Monday, July 31, 2017

What to do When the Train Falls off the Rails?

We did a routine check on effectiveness of cleaning procedures on colostrum handling equipment. The previous check results were really good.

Oops! The train fell off the rails.

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

Here is where the train fell off the rails: (this farm set their standard for an acceptable clean surface is 100rlu)

Sample site                                                                    Previous          Current
                                                                                       Reading          Reading
Milker bucket used to collect colostrum                             5                    46
Plastic lid for milker bucket                                                0                5298

Tube feeder inside the bottle                                               0                    10
Tube feeder inside tube at top where screws on bottle       0                 1404
Tube feeder inside tube at ball end                                    12                3458

These tests were run on-farm with the maternity pen supervisor at my elbow. He was not a happy camper. 

We checked out the sink where the milker bucket and lid were washed. Chlorinated detergent supply was okay, brushes were there. The plastic lid reading appeared to be a breakdown in protocol compliance. He was going to review cleaning procedures with the two employees that had responsibility for that cleaning job. 

We checked out the sink where the tube feeder was washed. Supply of hot water was okay, chlorinated detergent supply was okay, brush for tube feeder bottle was there but the one for cleaning the inside of the tube itself was missing - just gone. A phone conversation with the guy that feeds and cleans this equipment turned up the fact that the brush had been missing for a week. [Note that the employee did not tell the maternity pen supervisor about the brush for a whole week!] I supplied a new brush from my truck.

Now we had a better idea why the calf care person had been using so much electrolyte solution for scouring calves the past couple of weeks.

Friday, July 28, 2017

How Long are Calves Left with Dams after Birth?

How about leaving the calf with the dam for 2 hours? Six hours? Twelve hours or more?

A study of dairy farms in Ohio and Michigan included both conventional and organic producers. They reported their practice of separating calves from dams.

"The majority of conventional (64%, 279/439) producers reported separating the calf from the dam 30 minutes to 6 hours after birth. 

More organic (34%, 56/166) than conventional (18%, 80/439) producers reported separation 6 to 12 hours after birth, and organic producers were more likely to agree that time before separation is beneficial." (p292)

If we do a little adding we conclude that among conventional dairies with 279 separating less than 6 hours and another 80 separation between 6 and 12 hours we have a total of 359 separating at 12 hours or less. 

That means among the 439 conventional dairies there 80 farms (18%) remaining that routinely left calves with the dam for more than 12 hours.

On one hand, the advantage of early separation is reduced exposure to pathogens (for example, coliform bacteria, cryptosporidia parasites) being shed in high numbers by the dam. 

On the other hand, folk knowledge suggests that the presence of the calf during the first 24 hours promotes lower rates of retained placenta and metritis.

In a review of scientific literature Dr. Leslie (University of Guelph) pointed out that the process of uterine recovery from birth is closely related to frequency of udder stimulation (either nursing or being milked). 

Beef cows being suckled by their calves or dairy cows being milked 4 times daily have more rapid uterine recovery than dairy cows milked twice daily. Thus, the biological evidence shows that frequent oxytocin release in the days after calving is key to the processes of uterine health. Unless leaving the calf with the dam is connected to frequent suckling there appears to be no advantage to leaving the calf for an extended time with the dam (and maybe other adult animals).

What do I recommend to my clients? Do whatever you can to reduce pathogen exposure for newborn calves. On some dairies this means physically removing the calf from the dam's environment as soon as the calf is able to stand.

On other dairies dam access to the calf is given priority. Good calf health can still be accomplished without high pathogen exposure. 

This means placing the calf in an environment where she cannot fall face-first into dirty bedding or lick the dam's dirty hair coat BUT the dam can still reach her to continue licking and stimulating respiration and healthful behaviors. Some farms put the calves a water tub in the calving pen while others use some kind of low gating to confine the calf while allowing access by the dam.

In my consulting practice, especially in Australia and Europe where it is a common practice to leave calve with dams for 24 hours or more, I have seen significant improvements in calf health associated with reducing cow:calf contact hours.

Pempek, J. and Others, "Dairy calf management - A Comparison of practices and producer attitudes among conventional and organic herds." Journal of Dairy Science, Supplement 2, 100:292. July 2017

Leslie, K., "The Events of Normal and Abnormal Postpartum Reproductive Endocrinology and Uterine Involution in Dairy Cows: A Review." Canadian Veterinary Journal 24:67-71

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pain Relief Among Calves Dehorned with Chemical Paste

In a report published in the American Journal of Dairy Science (August, 2017) the authors assessed pain response to dehorning with chemical paste. They also evaluate methods of pain relief.

In summary, they reported

1. Calves dehorned with chemical paste with no pain relief showed symptoms of strong pain at 60 minutes that continued somewhat diminished out to three hours. 

2. Calves dehorned with chemical paste with a cornual nerve block (similar to that used for thermal dehorning) showed much, much lower symptoms of pain over the 3-hour observation period post treatment.

3. The authors recommended using the same pain relief procedures for caustic paste dehorning as for thermal burning.

As always consult your dairy veterinarian for the procedures best for your farm. 

Winder, C.B. and Others, "Clinical trial of local anesthetic protocols for acute pain associated with caustic paste disbudding in dairy calves." Journal of Dairy Science 100:6429-6441 #8 August 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vaccinating Calves 
Thoughts from Dr. Woolums

I was reviewing a file in vaccinating calves. I found Dr. Woolums' talk at the 2013 NY Calf Congress, "Calf Immunity: Expectations and Reality."

Dr. Woolums is an internationally recognized authority on bovine immunity. She had these thoughts:

1. When vaccinating calves, plan to boost once or twice before disease is expected to occur. 

2, When vaccinating calves under 6 months of age, try to give a least 2 doses one month apart.

3. Try to administer vaccines so that the final boost is given one month before expected disease. 

4. Reliability of response [to vaccines] is inversely correlated with age. 

5. Consult with your veterinarian regarding vaccine choice and timing. 

All good ideas. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Protecting Calves from Stress

Some stresses seem to be unavoidable. We have to wean all of the calves eventually. Their ration will change. Their housing will change.

We know that the changes in the calf's body caused by stress can have negative consequences. What, then, can we do to reduce these "bad" effects?

In a recent consultation we (owner, me) talked about improving the overall well-being of the calves as a means of compensating for these stresses. Calves were "flat-lining" (no growth) for a month after weaning, many requiring treatment for  pneumonia.

Changes that were considered to improve the overall well being of the  included these:

1. Strengthen the colostrum management program - increase the volume fed from the current one 2-quart feeding; try to get more calves fed sooner after being born, start checking colostrum quality so the best quality can be fed for first feedings. The vet will take blood samples to check on passive transfer effectiveness. Try to get readings for 10 to 12 calves total. 

2. Feed more milk to preweaned calves - feed more than the current 2 quarts twice a day of 20-20 milk replacer (currently mixed 8oz. makes two quarts).

3. Change calf starter grain feeding program - currently fills bucket when calf is a week old and leaves it until it gets empty - talked about keeping only enough starter grain in buckets close to consumption rate and dumping them at least once a week.

4. Check on how well these efforts to improve overall well-being are working. Using a heart girth weight tape get some birth:weaning weights to get actual growth rates [industry standard is now to double weight in 56 days]. As they are weaned, try to get 10 calves.

We also talked about the weaning procedures and weaning pen management but that is a discussion for another day. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

We Quit Testing Our Colostrum!

This is the conversation last week on a dairy.

Me: How is your colostrum quality this past month?
Dairy: Oh, we don't have enough colostrum. We have to feed all of it. So, we quit testing our colostrum.

Me: Well, if you don't have any good quality colostrum for first feeding, can't you feed a colostrum replacer?
Dairy: No, we don't have replacer. It costs too much. We just feed whatever we have.

End of conversation.

They have a written colostrum-feeding protocol that is followed very well. They collect blood from all the two - three day-old calves. Their average blood serum total protein level for the past six months has been around 6.2mg/dl. (Industry standards are 90% at 5.2 or above, 80 % at 5.5 and above.)

But, when I scan the list of blood serum total protein values really low values keep popping up. Most often there are two or three together. This in contrast of isolated low values. 

What do I conclude? Batches of really low quality colostrum are being fed to two or more calves in a row.

Here is the critical question.

Are the health and growth disadvantages associated with feeding this poor quality colostrum worth more than feeding a good quality colostrum replacer? My answer is "YES."

My recommendations:

1. Start testing colostrum again. Use the Brix refractometer to identify the low IgG stuff. 

2. For first feeding, if no good quality (Brix >22 solids) colostrum is available. use a good quality colostrum replacer that will provide 200 g of IgG (we have to be careful here because there are many products on the market that are packaged to provide only 150 g IgG). 

3. For the second feeding, use whatever quality colostrum that is available. Fresh maternal colostrum has a lot of other stuff in addition to antibodies that will benefit the calves. (All the calves receive 6 quarts of colostrum during the first 24 hours.) When practical use the lower quality colostrum for feeding calves on the second day, too. It is a great energy source especially during cold weather months. 

Bottom line: Continue to test colostrum quality. We can make better management decisions knowing quality than just blindly feeding "whatever we have."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Test, Don't Guess: Monitoring Bacteria Counts in "as-fed" Milk

The July, 2017, issue of the calf management newsletter focuses on a quality-control issue important for reducing the rate of scours treatments among preweaned calves. Click HERE for this issue. If the link does not work on your computer, then enter this in your browser window: 

The key points:
  • Milk residues provide an excellent place for bacteria to grow and form biofilms.
  • Biofilms on equipment are a common source of bacteria in the milk/milk replacer we feed to our calves.
  • Contaminated milk (bacteria) can pose a significant health challenge for young dairy calves resulting in diarrhea and secondary respiratory infections.
  • It is cost effective to regularly sample and culture “as-fed” milk in order to monitor the effectiveness of our sanitation practices.
  • Practical sampling procedures for group and individually-housed calves.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Revised 7/3/2017
Colostrum Bacteria Control: 8 Practical Steps to Reduce  Bacteria Counts

This resource is in the Metric version of the Calf Facts Resource Library at

The eight steps that are detailed in this resource are: 
·         Step 1. Clean teats in the parlor.
·         Step 2. Clean dump buckets including lids, valves and gaskets.
·         Step 3. Clean buckets to collect colostrum as it is harvested.
·         Step 4. If buckets or pails are in the parlor, clean covers are used for every bucket before, during and after use.
·         Step 5. Prompt feeding of fresh colostrum
·         Step 6. Prompt cooling of colostrum if it is to be stored
·         Step 7. Clean containers for feeding and storing colostrum.
·         Step 8. Prompt feeding of warmed up colostrum

    The resource is HERE or type this into your browser