Virtual Farm Tour: Wegnerlann Dairy
After 34 years of dairy farming, Betty Wegner has learned a lot about what it takes to raise healthy calves. The most important step: spend time with each calf every day. Although it seems simple, this kind of detailed attention is what has built Wegnerlann Dairy’s successful calf program.
Betty and Jeff Wegner purchased the current site of Wegnerlann Dairy in Ettrick, Wisconsin about 27 years ago. Through gradual growth, Wegners built the farm to its current size of 500 Holstein cows. About half of those animals are registered. The next generation is now joining the farm with Betty and Jeff’s son, Tom, and his wife, Annaliese, taking the lead on herd health.
Quality care starts at birth
Cows about to freshen are placed in individual calving pens and allowed to calve on their own. As quickly as possible, the navel is dipped and the heifer calf receives its initial vaccinations. It is also fed a colostrum replacer to help ensure successful passive transfer.
When the calf is dry, it is placed in its own hutch. Sand beneath the hutches allows for good drainage. Sawdust is used as bedding year-round with long straw added in the winter. The calf also receives a calf jacket during cold months.
Between 0 to 5 days, Annaliese takes care of dehorning the calves using dehorning paste. She said they switched to this method a couple of years ago because she can easily dehorn a calf by herself in about one minute. She said it’s also good for animal comfort as the calf doesn’t seem to even notice the paste.
Wegners feed their calves twice daily with Vita Plus Calf Precision milk replacer. The initial feeding is 2.5 quarts by bottle. This is gradually increased to 3 quarts by day 4 and the calf will also transition to pail drinking. On day 3, calves are introduced to a 20-percent pelleted starter and remain on this feed for three months before transitioning to a heifer grower feed. They are also fed warm water at least twice a day.
Betty said she waits until the calves are “good on pellets” (consuming at least 2 pounds daily) before she begins the weaning process. At about 6 to 7 weeks of age, calves are weaned in groups of four so they can be moved out of their hutches and placed into group pens. They remain in the same group until they reach three months of age and move offsite. Wegners have worked with their custom raiser for about 15 years and said open communication has maintained this good relationship.
Teamwork and consistency
Wegnerlann Dairy operates with the help of eight employees in addition to the family members. Three part-time employees also help with the calf program. Betty said she works closely with the calf team to make sure calves receive consistent care. She also makes a point to work with the calves herself every day so that she can visually see their progress as well as any challenges that might arise.
“I still like to be there every time,” she said.
Annaliese echoed that sentiment. She too works with each individual animal and records all vaccinations and treatments in a notebook and DairyComp 305.
And that attention has paid off for the farm. In the past year, the farm only lost four of the 268 heifer calves tagged and placed in hutches – a testament to the farm’s commitment to raising healthy replacements.
“I like the healthy calves when they’re out there bouncing around, kicking up their heels,” Betty said.
“It’s nice to see the calves happy and the cows calm and happy,” Annaliese added. “That’s what’s most important to me.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care