Virtual Farm Tour: Finger Family Farm, LLC
The team at Finger Family Farm, LLC in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, is focused on using practical strategies to raise strong and healthy calves.
Phil and Laura Finger co-own the 500-cow dairy with Phil’s parents, Jack and Nancy. Phil and Laura are the active managers of the farm and represent the fifth generation in the family business. With a vigorous IVF and embryo transfer program, the Fingers genomic test every animal and breed the bottom half of the herd with beef semen, which allows them to raise only the heifers they need and control heifer-raising costs.
The Fingers make careful notes so maternity workers know whether a calf is born from a recipient cow or its maternal dam. All calves born from recipients are given colostrum replacer. Those born from their maternal dams receive 1 gallon of maternal colostrum.
Newborn heifer calves receive ear tags, have their navels dipped, and are placed in a warming room with nine individual stalls for the first 24 hours of life. Navels are dipped a second time when calves are placed in hutches.
Among her many responsibilities, Laura manages the farm’s calf program. She said one of the most important things they can do to protect newborn calf health is keep the warming room clean and dry. She said calf health is visibly better when the humidity is low. The warming room is cleaned twice a week and they use a neutralizing powder to limit pathogens. They prefer general scrubbing to power-washing to keep the humidity lower.
A focus on growth
Laura said her goal is to see calves double their birth weight between 40 to 45 days. To accomplish this, calves are fed Vita Plus Talon, a 25/25 milk replacer, as well as a 20% protein calf starter. They receive 3 quarts twice a day during most of the year. During the winter, calves receive between 2 and 2.5 quarts three times a day, so they have more energy to battle cold stress. The percent solids does not change throughout the year.
Laura said she believes consistency is a key component of calf nutrition, which is why she prefers milk replacer over whole milk. The powder is mixed with water from a temperature-controlled faucet, so calves receive the same amount of milk at the same temperature with every feeding.
Aside from a few relief shifts, Laura does all the calf feedings. She considers that a major advantage of being an owner-manager of a farm their size because she can easily spot when a calf lags or needs extra attention.
Calves begin the weaning process between 40 and 45 days of age and are not fully weaned until day 60. Weaned calves will remain in their hutches a little longer to avoid overstocking the weaned heifer facility, which is a retrofitted barn. Laura said they’ve done everything possible to provide optimal ventilation in that facility. They also work hard to keep the barn and bedding dry, and, for added consistency, weaned heifers receive the same 20% starter they had in hutches.
Cleanest for calves
In addition to keeping hutches well-bedded and dry, Laura said she makes sure calf feeding equipment is kept clean. She also emphasizes personal hygiene and requires clean gloves, clothes and shoes for anyone who works with the calves. Laura said she makes calf feeding the first chore of the day so her clothes are clean when she works with the young animals. She doesn’t want to transmit pathogens from other areas of the farm.
Laura said she and Phil continually evaluate how they can minimize costs while also focusing on raising the highest-quality animals possible. She said good management and attention to detail go a long way in raising healthy calves in any facility.
Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care