Dr. Sam Barringer, Merck Animal Health – New Technology Applied Sensibly in Calf Raising

Posted on July 2, 2014 in

Article written by Peggy Coffeen, Progressive Dairyman
U.S. Army and Air Force member Dr. Sam Barringer, DVM, has served our country overseas, but on U.S. soil, he is leading a mission to raise healthier calves.

The dairy technical service team member with Merck Animal Health compares designing a successful calf-raising system to his work setting up a medical system in Afghanistan.

“If the system isn’t right, the best veterinarian or nutritionist can’t fix it,” Barringer said.

“If you don’t have that right, things are going to fail.”

A systems-based approach, he explained, must include three components:

The number one issue with raising calves, said Barringer, is that people do not know what they are doing. Caring for calves requires a skill set that needs to be transferred over time. As fewer farm workers are actually raised on farms themselves, there is a need for the type of mentorship that a parent may pass onto a child over years of watching, learning and doing.

“You have to get close and spend time with these people to teach them,” he said.

Training and re-training is also a key component to a successful calf health evaluation. No vaccine or antibiotic can replace the fundamentals of good calf care.

“What good is technology if you haven’t gotten the basics down?” Barringer asked.

Training should not simply be for taking care of healthy calves; a good system is focused around providing the best care for the sickest of calves.

Barringer recommended, “Build your system around these calves, not the ones that get good colostrum.”

Similarly, technology will not make up for the downfalls of housing. When a clean, dry calf environment is compromised, correcting the situation should be the first step.

“If your building is wrong, fix your building,” Barringer said. “Fix that part first.”

Troubleshooting should begin by looking at these areas first: housing and comfort, nutrition and dietary management, sanitation, and vaccination programs.

Evaluating systems
Barringer’s approach to evaluating calf-raising systems steps back to focus on the population of calves, not simply the individual, sick calf.

One evaluation method he uses is lung scoring. The lungs, he explained, are the limiting organ in the first year of a calf’s life. Statistically, more than one-third of calves with significant lung damage will never make it into the milking herd. This is why lung scoring can be applied practically as a decision-making tool for culling heifers.

He often sees lung problems in poorly ventilated barns, particularly in the Midwest where housing has been designed for people comfort over calf comfort. 

“Some people choose a less than optimal system,” he noted. “You must understand there is a cost and consequence.”

Getting down to the root of problems with calves requires investigating cause of death. Necropsies are a way to do that, and with Merck’s DVM DX, workers can receive assistance in diagnosing diseases with a cell phone application. Barringer said this exciting new technology is scheduled to be available later on this year.

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