Thursday, March 15, 2018

Hose Maintenance Pays for Automatic Feeders

Does hose maintenance have an influence on bacteria counts in milk replacer coming out of automatic feeders?

In a study of 17 dairies in southern Ontario samples were collected both from the mixing bowl and at the end of the hose connecting the mixing bowl on the automatic feeder to the mixing bowl.

By season visit the bacteria counts at the end of the hose (% pens over 100,000cfu/ml:

Season         Percent over 100,000cfu
Fall                     85%
Winter                83%
Spring                88%
Summer             74%
Thus we see that high counts at the end of the feeding hose is a common issue.

But, what role did the hose play in these high counts?

They found that, on dairies with lower mixing bowl bacteria counts, in 7 out of 8 measurements the bacteria count actually went down between the bowl and end of hose.

In contrast, they found that, on dairies with higher mixing bowl bacteria counts, in 7 out of 8 measurements the bacteria count went UP between the bowl and end of hose. 

What are my conclusions from these data?

1. If the dairy is doing a good job in sanitizing the mixing bowl they are probably doing an equally good job in keeping bacteria counts down in the hoses as well. Thus, farms with low mixing bowl counts tend to have clean milk replacer coming out of the hoses.

2. Although this study did not report cleaning frequency for the mixing bowl, cleaning frequency for hoses and hose replacement for individual farms, my on-farm experience suggests these good practices tend to cluster - folks that do a good job on one tend to do all of these three jobs well.

3. Because of the long time interval between farm visits (every three months) the "snapshot" observations of calf diarrhea may not have reflected actual occurrence of this intestinal disorder. Further, we have data that show calf care persons generally tend to under-diagnose and under-treat calf diarrhea - missing about 40% of the cases that a trained veterinary observer would find. Thus, we cannot connect cleaning practices in this study to actual calf diarrhea rates.

4. All of us that use automatic feeders need to be sensitive to the need for cleanliness monitoring. At least quarterly (I prefer monthly ) samples need to be collected and sent to a lab to monitor both how many and what kinds of bacteria are present in the milk replacer the calves are drinking.

5. Given we often feed 8 liters or more of milk replacer per day, remember how to translate lab data into daily bacteria intake for each calf:
     CFU/ML (total bacteria)           CFU/Day/calf(8 L/da)
     50                                              400,000
     500                                            4 million
     5000                                          40 million
     50000                                        400 million
     100,000                                     800 million (26 out of 34 pens had this level of contamination!)

Friday, March 9, 2018

What are the "Signals" that a calf is not feeling well?

What do I look for when doing my wellness check on calves?

This note contains very practical "look for" information when walking calves. 

It is HERE or at this URL

Great job by Ann Hoskins.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Adding Bacteria to Milk with an 
Automatic Feeder?

The recipe seems to be fairly simple.

Start with clean milk replacer powder, put warm water into mixing jar, add powder to jar, mix. Sample the milk from the jar. Presto! Contaminated milk replacer ready to feed calves!

In the study reported by Medrano-Galarza and Others in the March issue of the Journal of Dairy Science from 17 dairies in southern Ontario (Canada) using automatic feeders  roughly 3 out of 4 dairies managed to add more than 100,000cfu/ml bacteria to the milk replacer before it left the mixing jar.

Then, the same milk replacer was sampled coming out of the hose connecting the mixing jar to the nipple. Now 4 out of 5 farms elevated the bacterial contamination to over 100,000 cfu/ml.

I cannot believe these dairies were trying to make their calves sick. The study included calf diarrhea rates for these calves in all four seasons of the year. The rates were:

Fall      = 23%
Winter = 27%
Spring = 25%
Summer = 16%

In my opinion this shows that calves are very tough critters - in spite of this continuous exposure to bacteria in all their milk replacer ration most of them still neither died or were observed with diarrhea. [Mortality was reported at 4% - lower than most values for both USA and Canada.]

Also reported were contamination levels with coliform bacteria in samples coming directly from the mixing jar. These rates of over 10, coliforms were:

Fall         = 12%
Winter    = 17%
Spring    = 12%
Summer = 17%

Calves are tough critters.

How much better could their feed conversion have been without the constant drag of bacterial exposure in their milk?

Reference: Medrano-Galarza, Calalina, S.J. LeBlanc, A. Jones-Bitton, T.J. DeVroies, J. Rushen, A.M. de Passille, M.I. Endres, D.B. Haley. "Associations between management practices and within[pen prevalence of calf diarrhea and respiratory disease on dairy farms using automated milk feeders." Journal of Dairy Science 101:2293-2308 March 2018.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

High Coliform Counts in Colostrum, Again

Our lab here at the Attica Vet clinic often cultures colostrum samples for bacteria. Plates came out of the  incubator on Monday morning (they were plated on Saturday for a 48-hour incubation period).

Overgrown with coliforms!

Is it "normal" to have a high coliform count in colostrum? NO  NO  NO!

Is it possible to achieve low (under 5,000cfu/ml) coliform counts in colostrum? YES  YES  YES!

Here is the link to a case study for a dairy experiencing high coliform counts in the colostrum. And, YES, this dairy was successful in dropping their high counts to really low values. Most importantly, the counts are still low 5 years later!

Link is HERE.
If the link does not work for you the URL is


Friday, February 23, 2018

Are Standard Operating Procedures Useful?

This is the title of a short article by Ferando Diaz, DVM, published in the Farm Journal's MILK magazine, February issue, p 12.

He emphasizes the finding of a study involving 248 dairy farms:
  • 34% of the farms using SOPs did not have SOPs available in writing.
  • 48% of the employees did not have free access to the SOPs at all times.
  • 70% of the dairies did not use SOPs in their training program.
  • 63% of the farmers did not check the validity of their SOPs on a regular basis
  • 44% of the dairies did not involve employees in the creation of the SOPs
He concludes:
"In my experience, to overcome these issues, bilingual SOPs should be available to every worker in common areas and posted in the areas where the tasks are performed.

In a successful dairy management program, SOPs are the main tool for training and retraining employees.

Moreover, SOPs should be updated frequently with inputs from employees, managers and farm advisor.

In conclusion, SOPs can be a great system for improving employee performance when they are efficiently implemented."

Dr. Diaz and I are on the same page. Make 'em and use 'em!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bleach: Using it to Clean and Disinfect

I just revised this resource in the calf management resource library [click HERE to access]. It reviews critical points about using this popular and inexpensive chemical. 

  • Shelf life for bleach
  • Tables for bleach dilutions for washing, sanitizing and soaking when using household concentration bleach.
  • Sanitizing equipment 
  • Sanitizing milk – does not work 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ever Bucket Train a Calf?

Many calf feeders use buckets rather than bottles to feed milk to young dairy calves. All of us who have bucket trained calves know that it is a labor-intensive procedure.

This study of 1,235 calves observed the bucket training process.

They found these rates of "Adoption" by the calves:
(percent drinking by themselves)
Day 2 = only 10%
Day 3 = up to 55%
Day 4 = up to 85% drinking by themselves
Day 5 = up to 92%

Now here is the tough part:

Day 6 = 92%
Day 7 = 92%
Day 8 = 92%

This is getting old - these "holdout" calves are breaking my back!

By day 14 this study still had a few calves that were still requiring some kind of assistance. 

Remember, however, by day 8-14 we could easily have calves that have been drinking by themselves  that now have health issues., maybe a little dehydrated. You know, they are alert, lying on their belly but need encouragement to get up to drink and then need me to fuss with them to finish their milk meal.

Maybe it is not realistic to expect 100% of the calves in the first three weeks of age to dive into their milk bucket and lick it clean.

Reference: Mandel, D. and Others, "Predictors of time to dairy calf bucket training." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9769-9774 December 2017.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jim Dickrell's Case Study on Calves

Jim Dickrell, Editor Emeritus at Dairy Herd Management magazine, has this fantastic 2-page case study of a calf enterprise.
It is HERE.

The dairy has about 600 replacement animals. Jim's case study report is divided into these parts:
  • Step One: Nursery Barn
  • Step Two: Weaning Barn
  • Step Three: Grower Barn
It is a quick read full of possible ideas for a successful calf enterprise. 


Friday, February 2, 2018

Consistency Matters!

"Consistency Matters" is the title of the February issue of the calf management newsletter.

 In brief:
  • Consistency promotes better health and growth.
  • Calf care people are the base for consistent care.
  • Consistent time, especially for feeding.
  • Consistent feeding, especially temperature, volume and solids level.
  • See the Calf Care Consistency Checklist HERE.
The letter is HERE.
Or, paste this URL 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Drying Off a Calf
Link fixed

Thanks to folks that send me an e-mail that the link in the Drying Off a Calf post was not working.

As of 1:45 pm on Tues Jan 30 it should be fixed. If all else fails use this URL

Thanks for your patience. 

Brix for Milk Replacer Solids?
Questions about Accuracy with MR

In this article posted online on January 29 in Progressive Dairyman
click HERE
Dr. Vermeire presents findings that suggest significant bias when  using a Brix refractometer to estimate solids content of milk replacer.

He notes that variations in protein sources as well as in added fats from batch to batch of milk replacer can lead to unpredictable solids values.

His advice is to be sure to have a really good mixing protocol - especially measuring the milk replacaer powder accurately - he suggests weighing when mixing in volumes other than whole bags.

I will watch carefully in the next few months to see if additional data become available to support those presented by Dr. Vermeire.

By the way, the author makes a point to assure us that this technology, Brix refractometer, continues to be a reliable method of estimating solids in both colostrum and whole milk.

Monday, January 29, 2018

How high can bacteria counts get in colostrum?

I came across a study that included analyzing the colostrum samples for total bacteria counts and coliform bacteria counts.

They did a series of dilutions in order to get reasonable estimates of very high numbers.

What were the highest counts?

total plate count - highest value 400,000,000 cfu/ml

coliform count - highest values 170,000,000 cfu/ml

Do you suppose with these bacteria counts the colostrum was a thick as yogurt?

Reference: Mandel, C. and Others, "Predictors of time to dairy calf bucket training." Journal of Dairy Science 100:9769-9774 December 2017.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Comparison of Colostrum Replacer and Maternal Colostrum: Jersey  & JerseyXHolstein Calves.

"The objective of this study was to determine the effect of feeding a commercially available colostrum replacer versus pooled maternal colostrum on immunological status, growth and health in preweaned calves." (p1345)

Bottom Line - colostrum replacer works if you don't have clean maternal colostrum to feed.

Colostrum management - all the calves (N=1215) were fed at least 150g of IgG within 1 hour of birth. And both the colostrum replacer and maternal colostrum had either no or very very low bacteria counts. 

Note here that these calves were only fed colostrum once. And they were limited to only 150g of IgG. I recommend to my clients to include 200g IgG first feeding and to consider a second feeding 6 to 12 hours after the first feeding of another 100-200g IgG. So, consider these calves as getting the "basic" volume of IgG. 

Efficiency of absorption of antibodies - GREAT! If you feed enough high quality colostrum (or replacer) within an hour after birth the body does a good job of moving antibodies from the gut into the blood. Both colostrum and replacer had efficiency rates in the range of 34 to 36%. Those are good numbers.

Total protein values? Both averaged above 5.0.  Colostrum replacer average value was 5.2 and maternal colostrum average value was 5.8. These are good numbers considering that IgG intake was limited to only 150g IgG. 

Calf Growth  The calves were limited to only 4 quarts of non-salable milk per day. The growth rates were 0.7#/day for colostrum replacer calves and 0.8#/day for maternal colostrum calves. These calves with a limited supply of nutrients from milk increased their weight from birth to weaning by 62% for colostrum replacer and 65% for maternal colostrum.

Note here as an industry growth standard I  have adopted the national Dairy Calf & Heifer Association goal of doubling birth weight in 8 weeks. My clients that feed 2 pounds of milk replacer powder or 4 gallons of whole milk daily routinely average 1.7#/day gain at 56 days. 

Health Including diarrhea, respiratory disease and fever there were no differences between colostrum replacer and maternal colostrum calves. 

Mortality - The national standard from the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association for mortality under 8 weeks is less than 5%. Maternal-colostrum treatment calves had a 7.1% death rate while the colostrum-replacer treatment calves had a death rate of 9.4%. We can only guess that there were stressful circumstances (for example, weather, hygiene) that resulted in these elevated mortality rates.  

Reference: Lago, A. and Others, "Efficacy of colostrum replacer versus maternal colostrum on immulogical status, health and growth of preweaned calves." Journal of Dairy Science 101:1344-1354 February 2018.                                                                                                              

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Overcrowding Wins Again

Overcrowding heifers has been shown over and over again to depress rates of gain and increase variability in growth within pens. This study reported over a 9% drop in average daily gain as overstocking increased. 

In this 91-day research with 900# heifers the stocking rates were 100, 125 and 150 percent. The comparisons were made on average daily gain, within pen variations in gains, and hygiene scores.

Depending on the two rations  (one included short straw and the other included long straw) the drop in rate of gain took place at different stocking rates.

For the ration including short straw the rates of gain dropped 9.4% as stocking went up from 100 to 125% with no change between 125% and 150%. [Actual change was from 2.2#/day down to just over 2# per day] The level of variation of gain within pen went up progressively from 100 to 125 to 150 percent stocking.

For the ration including long straw the rates of gain dropped about 5% as stocking went up from 125 to 150%. The level of variation of gain within pen went up progressively from 100 to 125 to 150 percent stocking.

I did not try to do an economic comparison using the value of rate of gain vs. cost of housing. The study did not place a value on the decrease in uniformity of rates of gain as overcrowding rates went up.

Dirty legs and flanks - the rate of soiled animals went up as soon as the stocking rates in all pens was greater than 100%.

Reference: Coblentz, W. K. and Others, "Effects of straw processing and pen overstocking on the growth performance and sorting characteristics of diets offered to replacement Holstein dairy heifers." Journal of Dairy Science 101:1074-1087.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Dehydrated Calves often = Dead Calves

During periods of hot weather we seem to be quite aware of the threat of dehydration among our calves. However, it is easy to overlook the dangers of dehydration during periods of below freezing weather. 

You may want to look at this resource: or click HERE.

The main point here are:

Why do calves get dehydrated? 

Preventing dehydration is more cost effective than treating it. 
     1. Reduce pathogen exposure.
     2. Increase immunity to pathogens. 
     3. Feed free-choice water.

Treating it requires timely measures appropriate to the degree of dehydration.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Timing Blood Draw for Checking on Passive Transfer of Immunity

It is possible to get too eager to draw blood for checking on passive transfer of immunity from colostrum feeding.

With my own calves I had a routine of collecting blood the second day they were with me. All the calves born in the previous 24 hours were delivered to my calf hutches late every morning. They then received a PM milk feeding that same day and another feeding the next morning.

After cleaning up all the milk feeding equipment I went back to the calves to feed calf starter grain. It was convenient time to draw blood on the new arrivals from the previous day. All of them had at least 24 hours since they were fed colostrum. Blood antibodies levels should have peaked.

What can go wrong?
Not waiting at least 24 hours between colostrum feeding and drawing blood.

Let's say I drew blood every afternoon, 1 or 2PM. What if a calf was fed colostrum at 6AM, moved to her hutch at 11AM and I drew blood the same afternoon?  The antibodies would not have a chance to fully migrate into the blood in that short time between 6AM and 2PM. Test results would be invalid.

The resource, Passive Transfer of Immunity: When to Test, goes over all these points. You can go to it by clicking HERE.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

Cold Weather Calf Care Checklist

What is easier than a checklist?

Zip down through the items on the list - ok, ok, ok, ok, oops - forgot about that. That is the beauty of a checklist.

If you are in a climate where it is cold this time of  year this quick checklist might help you find the weak link in your calf management. 

Click HERE for the checklist. 


Monday, January 8, 2018

Dry Calf? Good Cold Weather Management

If you do not already have a routine procedure in place to get newborn calves dry maybe you need one. 

This resource, "Drying Off a Calf." reviews:

When to dry off the calf? 

How dry is “dry”? 

Calf coats go on dry calves! 

Towels and their care.

 Drying the calf – techniques that work.

While getting a dry haircoat may not seem to be important during warm summer weather, it may make the difference between a live and dead calf in cold winter conditions.

Click HERE to go to the resource.
Or, paste this url in your browser