Virtual Farm Tour: Prairie Dairy

Posted on December 27, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Want healthy, high-performing calves?  Prairie Dairy starts with high-quality colostrum
Rachelle Krienke has two major goals for her calves:  She wants them to be as healthy as possible and she wants to see good body condition at weaning.  She has designed a system that allows her to consistently reach both goals for her farm’s replacement heifers.

Krienke farms with her husband, Kraig, their children, and Kraig’s father at Prairie Dairy in Lester Prairie, Minnesota.  The family milks about 420 cows and Krienke takes the lead on calf care, with the help of a relief feeder and her teenage children.

Krienke said high-quality maternal colostrum is the most important factor to raise healthy calves.  She prefers to feed the dam’s colostrum to the calf as long as it registers above 22 percent with a Brix refractometer.  Each calf is tube-fed 1 gallon of colostrum and any excess (in amount of at least 2 quarts) is frozen in colostrum bags.

If colostrum quality measures 22 percent or lower or yield is less than 2 quarts, Krienke freezes it in ice cube trays.  All calves are fed two of these colostrum cubes per day for their first two weeks of life.  Krienke said she learned this idea from a presentation by Dr. Jeremy Schefers at the University of Minnesota and began trying it about two years ago.  She hasn’t lost a calf since, which is why she considers colostrum management such an important component of raising healthy calves.

But she doesn’t stop there.  Krienke continues feeding each calf its dam’s milk for the next three feedings (the second feeding generally measures between 18 and 20 percent with a Brix refractometer).  Krienke said the fresh cow milkings align with her calf chore times, so the milk is conveniently ready for her to feed.  These efforts, combined with a solid dry cow vaccination program, spraying navels and administering the Inforce™ 3 vaccine at birth, help give calves the healthiest start possible.  Krienke said she has to give minimal extra treatments.

Calves start at 2.8 liters of pasteurized milk per feeding and ramp up to 3.1 liters after one week.  By three weeks, they receive up to 3.6 liters.  They are introduced to BSF starter with 18 percent protein on day three, and this same starter is carried through post-weaning.  They also receive 2 gallons of warm water after their feeding.  Two years ago, Prairie Dairy calf growth was tracked as part of a Vita Plus internship project and revealed an average daily gain of 1.95 pounds per day.

Calves are weaned in groups of 14 at about eight weeks.  The amount of milk per feeding is reduced and then a feeding is taken away.  They will be completely off milk for three to five days before they move into a group pen.  They receive 4 gallons of warm water two times a day during this time.

In the second week in the group pen, calves are fed a 50-50 blend of starter and grower.  By about three months, their diet will consist of grower and dry hay.  Calves move through different group pens as they grow and spend about one month in each pen.  At seven months, they move to an offsite location.  Before they leave, their grower is stepped down and they are introduced to a heifer TMR.  Krienke continues feeding that TMR to the seven- to eleven-month-old heifers at the offsite location.

Although quality colostrum management is Krienke’s top priority, she also emphasized the importance of cleaning feeding equipment and pens, good bedding, and fresh, palatable starter.  She said this can go a long way to reduce disease pressure and promote calf health.  When calves are healthy, they can use all their energy for growth, and that’s visible in their great body condition at weaning.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Colostrum management
Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care