Virtual Farm Tour: McClellan Farms, Inc.
Tom McClellan is a fourth-generation owner of McClellan Farms, Inc. in Delavan, Wisconsin, where they currently milk 480 cows and average 90 pounds of milk per cow per day. This level of production begins with successful calf care and McClellan believes in “no-drama calf raising” through a slow and deliberate program that starts in the calving pen.
Prior to calving, heifers are given a series of vaccinations while they are in the transition barn to improve colostrum quality. Heifers are then moved from the transition barn to the group calving pen, a remodeled stanchion barn, so farm staff can monitor all calving processes closely.
When the calves are born, they are quickly moved to a small pen outside the calving pen where they are given a gallon of colostrum and have their navels dipped with a 7-percent tincture iodine solution. McClellan said they dip the navels approximately three times before moving them to hutches. They have also started giving each calf an additional two quarts of colostrum at the second feeding.
Typically, within the first day, the calves are moved to individual hutches, where they receive 3 quarts of pasteurized milk with Calf Magnify, a Vita Plus whole milk supplement, twice a day and BSF calf starter with fresh, warm water an hour after feeding. McClellan likes the calf starter because it has less fines and he said he has never seen calves take to a starter so well.
After 30 days, McClellan begins the weaning process by feeding milk with Calf Magnify in the morning and only pasteurized milk at night to stimulate starter intake. After 45 days, the calves are given pasteurized milk in the morning and water and starter at night. After one week, the morning milk is removed from the diet and the calves stay in the hutches for another week after they are weaned off milk.
“We don’t want too much change at once,” McClellan said.
At around three to four weeks old, the calves are dehorned. He chooses to use a sedation dehorning protocol they developed with their veterinarian. This starts with an injection of lidocaine and a sedative beneath the horns before using a hot iron to dehorn. McClellan said it is similar to sedation dentistry and, at the next feeding after dehorning, the calves act like nothing has happened.
After weaning, and when the calves are two months old, they are grouped in fours and moved to superhutches. The oldest calves are grouped in a pen of eight and they are all fed hay and a bulk calf mix. McClellan installed training panels in these pens to help the animals make the transition to headlocks. He said, after installing the training rails, his headlock culls have been virtually reduced to zero.
When the calves are at least three months old, McClellan moves them down the road to the heifer facility. They are first placed in a bedded pack shed in groups of 12 for about two months. This is where they are first exposed to headlocks and a total mixed ration (TMR). At about seven months, heifers are moved to the heifer freestall barn with headlocks and sand-bedded freestalls. The heifers will stay on this site until they are successfully bred and approximately six months pregnant.
Throughout the transition process, McClellan maintains a stringent immunization protocol. The calves receive a series of nasal vaccines in the hutches and another set when they are initially moved to the heifer facility. The heifers are also given another set of vaccines before breeding and then again before calving.
McClellan believes calves can be raised successfully in many different ways, but this system works for them. However, he is always looking for ways to improve procedures. McClellan attends as many dairy conferences as possible because he believes you can always learn something. He then takes that knowledge and tries to see how he can adapt it to fit or improve his operation.
“You’re never going to be perfect, but you try to do as many things as well as you can,” McClellan said.
Starting Strong - Calf Care