Regional Calf Report: Central Minnesota – Dr. Kevin Ratka, Vita Plus

Posted on February 26, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Dr. Kevin Ratka, Vita Plus dairy technical sales specialist
Precision dairy is a buzz word in our industry.  With all the new technological advancements becoming available, producers can generate more data and information than ever.  This allows them to make better, more informed decisions to improve the profitability of their operations.

I recently began working as a Vita Plus dairy specialist in central Minnesota.  Prior to that, I practiced veterinary medicine in this area.  In my observations, one underutilized area on a lot of dairies is a computerized record system for youngstock.  These systems are used heavily with adult cows, but seem to come up short when evaluating information recorded for heifers.

The age old adage of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” certainly applies in this situation.  A lot of valuable information should be captured in a computerized record system for each heifer.  Having complete and accurate information will aid in quicker and easier analysis of the data.  It will also help producers make important management decisions.

The advantage of a computerized record system is that some of the data, such as the pedigree, is transferred automatically when the dam is entered as fresh and prompts for an identification of the new calf.  After birth, all major events that occur in a heifer’s life should be entered.

If the data is entered in a standard and consistent process, it will allow for easier and more useful analysis going forward.  Having defined codes or definitions will be beneficial and keep things standardized regardless of who is entering the data.  Some of the key events that should be recorded include:

  • Any health or disease event, regardless of the severity
  • Any treatments the heifer received and how long she was treated (this is critical when using antibiotics that have slaughter withdrawals to ensure no animal is sold before the withdrawal period expires)
  • All heifers that were sold or died and the reason for their removal from the herd
  • All vaccinations administered and when they received them
  • All pen moves and, if they leave to be raised off farm, the dates they left and returned to the farm
  • Any growth data that is taken, such as weaning weight
  • All reproduction data (breeding date, semen used, technician, breeding code and vet check information)
  • Any farm-specific information collected, such as total proteins, health screening results, genomic data, etc.

The more pertinent data you have, the better you can analyze heifers’ health and growth performance.  You can monitor trends, develop key performance indicators, and identify heifers that may not meet the requirements to continue through the system.

Good records will make it easy to answer key questions such as:

  • What are the disease challenges I’m dealing with in my heifers and what is my incidence of those diseases?
  • At what age are these diseases breaking?
  • Are my treatments working or do I need to change my protocols?
  • What can I do or change to prevent these disease challenges?
  • Is my death loss acceptable and what are the causes of the deaths?
  • Are the heifers growing adequately and in good condition?

It is important to remember that heifers are the future of the dairy operation and having complete and accurate information is critical for continued success of the dairy.

Category: Starting Strong - Calf Care
Technology and data management