Put computer record systems to work for calf management
It was an “interesting” morning in the calf barn. Three calves had scours and another three had pneumonia challenges. The calf feeder wrote the information down in the calf health binder in the supply room and recalled a similar day about six weeks ago. This prompted more questions and calls to farm consultants to make the entire team aware of the challenge. The Vita Plus consultant asked for a backup of the herd records, but this created another challenge as the calf records were not available in the herd management records program.
This is a common scenario for many farms. As computer herd management programs have improved, we have new opportunities to define what needs to be recorded and how this can help us not only treat calves, but also identify higher-level strategies for improvement.
Managing calf health events and treatments
From a calf health perspective, pneumonia and scours (diarrhea) are the main health events we track. We can define how to enter these events and subsequent treatment protocols or chores in herd management programs. This can help us track the incidents of the health events and improve the treatment plans. Remember, treatment protocols often include antibiotics, so it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian to define your specific treatment protocols and note any withdrawal periods.
If you are savvy with your computer program, you can set up the event or health condition and have each type of event trigger a corresponding treatment protocol. For those that are not savvy, we can help guide the process.
- In DairyComp, use the PNEU (pneumonia) and DIARHEA EVENTS.
- In PCDART, use the “Assign Health Condition ID” feature to add “Diarrhea.”
Once this is set up, we can focus on a simple process to record the information from the calf health binder on a routine basis. With advancing technology, most events can be entered immediately. If this does not work for your operation, schedule data entry time every day to utilize health management lists. This simple process uses a menu to record the event for an animal and select the treatment plan. Doing this triggers the animal to appear on a management list that can be automated for the calf team. If the calf is cured and the health challenge occurs again, the process would repeat.
Using data to make herd-level decisions
With the recorded events, we can now utilize the information for complete herd improvement decisions. We can quickly determine the number of health challenges an animal may have had and predict how productive that animal may be in the future.
If we notice challenges occur at a certain age, day of the week, time of the year, or other condition, we can have a more-informed management discussion. When new products or management philosophies are implemented, we can track incidence rates to see if an improvement has been made. Many times the analysis is not done until a challenging series of events happen. To avoid this, we recommend scheduling review times with your consultants throughout the year. These reviews should emphasize both the percentages of animals with at least a single case of pneumonia or scours and an analysis of the animals with multiple challenging events.
Computer herd recordkeeping systems should be tools, not burdens. While a calf health binder or notebook is often the most convenient tool when working with calves, get that information into a computer system to better track and analyze calf health. Setting up a simple event entry function makes this process easier and much more likely to be used. Contact your Vita Plus consultant if you need help getting started.
This article was originally written for the January edition of Starting Strong. Click here for more calf nutrition and management expertise.
About the author: Jon Rasmussen is a dairy technology specialist on the Vita Plus team. He grew up on a small dairy farm in northeast Wisconsin. Rasmussen attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science. For the past six years, he’s specialized in records analysis for the Vita Plus dairy team. He works with dairy producers and consultants to help them evaluate data for improved dairy business management.
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