Dr. Don Niles – Using Records to Monitor Calf Performance

Posted on November 9, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care

A veterinarian by training, Dr. Don Niles, co-owner and manager of Dairy Dreams, LLC, understands the value of good records to monitor calf performance. Prior to listening to his presentation at Vita Plus Calf Summit, attendees had the opportunity to visit the 2,800-cow dairy and see firsthand how good management goes a long way in raising healthy calves.
Niles’ presentation focused on evaluating records for not only calf performance and health, but also employee management.
The eventual goal at Dairy Dreams, said Niles, is to have 99 percent of heifers born alive and stay alive. That begins with a pre-fresh care, including vaccinations and nutrition. Niles also closely watches the stocking density of the pre-fresh group, noting that when those pens begin to get overcrowded, the team notices an increase in birthing difficulties.
While the 99 percent goal is a little lofty, Niles said, the team has been able to achieve a goal this year of less than two percent of dead on arrival calves (DOAs).
“Every DOA is an event that needs to be investigated,” Niles said.
The process beings with an interview, where the maternity employee gives an account of what happened to the calf manager. The manager will then be able to confirm that account or gain some additional details by footage from a camera stationed in the freshening pens. The timestamp helps to verify that employees checked on a freshening cow at regular intervals during labor.
Niles said they found they have fewer birthing problems when they let the cow make progress on her own, rather than going in and pulling a calf right away.
He illustrated another example of the level of accountability and traceability at Dairy Dreams when he discussed the hutch calf protocols.
Although all calf employees watch for sick calves, only the calf manager does the actual treating of sick calves. Every treatment is recorded in Dairy Comp. A recent look at the records indicated that the calf manager was over-treating calves for scours, giving treatments when most calves could do without, even though very few death losses had occurred due to scours. The herd manager spent a week with the calf manager to help identify the calves who needed treatment and the ones who didn’t.
This example helped drive home one of Niles’ key takeaways that the most important element of a successful calf program is the people.
“You can have the protocols in place, and you can have the tools, equipment and training in place, but you need a person in charge of that team who is focused, motivated and understands what we’re trying to achieve,” he said.

Category: Starting Strong - Calf Care
Technology and data management