You hold the power of calf nutrition quality control – Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus

Posted on June 28, 2018 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Click here for Hoskins’ PowerPoint presentation.

By Brittany Olson, contributing writer
As much as cows crave routine going about their day to produce high-quality milk, calves and heifers need similar consistency in their daily lives.  During her Vita Plus Calf Summit breakout session, Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf products manager, said dialing in quality control for calf nutrition leads to greater animal health, improved performance, reduced shrink, and improved employee morale and communication.

Hoskins pointed to employee turnover being particularly difficult to overcome in terms of providing consistent nutrition to calves.  She said having a system in place to train employees and give them the correct tools can help make it easy to raise healthy calves right.

Hoskins presented a chart with varying average daily gains (ADG), ranging from what she called “just passing” calves, gaining 1.4 pounds per day, to “A+” calves, gaining 2.2 pounds per day.  Studies continue to show, calves with greater ADGs become highly productive members of the lactating herd later.

“Do we want our calves to be A+ or just passing?” Hoskins asked.

Weighing out milk replacer and water before mixing, as well as mixing and feeding at the correct temperature, are some of the best ways to achieve consistent calf nutrition.  Vita Plus milk replacers are designed to mix with water between 110 and 120 degrees F, and fed between 100 to 105 degrees F.

“Add the powder once it’s weighed and don’t over- or under-mix replacer,” Hoskins said.

On the other side of nutrition, calf starter should be available to calves by the third day of life. While they probably won’t eat much of it, enough starter should be on the bottom of the pails for them to nose around.  Starter should be fresh and tasty to the calf, and free of mold, fines, or bird droppings.  Hoskins said starter shouldn’t be left in pails longer than three weeks.

Water should also be offered early in life and within 10 minutes of feeding.  Water intake and starter intake go hand in hand to accelerate rumen development.

For those using autofeeders and pasteurizers for whole milk, cleaning is key, particularly in “hot” spots like hoses and circuits.  Before purchasing an autofeeder or pasteurizer, Hoskins encouraged producers to make sure the sales reps are not only knowledgeable, but willing to help should a problem arise.  She also said they should check what services come with the equipment, such as, regular sanitation audits and calibration.

“Teach your employees how to calibrate and check the calibration on the autofeeder or pasteurizer,” Hoskins said. “If it doesn’t get cleaned regularly, it can get almost cheesy between parts of the machine.”

Benchmarks for pasteurized milk cleanliness, as well as autofeeders and other equipment, include a plate count less than 20,000 colony forming units (cfu) per milliliter, coliform counts less than 1,000 cfu per milliliter, and total E. coli counts less than 100 cfu per milliliter.

When cleaning equipment, Hoskins advised using pre-rinse water between 100 to 110 degrees F, and wash between 140 to 170 degrees F with a cleaning solution to wash off all the fat and protein molecules.  If the water is too hot, it can cook the fat and protein into the equipment.  Post-rinse with water between 100 to 110 degrees F and let equipment air-dry in a place that allows draining.  Sanitize all equipment within two hours of use.

As important as consistency and cleanliness are to raising growthy calves, employee communication is equally as important.  Hoskins stated when calves are healthy, things go well, but morale becomes strained when calves are ill, and it takes a long time to get morale back after a disease outbreak.

“Communication doesn’t take a lot of time, but it is incredibly valuable,” Hoskins said.  “Employees want to do a good job, and we need to give them the tools and training to do so.”

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Employee management
Starting Strong - Calf Care