Virtual Farm Tour: Pfaffsway Farms
Raising strong, healthy calves doesn’t start on day one at Pfaffsway Farms in Alma Center, Wisconsin. According to the Pfaff family, it starts a long time before then.
Steve Pfaff is a “lifer” on his family farm and he and his wife, Kris, bought the operation in 1994 from Steve’s parents. Their son, Casey, returned from college to work on the farm fulltime, and their daughters, Olivia and Larissa, also help with chores. The family has 175 cows and raises all of its own replacements. Registered Holsteins make up a majority of the herd, but the Pfaffs have a few Jerseys as well. In addition, the family runs more than 700 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The Pfaffs use the crops for feed and also sell some corn and soybeans.
When asked what it takes to raise healthy calves, Steve said, “A good calf starts at dry off.”
For the past five years, the Pfaffs have used an intensive vaccination program for pre-fresh animals and have appreciated the results. Animals receive several vaccinations at dry-off, which occurs at least eight weeks pre-calving. They receive a dry cow ration and are put on pasture. Three weeks prior to calving, they’re brought into the pre-fresh pen, which has a bedded pack of corn stalks and sawdust. There they receive the ScourGuard® vaccine and are put on a pre-fresh DCAD ration with corn silage and straw.
Kris emphasized the value of their pre-fresh program for both the cow and the calf. She said, “Healthy cows make healthy calves.”
The Pfaffs allow dams to lick their calves for about 30 minutes to an hour before the newborns are put in their own pens. Newborn calves receive Inforce™ 3 and Calf-Guard® vaccines as soon possible. They receive 4 quarts of maternal colostrum 30 minutes later. If enough high-quality colostrum is not available, the Pfaffs feed Secure® colostrum replacer instead.
Once they are dry, calves are placed in their individual hutches. Casey is very particular about his protocols for feeding calves and the family agrees consistent feeding is one of the keys to high-performing calves. They are bottle-fed 2 quarts of whole milk twice a day for the first three or four days. If drinking aggressively, Casey increases the feedings to 3 quarts. After three or four more days, the calves are switched to pails. A direct-fed microbial pack is mixed with all of the milk and the Pfaffs said they have seen positive results with this strategy.
Calves receive fresh water following the milk feeding. They are given a 22-percent starter grain when they start drinking from pails and they will be introduced to handfuls of hay while in the hutches as well. Calves are weaned at about 2.5 months of age, depending on their size and starter consumption. Once they’ve been weaned from milk for three or four days, calves are moved to a superhutch pen of five or six head.
The Pfaffs said the biggest challenge they encounter is the weather, but a well-bedded hutch is a good first step in that battle. They use kiln-dried sawdust year-round and add dry oat straw in the winter to allow for nesting. All calves also wear calf jackets in the winter. Hutches are cleaned between calves and, if possible, the Pfaffs let the ground “rest” before placing a new calf in that spot.
Kris said having a “good eye for calves” is also important. During feeding, they carefully watch the calves to pick up on scours or any other signs of disease as quickly as possible. Most of the time, they can get calves back on track with an electrolyte feeding and minimal treatment. The family’s “good eyes” have led to healthy replacements entering this high-performing dairy herd.
Starting Strong - Calf Care