Virtual Farm Tour: Nehls Bros. Farm
Dr. Jerry Gaska has practiced veterinary medicine since 1989, so he well knows the importance of developing and following clear protocols for animal health. By working closely with him, the calf team at Nehls Bros. Farms understands that value as well.
Nehls Bros. Farms is owned and operated by brothers Greg and Royce Nehls in Juneau, Wisconsin. They milk about 2,000 cows and raise all of their own calves. The farm is split among several different sites within a mile of each other.
Gaska, who also operates Gaska Dairy Health Service, has served as the dairy manager for about three and half years, but he’s worked closely with the farm as its veterinarian since 1989. He’s seen a lot of changes to the calf program in that time.
In the early 90s, the calves moved into a barn at the current site. Farm managers were frustrated with continuous respiratory disease. Regardless of how much they cleaned, sanitized, improved ventilation, etc., they struggled to get fresh air at the calf level.
In November 2011, they moved the calves out of the barn and into hutches. They currently have 170 calves in the hutches, but have a capacity for 216 hutches at the site.
Gaska said the hutches allow calf managers to catch disease much more quickly. They can easily identify a calf just beginning to show signs of respiratory challenges versus noticing only the worst cases in the barn.
He said the team would much prefer working in inclement weather than having to treat calves living in the barn all the time.
One change at a time
Gaska said the goal is to introduce the calf to just one change at a time. For instance, they won’t administer a vaccine at the same time as they make a diet change or pen move.
“We stick to the rule of one change at a time for the calves,” Gaska said.
This level of consistency and scheduled, gradual changes limits the amount of stress the calf experiences. Managers are always seeking ways to reduce that stress even further. For example, for the past few years, they have used dehorning paste on calves at day three. The calf receives pain management when it’s dehorned.
Focus on communication
Calves are fed milk three times a day and offered warm water after every feeding. They also receive fresh pelleted starter daily. They are weaned in hutches and stay there for about a week before moving into group pens. They’ll stay on the same starter in the group pen for about a week before they are introduced to dry hay. Gradually, they’ll be placed into larger groups and introduced to a grower TMR.
This program requires careful coordination and attention to detail by all members of the calf team. Temo Acosta, calf team leader, said that leads to consistency, which is the number one key to raising healthy calves. That’s why all protocols and chores are posted in the calf office for all to see.
In addition, an organizational chart shows which employees are responsible for each area and who serves as leader of each team. This keeps everyone accountable for their work and allows managers to easily troubleshoot any issues that arise. They know who to talk to first and address the issue with that person. Gaska said improving cooperation and communication is his primary objective as a manager.
“It’s the people that make it happen,” he said. “There’s no substitute for that.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care