Farm School presenters share their key take-home points
Wet calf management
Rebekah Mathews, Ag Partners calf and heifer nutrition specialist, walked attendees through the newborn calf barn to point out specific items affecting calf performance. She said the value of the staple components of a calf’s diet – milk, water and grain – depends not only on the nutritional composition, but also how they are offered to the calf. Calf acceptance of feed is influenced by location, cleanliness, temperature, availability, freshness and even the process in which it is offered.
Mathews also explained that calf health depends on its nutrition as well as critically evaluating air quality and bedding, the environment from the calf’s view, and how the seemingly small details of her life are managed by you. These details contribute to your finesse as a calf feeder and the ultimate health and performance of your youngstock.
Courtney Halbach, an associate instructional specialist with the Dairyland Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke on proper calf barn ventilation.
Halbach walked attendees through her ventilation audit process. She stressed to first ensure the barn has proper dimensions – a sidewall with 8 feet of openness and 40 to 50 feet of space between barns free of obstructions. Then, find the primary source of ventilation, natural or mechanical, and ensure sufficient exhaust and inlets. Lastly, she said to keep a minimum of four air exchanges per hour, or about every 15 minutes, and increase it in the summer.
Heifer foot health
Dr. Karl Burgi of the Dairyland Hoof Care Institute shared his hoof trimming and foot health expertise. His focus was on identifying how and what problems arise, what producers can do to help, and the importance of timely hoof trimming.
Burgi said, in the past decade, overcrowding has become a major problem on dairy farms. With it comes more competition at feeders and manure in the pen. These factors negatively affect growth plate development and cause several foot problems, such as digital dermatitis and claw horn lameness. Burgi said the best ways to treat these problems are with good preventative measures, such as regular stall cleanings, walks down rows to identify potential problems and hoof trimmings to prevent claw horn lameness. Then he recommends treatment with foot baths to prevent chronic infections like digital dermatitis.
Transition cow management
Dr. Darin Bremmer is a Vita Plus dairy technical specialist in central Wisconsin. Bremmer shared his expertise in transition cow management during his farm school session. First, he highlighted that diet is important, but well-designed facilities and excellent management is crucial. Bremmer recommended designing facilities to allow one person to move cows from the pre-fresh pen to maternity pens. He also suggested setting up fresh cow monitoring protocols to help cows graduate from the transition barn to the high-production pens. Bremmer pointed out that healthy fresh cows will get pregnant sooner, allowing the dairy to maintain lower days in milk and shorter calving intervals, preventing over-conditioned later lactation cows.
Newborn calf management
Dr. Skip Olson, the nutritional accounts manager of Milk Products LLC, spoke with attendees about newborn calf management. He emphasized how attention to detail and protocol brings cleanliness and timeliness – all important things when it comes to raising newborn calves.
The first 12 hours of a calf’s life are important and you must be prepared to closely manage the animals during this time. That starts with a detailed protocol of what needs to be done. Olson said the calf needs to be quickly moved to its own pen and dried, have its navel dipped to prevent disease, and fed colostrum within two hours of birth. Quickness trumps everything and, with timely, detailed protocols, producers can get the calves started out right and “reserve the needle” for more significant problems.
Live calf health assessment wet lab
Dr. John Ambrosy with Waunakee Veterinary Service conducted a wet lab on calf health and management. He said the number one thing he wants to see is producers feeding 4 quarts of quality colostrum ASAP and delivering another 2 quarts within 12 hours. At 1 to 7 days of age, he recommends testing serum proteins. He wants to see a reading of 6 g per dL. Ambrosy said, for accuracy, blood should be drawn two hours after a feeding when the calf is fully hydrated.
He said, when producers have a sick calf, his rule is “fluids, fluids, fluids.” A 100-pound calf that is 5 percent dehydrated will have lost almost 2.5 quarts of fluid that need to be made up. Ambrosy explained his policy is to continue electrolyte treatment until manure returns to normal.
Posting calves wet lab
During his calf posting wet lab, Dr. Max Thornsberry with Milk Specialties Global Animal Nutrition provided a general anatomy lesson and explained why knowing the anatomy helps you more effectively manage calves.
Thornsberry explained that esophageal feeders bypass the abomasum. While that’s okay for colostrum, electrolyte and water feedings, it’s catastrophic for milk or milk replacer as that feed is delivered directly into the rumen.
When calves are obviously sick, Thornsberry said taking the rectal temperature can teach you a lot. Generally, parasites (cryptosporidia and giardia) do not have an effect on the calf’s temperature, a viral infection will raise the body temperature to 103 or 104 degrees F, and a bacterial infection will push it to above 105 degrees. Thornsberry said he follows a “three strikes” policy for submitting a fecal sample to a diagnostic lab. If two or three calves are treated with no response and another animal becomes sick, submitting a sample for PCR analysis can provide a lot of information for getting calf health back on track.
Practical tips for feeding heifer TMRs
Pat Hoffman, dairy technical specialist with Vita Plus, pointed out a few keys to feeding replacement heifers as they transition to TMR diets. First, he recommended producers maintain an inventory of high NDF forages for this group. He said it’s important to push up feed frequently as it will help prevent heifer foot problems. Finally, provide consistent and precise feed allocations to improve feed efficiency. This is especially relevant in today’s markets as producers look to manage costs while still raising strong, healthy replacements.
Starting Strong - Calf Care