Virtual Farm Tour: BLT Dairy
BLT Dairy Puts Focus on Consistency and Cleanliness for Calves
Laura Friesen has lived on a dairy farm and raised calves her entire life. Based on her experiences, she said raising healthy calves really comes down to two important factors: Keep their care consistent and their environment clean.
Laura and her husband, Brad, own and operate BLT Dairy in Barron, Wisconsin. They bought the farm from Brad’s father about 15 years ago and expanded to 180 cows about four years ago. All of the calves are raised onsite.
The Friesens are currently in their second year of feeding pasteurized waste milk. Laura said they transitioned from milk replacer to the pasteurizer because it seemed so wasteful to throw out the treated milk. Calves are fed three times per day; Laura does the morning feeding at 6 a.m. and an employee takes care of the 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. feedings.
Laura said she makes sure the calves are drinking well before she moves them from the maternity pen into their individual pens in a greenhouse barn. For the first three weeks, calves receive 2 quarts of milk per feeding. After that, they’re fed 3 quarts per feeding until they are weaned.
All calves are fed with bottles. Laura said she thinks this helps reduce scours because drinking from a bottle makes the calves produce more saliva. The saliva, in turn, acts as a buffer in the calf’s digestive system. Calves are also fed free-choice water and receive a calf pellet-corn grain starter.
According to Laura, consistently feeding the milk at the right temperature is one of the most important things a calf raiser must do. She said the milk needs to be between 108 and 110 degrees F when it’s fed. A challenge at BLT Dairy is that the calf barn is across the farm from the milking parlor and pasteurizer, so the milk cools as it’s transported to the calves. This is especially difficult in the winter. To combat the problem, Laura fills the bottles with milk that is between 115 and 118 degrees F. She then puts the bottles in a bath of hot water to transport them and tries to feed the calves as quickly as possible.
Cleanliness is another key aspect of the pasteurizer, according to Laura. The pasteurizer is cleaned after every feeding. Laura noted that she needs to use a special disinfectant as the pipeline soap is not strong enough for the pasteurizer. The bottles and nipples are also scrubbed clean. Laura puts the nipples on top of the pasteurizer where it’s warmer and they can dry more quickly. The moment her brush or other cleaning equipment starts to show wear, she replaces it. Likewise, nipples are replaced as soon as she notices a crack in them.
Because an employee does the second two feedings, Laura said it is extremely important that they be in constant communication with each other. Laura said they will call or text each other to keep track of any changes in the calves. For example, they are quick to report whenever a calf doesn’t drink its full bottle.
“It’s a lost cause if he misses a treatment on a calf that I have been treating,” Laura said. “We have to be on the same page all the time.”
Laura said she hates to see a sick calf and would much rather take care of the extra details to keep it healthy in the first place. As the team at BLT Dairy focuses on consistency and cleanliness, that goal is very much a reality for most of their calves.
Starting Strong - Calf Care