Virtual Farm Tour: Dolph Dairy LLC
The chore list on a dairy farm is seemingly endless and everchanging, yet cows and calves do best with consistent care. The team at Dolph Dairy LLC in Lake Mills, Wisconsin has designed a system that gives each fresh cow, newborn, and preweaned calf the attention and consistency needed to thrive.
Don and Patricia Dolph purchased the farm in 1987. They milked 80 cows in a stanchion barn before building a freestall barn and parlor in 1995 and expanding to 200 cows. Their son, Chet, and his wife, Patty, joined the farm in 2002 and the family formed the LLC. A few more expansions brought them to their current herd size of 400 cows.
Patty takes the lead on calf care, but also tends to the fresh cows along with Chet and their herdsman, Rob Osburn. The seven-person calf team includes four part-time employees, so Patty has detailed protocols to feed and care for the 110 calves in hutches as well as the fresh cows and newborns.
Dry cow and maternity care
Every pregnant animal at Dolph Dairy is ultrasounded; animals carrying twins are dried off sooner. Once animals are moved to the calving pen, the goal is to keep the environment as low-stress as possible. Cameras on the pen allow the team to observe progress without disturbing the cows, which they say has led to much easier calvings.
Newborn calves are placed in nearby warming pens with in-floor heat until they are dry. Navels are dipped at this time. All the colostrum is tested with a Brix refractometer; calves are fed 4 quarts of colostrum scoring 27 percent or higher soon after birth. They’ll receive a second feeding of 2 quarts 6 to 12 hours later. If a calf is born in the freestall, it receives extra colostrum.
Patty begins cooling the colostrum as soon as it’s harvested to limit pathogen growth by adding frozen water bottles to the bucket of colostrum. All colostrum is heat-treated and frozen before use.
Feeding calves in hutches
Weather-related challenges can make it less convenient to care for calves in hutches, but Don said they still feel hutches are the best housing system for calf health. He said the farm experiences fewer disease outbreaks because the preweaned calves are not in direct contact with one another.
That said, a calf milk house at Dolph Dairy has made calf care more efficient. Cows with higher somatic cell counts wear green bands. Their milk goes into separate buckets, which are dumped into a tank near the parlor. The milk is pumped underground to the calf milk house and into a dual-tank pasteurizer. Don said it was a “no-brainer” to install a dual-tank system. Because the farm milks three times a day, but feeds calves twice a day, this system makes it easier to do all of the chores at the right time.
Calves are started on 2 quarts of milk twice daily. They’re bumped up to 3 quarts at seven days and 4 quarts a week later. In April, the farm began adding Calf Magnify to the pasteurized milk to help control flies and boost gut health.
Calves are fed BSF calf starter for 40 days before transitioning to a heifer grower. Water is used to cool milk in the pasteurizer. That warm water is then fed to the calves after each milk feeding.
At 55 days, calves are dropped down to 2 quarts of milk for five days, and then only the morning feeding for another three to five days. They’ll receive just water and starter for a week before moving out of the hutches.
Weaned calves are placed into “acquaintance pens” in groups of no more than eight. They’ll receive the same grower feed until they reach 6 months of age. Chet said their six-row heifer barn, built in 2007, has boosted heifer performance as they enter the milking herd. He said their focus on comfort has led to “big, healthy heifers that are freestall- and headlock-trained.”
Keeping calves healthy
From the maternity to the hutch, Patty said her top goal is to keep everything “clean, clean, clean.” The maternity pack is deep-cleaned weekly. Calves in hutches always have deep bedding. Between calves, hutches are cleaned and disinfected with chlorine dioxide.
Calf pails are washed regularly. Patty said the commercial dishwasher has been a great tool for efficiently and effectively cleaning calf bottles and other equipment.
The Dolph family is also focused on continual education. Their veterinarian meets with employees quarterly to discuss animal health and protocol compliance. The Dolphs also send their employees to Professional Dairy Producers® (PDPW) clinics to learn the latest strategies to raise healthy calves.
Patty said, “We constantly think long-term.”
Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care