in alphabetical order by title. There is also a search box in upper right hand corner if you only know a topic. For example, the most cost effective way to clean nursing bottles and tube feeders.

Also, the most recent 5 years of the calf management newsletter, Calving Ease, are posted as “Calf Management Newsletter.” A recent issue, June 2016 Preventing Navel Infections (click HERE or type in this address:

If you like to BLOG, you can go to the “Calves with Sam” blog on calf management ideas by clicking HERE or typing in this address:

Dr. Jim Quigley maintains a calf management library of 191 resources notes at He lists by topic (colostrum, weaning, calf starters) and has a search box to find notes by subject.

The University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine supports a dairy calf resource site that includes helpful checklists and observation forms. Click HERE or type in this address: A good example is their “Calf Health Scoring Chart” that I use on all my farm visits.

Other sites? Usually ones from universities and are non-commercial and have reasonably unbiased reports. From United Kingdom, click HERE for another perspective on calf management.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Salmonella is Always a Challenge

This calf management newsletter was published back in February 2013. I wrote it after consulting with a dairy having a Salmonella outbreak. Click HERE to access this issue. Or, go to, and under Resources select calf management newsletter, click on Feb 2013.

The content supplements that of the most recent calf management newsletter (February, 2017). It includes several ideas not mentioned in the most recent letter. 

The bullet points of this letter are:
  • Prevention works! Maximize resistance through excellent colostrum management and well-fed calves.
  • Prevention works! Minimize exposure to salmonella at birth, in feed, housing and care givers.
  • Consistent care encourages good gut motility and discourages salmonella attachment in the gut.
  • All-in, all-out housing helps break infection cycles.
Let's all hope these resources remain of just an academic interest. Only once did I have do deal with a full-blow Salmonella outbreak. Once was more than enough. 
Diagnosis: Salmonella dublin
What do we do next?

This is the title of the February issue of Sam's calf management newsletter. To access this issue click HERE or go to, at the Resources menu choose calf management newsletter and click on the February 2017 letter.

The bullet points are:
·       What is the nature of this pathogen and salmonellosis?
·       Control: Minimize exposure, maximize immunity.
    ·       Remember: People can get infected, too.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Brix Refractometer to Assess Colostrum Quality

An assessment of colostrum quality was done on 240/255 samples from 30 different dairy farms. 

The assessment methods were:
  • digital Brix refractometer
  • opitical Brix refractometer
  • radial immunodifusion (RID) (laboratory method - used as reference standard)
  • transmission infared spectroscopic
Of special interest to me was the comparison of the laboratory test (think of this as the "gold standard") and the two Brix methods.

The optimal cut off value for both the optical and digital Brix refractometers was 23% - pretty much as I expected from previous work. Recall that we are trying to exclude poor quality colostrum from the first feeding of newborn calves. With the optical and digital Brix refactometers at 23% this work reported correctly selecting "good" colostrum 80 percent of the time.

Compared to the laboratory test (RID) the Brix refractometer readings agreed 77 percent of the time. It was of interest to me to see that the two Brix methods had readings that agreed 98 percent of the time. 

Reference: Elsohaby, I and Others, "Rapid assessment of bovine colostrum quality: How reliable are transmission infared spectroscopy and digital and optial refractometers?" Journal of Dairy Science 100:1427--1435.

Monday, January 30, 2017

How do Calf Caregivers Spread Diseases?

It seems like a contradiction to suggest that calf caregivers spread diseases. Nevertheless, research has conclusively shown that caregivers often are the culprits when calves get sick.

Let's look at three examples how this takes place.

Calves are housed in individual hutches outdoors where they are fed six quarts of pasteurized milk daily from 3-Qt. bottles. At feeding time a wagon full of these bottles is towed between the rows of hutches. Two workers scoop up arm loads of four three-quart bottles and go from hutch to hutch dropping a bottle in each bottle holder. I noticed that one worker managed to carry an extra bottle by holding the last two by the nipples. As the routine proceeded I also observed that not every bottle settled evenly into the bottle holders - some adjustment was required [note: this is where the worker's gloved hands came in contact with the contaminated bottle holder]. Then the same worker went back to the wagon, picked up three bottles tucking them  under her arm and grabbed two more bottles by their nipples [note: point of contact between contaminated glove and nipples].

Calves are housed in individual pens in a calf barn where they are fed six quarts of pasteurized milk daily from pails. These same pails are used to feed water. The feeding routine is to first go along each row dumping any left over water from the liquid feeding pail into a waste container. Then, milk is fed to individual calves.
You noticed, right? That is correct, as the water is dumped the worker's gloved hand touched one liquid feeding pail after another - very effectively passing pathogens along the row of pails. A few Strep. species bacteria probably don't make any significant difference. However, passing along Cryptosporidia parasites and highly contagious Salmonella bacteria should be avoided. 

Calves are housed in individual pens in a calf barn where they are fed three quarts of pasteurize milk three times daily from liquid feeding pails that are also  used to feed water. As I observe calf care after feeding I noted that several sick calves needed to be treated. The calf care person stepped into the first pen, gave the treatment to the sick calf, left this pen and promptly opened and stepped into the pen of the next calf to be treated. Boots, Boots, Boots. Feces on boots are a very effective way to carry pathogens from one pen to another.


Another of my clients has a little low tow-along cart. The cart has a place for extra disinfectant solution and a brush. A low plastic container allows the caregiver to step in and brush her boots. The solution is dumped out between calves. The routine is step in before entering the pen, step into the container upon leaving the pen, brush to remove an manure, dump the disinfectant solution, go on to the next calf. 

I saw a similar set up for a dairy using outdoor hutches. They carried the container in the back of a 4-wheeler, set it out on the ground, sprayed disinfectant on their boots while standing in the container, stepped into the wire pen, treated the calf, stepped out into the container brushing their boots off while being sprayed with disinfectant, changed gloves and on to the next calf. 

Note: Footbaths are particularly ineffective for controlling pathogen movement. In "Best Management Practices" above both calf enterprises dumped the foot bath between  uses. Research has demonstrated that even well-maintained footbaths often fail to control the spread of pathogens, especially Salmonella. 

Reference: Gardner, C.E. and Others, "Case Report: Management of an Outbreak of Salmonellosis on a Commercial Calf Raising Unit." The Bovine Practitioner, vol. 38, no. 2, pp147-154.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Stopping Salmonella from Infecting the Next Calf

We frequently find that there are reservoirs of the Salmonella pathogen on dairy farms.  As long as immunity is high the animals do not show symptoms of being clinically ill (Salmonellosis).

With the changes that accompany the introduction of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) we have some dairies that have stopped continuous feeding of antibiotics to young calves (usually less than 4 weeks but maybe as long as 8 weeks). 

On one  hand, for dairies where pathogen exposure is well controlled (for example, low bacteria counts in colostrum, calves moved from calving pens promptly and reliably after birth, feeding equipment effectively cleaned) taking away this "band-aid" has little effect.

On the other hand, if the farm's management practices have be skating at the very edge of containing clinical infections taking away the continuous feeding of antibiotics in the milk for preweaned calved may be all that is needed for subclinical infections to become clinical. 

Also, if there is significant exposure to Salmonella bacteria routinely in the calving pens and calf housing any event that causes even a little weakness in immunity among either cows at calving or young calves may be all that sets off a Salmonella event among calves. So, beyond treating sick calves, what to do when one or more calves are diagnosed with Salmonellosis?

Stopping Salmonlla from Infecting the Next Calf

1. Review colostrum management
  • Using blood from 10-12 calves (draw between 2 and 7 days of age) assess the effectiveness of creating passive transfer of immunity among calves. Click HERE for a guide to measuring passive transfer of immunity. When using blood serum total protein method, our goal is to have 90% at 5.0 and greater, 80% at 5.5 and greater.
  • Using 5 or more colostrum samples (collected from nipple or tube feeder just before feeding the calf) have laboratory cultures run to assess the level of bacteria in "as-fed" colostrum. Click HERE for a guide on sample collection. Our goal is to have less than 5,000cfu coliforms and less than 50,000cfu total plate count. 
2. Review calving pen management
  • Set the goal of having dry clean  bedding for all calves
  • Set a goal for promptly removing calves from the calving pen(s) to a clean, dry environment.
  • For any high risk dam suspected of being a Salmonella carrier, isolate her, remove the calf immediately after calving and do not feed her colostrum to any calf. 
3. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize
  • Review washing procedures for calving equipment, colostrum handling equipment and calf feeding equipment. Click HERE for an equipment washing checklist.
  • Review ways in which caregivers may be spreading Salmonella from place to place and from calf to calf. 

[Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is a US based government program designed to place all feed-related antibiotic use under the direct supervision of the farm's veterinarian. A directive containing a description of the animals, the antibiotic to be used and the dose and duration of use must be written before the farm can purchase the product from a supplier.]

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Diagnosis: Salmonella Dublin
Now What?

This dairy has a number of group pens, calves are fed milk replacer with automatic computer controlled feeders. Recently they began having calves in the 7 to 10 day range show signs of diarrhea as well as elevated respiration rates and snotty noses.

Subsequent laboratory testing using tissue samples from a calf that died confirmed the presence of Salmonella dublin. The dairy and their veterinarian are working on a treatment protocol for the sick calves.

This case got me started on reviewing my file on this pathogen. I came across a short article written by Dr. Sheila McGuirk (retired from University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine) as a response to a reader question for Hoard's Dairyman.

I quote part of Dr. McGuirk's response below. It suggests how hard it is to control the spread of Salmonella dublin once it is present on a dairy. 

"S. dublin is unique amongst the other Salmonella bacteria in that it can infect cattle and establish a carrier state in some animals for life. Carrier cattle may not reveal themselves as being sick, but they shed infectious organisms in the environment and, very impactful for calf health, in colostrum and milk.

Along with feces, other bodily secretions of carrier animals discharge infectious organisms, making it very difficult to avoid the exposure of young calves to infection. Oral exposure to Salmonella organisms is common, but for calves that spend more than just a few minutes in a calving area, their skin, naval and feet can be a vehicle for bringing the organism to calf housing."  [emphasis added]

Hoard's Dairyman, September 25, 2014

So, now this dairy not only  has the issue of how to treat the calves that are already sick, there is the matter of establishing barriers to reduce the numbers of the organism being brought into the calf barn.