Virtual Farm Tour – Tag Lane Dairy
Kevin Griswold’s parents were milking about 90 Guernsey cows when he returned to the family farm in 1992. Since then, Tag Lane Dairy in Ixonia, Wisconsin has steadily grown to 1,050 cows and has transitioned to a mostly Holstein herd. All of the animals are identified and about one-third are registered.
Griswold attributes the success of the farm’s calf program to the team of three full-time employees dedicated to the calves and heifers. Calf manager Antonio Aguilar has worked for Tag Lane Dairy for five years and said a good calf program is all about consistency and cleanliness.
With heifers and lactating cows housed in separate barns, the dairy includes two similar maternity pens in each area. Within a half-hour of birth, both bull and heifer calves are fed a gallon of colostrum. All colostrum is tested with a Brix refractometer. Aguilar said colostrum that does not meet the farm’s quality standards is thrown out and the calf will receive frozen surplus colostrum instead.
The dairy keeps about six to 12 bull calves with A.I. interest each month. These newborns are fed Secure calf colostrum replacer and do not receive vaccines like the heifer calves do.
Navels are dipped with a 7-percent iodine solution. The calves will stay in warming hutches for one to two days until they are dry and ready to go into hutches. During the winter, calves will wear jackets for about a month.
Hutch management and feeding
In February, the farm transitioned to feeding calves three times a day. Griswold said they were looking to boost calf health, have fewer treatments and calve in a bigger heifer that will ultimately produce more milk.
For the first week, calves are fed 1.66 quarts of pasteurized milk from a bottle. Next, the calves transition to a pail and receive 2.5 quarts for another week before they step up to 3.33 quarts until weaning. The milk is supplemented to achieve 15 percent solids. Calves are introduced to starter right away and fresh water is given after all three feedings.
Calves are weaned in their hutches. At seven weeks, they are stepped down to 1.66 quarts of milk and then to no milk at all. Next, they’ll move to a superhutch with four calves per pen for two weeks. After that, they’ll go to one of two heifer facilities and remain on the same starter throughout this entire period. After a week in the heifer barns, they’ll transition to a mixed ration diet with corn silage, haylage, mineral and a corn gluten feed pellet.
Cleanliness and attention to detail
Aguilar said cleanliness is the number one thing calf raisers should focus on to grow healthy calves. For starters, he said he places a high priority on dry bedding. The farm uses straw bedding year-round and Aguilar said his team will bed daily if needed. A gravel bed, approximately 1.5 feet deep, provides additional drainage. The calf team uses a hot pressure washer on all hutches between calves. Bottles and pails are always sanitized between uses.
In addition to better growth rates, Aguilar said the three-times-per-day feeding program also allows the calf team to pay closer attention to calves. By spending more time observing the animals, they can catch health events, such as scours, much earlier. This significantly cuts down on the number of treatments they have to give.
Aguilar and Griswold said the farm has transitioned to using dehorning paste versus a hot iron in order to reduce pain and stress on the calf. They said they’ll continue to evaluate strategies to improve the calf program. With a potential expansion in two to four years, the farm might consider robotic calf feeders, expand the hutch area, or both. Griswold said he and Aguilar will explore their options to make the best long-term decision for the calf program.
Griswold said, “Any time we invest in the calf program, it’s a good investment.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care