Virtual farm tour: Pebble Knolls Dairy LLC
Success with mob feeding at Pebble Knolls Dairy LLC
Pebble Knolls Dairy LLC in Brandon, Wisconsin, is owned and operated by Eric and Danielle Wetzel and Eric’s parents, Richard and Gail Wetzel. Eric and Danielle’s daughter, Karsyn, began working as the farm’s calf manager three years ago. As she learns the ins and outs of raising healthy calves, Karsyn continues the farm’s decade-long tradition of mob-feeding calves in group pens.
Newborn calf care
Newborn calves are immediately placed in individual pens in the calf barn. They receive 2 quarts of maternal colostrum as soon as possible. All colostrum is tested and, if the quality does not score high enough, a colostrum replacer is used instead. Calves’ navels are dipped and they receive First Defense® Tri-Shield™ and Inforce® 3 soon after birth.
Calves are backgrounded in the individual pens for about one week. During this time, they are bottle-fed 2 quarts of pasteurized milk twice a day. Vita Plus Liberator, a prebiotic and probiotic additive, is mixed into the milk for the first three days. Calves are dehorned with caustic paste during the backgrounding period.
At one week of age, calves are moved into groups of six with mob feeders. If a calf is not yet drinking well, it is held back from the group pen. Likewise, if it seems to struggle in a group pen, it’s brought back to an individual pen. Karsyn said they have tested and learned they cannot place more than six calves per feeder. She prefers having five calves per feeder although that’s not always possible.
Karsyn and her team observe calves’ drinking behavior and manure consistency, and gradually increase the amount fed to 3 quarts per feeding. Because they tend to scour between day 7 and day 10, the youngest grouped calves also receive water with electrolytes. Calves are first introduced to the Vita Plus One-Shot pelleted starter in the group pens. The amount of starter fed gradually increases based on intakes.
Calves are weaned at two months of age and introduced to a calf TMR at this time. They’ll transition to pens of 13 to 16 heifers before moving to a different building and being placed into groups of 30 to 40 animals there. They continue receiving the same TMR in this barn.
Attention to details
Karsyn said she believes the biggest factor in mob-feeding success is to catch disease early. She is present for both feedings, so she can observe changes in calf behavior during this time.
She said cleanliness is also important. All pens are bedded with chopped straw on top of a sawdust base year-round. The pens are scraped clean between groups.
The six-nipple mob-feeders are rinsed after both feedings. Once daily, they are sanitized and left to dry completely. Nipples must be replaced between groups of calves. Karsyn and her team pay close attention to the joints and a small channel inside the feeder as those areas are tough to clean. On a frequent basis, the calf team works with their nutritionist to measure bacterial activity with an ATP meter throughout the feeding process.
As she gets further developed in her role as the calf manager, Karsyn said she enjoys caring for the animals and figuring out how to provide them with the best care possible.
“I’ve been around calves and cattle my whole life,” she said. “These are my babies.”
Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care