Some Dirty Words in Calf Care

by Kelly Driver, MBA

Assuring that we are giving every calf the best opportunity for excellent health and growth is the shared goal of calf care teams around the world. But the challenges presented to those teams are often surrounded by some “dirty” words or biological challenges that exist on nearly every dairy farm. Let’s take a look at some of the more frequent challenges.

Organic matter is a natural concern in calf care as it harbors bacteria and parasites, as well as provides a breeding ground for these organisms. Organic matter is defined as compounds that have come from the remains of organisms such as plants and animals and their waste products. In terms of calf raising, we immediately think about manure, milk, and feed deposits on surfaces in the calf’s environment, beginning at birth.

Biofilms are a layer of organic material, including fats and proteins, that stick to any surface and are so thin that they cannot be seen or felt. However, if they are left to grow on calf feeding equipment, we may eventually see a yellowish or tan-colored film that can be scraped with our fingernail. The surface may even develop a slimy feel. Biofilms provide a great place for bacteria to grow and each time the piece of equipment or calf housing is used, the resident bacteria are there to contaminate the calf. When calves are exposed to low levels of bacteria repeatedly, it can lead to a scours problem. Bacteria associated with respiratory disease, scours, roto virus and crypto thrive on biofilms. This is why it is so important to use equipment that can actually be easily cleaned, like plastic pens or hutches from Calf-Tel.

Cryptosporidium parvum is one of the most common parasites in dairy facilities. It most often shows up in calves between 7 to 28 days of age and initially presents as lethargic, weak calves. Crypto is a protozoan parasite that at one stage of its life cycle forms egg-like bodies called oocysts, which contaminate everything they come in contact with – bedding, feed, water, and the hands and clothes of the calf raiser. Once the crypto organisms are ingested by a calf, they destroy the inner lining of the large intestine. This allows milk to pass through nearly undigested and the resulting diarrhea will typically be a yellowish to white color and may appear foamy or contain blood, mucus or bile.

Cryptosporidium oocysts thrive in wet environments, like wet bedding and calving areas. The oocysts can live for up to a year in cool moist conditions and are resistant to drying and freezing. The parasite normally exists on most, if not all, dairy farms where calves are raised. Diligent attention and sanitation of the calving area and clean, dry, sanitized plastic calf housing and feed equipment can help to minimize the risk of infection. Mortality is generally low with c. parvum, but morbidity is high and the calves will have a slower growth rate than unaffected calves.  Rota virus and Coronavirus are both of major concern as they are also most prevalent at 7-14 days of age and are often associated with a calf dealing with a high Crypto load.

Bacteria load can be easily measured by testing equipment used every day on farm for feeding, transporting and housing newborn calves. It is easy to check ourselves for cleanliness using an ATP meter and swabs that measure bacteria loads. The goal is a score under 100 and a reading under 10 is exceptional. If your farm does not have a meter, consult with your herd veterinarian.

Here are a couple examples of areas to check:

Swabbing the inside of the plastic calf bottle, a common area to find biofilm and bacteria on farm.
This tested 14, which means the cleaning is being done well.
Swabbing the grain bucket in a young calf’s hutch.
The reading of 9343 indicates that this bucket needs a thorough cleaning and disinfecting before being used anymore. It is also possible that the plastic worn out and the bucket needs to be replaced, which is as simple as calling the nearest Calf-Tel dealer.

Ammonia gas is very harmful for a calf’s natural defense system in the trachea. Many positive conditions exist in calf housing for the microbial activity that releases ammonia gas. Urine provides both nutrients and liquid, the bedding material often provides a favorable pH environment, and calves warm the soiled bedding when resting.

Tiny hair-like fingers or cilia line the trachea, working to push foreign materials that the calf has inhaled up and out of the trachea. These cilia work in a wave action and serve as a defense system against respiratory infections. But persistent exposure to relatively low ammonia levels, which disrupts the wave pattern of the cilia leaves calves at a higher risk for bacterial respiratory illness. Slowing down ammonia causing bacteria is as simple as clean dry bedding in well-drained calf housing areas.  If you unsure if your calf bedding is dry enough, kneel in the bed for one minute, if your knees get wet, it is not dry enough to slow down ammonia production and help protect calves from respiratory disease.

Coccidiosis is a digestive disease in dairy calves and heifers that is most often found from 1 month to 1 year of age. The protozoa can be prolific in facilities with poor cleanliness, use of bedded pack management, or inconsistent feeding additive (coccidiostat) usage across pens. The Eimeria protozoa starts off similar to other digestive parasites with the animal consuming the protozoa egg or oocyst.  This consumption takes place by various routes including eating contaminated feed, bedding or water; grooming themselves or other animals; or licking their contaminated surroundings (walls, gates, feeders, etc.), according to Dr. Matt Akins at University of Wisconsin at Madison.  The oocyst has a very protective outer wall that resists breakdown from chemical and physical action, and can be viable in a moist, warm environment for several months to years. Similar to other diseases, maintaining heifers in similar age groups, using all in/all out management, and cleaning of pens/feeders/waterers between moves can help reduce pathogen loads.  In addition to maintaining a clean environment, most operations use a coccidiostat in their feed mix to control the protozoa in the heifer’s digestive tract. This allows the heifer to develop immunity to the protozoa while controlling protozoal levels to minimize coccidiosis, according to Dr. Akins.

Flies. Stable flies, house flies, and blow flies are the most common types found around dairies. They are labeled “filth flies” because they prefer moist conditions and like to lay their eggs in manure, decaying organic matter, spilled or spoiled feedstuffs, and damp bedding. Other common flies that are more often found in pastures or open areas can include horse flies, deer flies, face flies, horn flies, and even mosquitoes. Several of these pests are biting flies that require a “blood meal” and can be quite disturbing to calves.

It is important to develop an integrated pest management plan (IPM) to maximize fly control efforts at your operation, focusing on three key areas:

  1. Sanitation
  2. Biological control
  3. Chemical control

Both house and stable flies breed in manure, decaying silage, and moist bedding or feedstuffs, making sanitation the key management practice to minimizing the population. Since the house fly life cycle is just 10 days, cleaning everything possible weekly is most desirable and removing any spilled or leftover feeds daily is also helpful.

Another important sanitation measure is keeping the bedding in the calf housing area dry. Some farms switch to sand, wood shavings or sawdust as bedding material instead of straw in the warmer months of the year. Opening rear doors and vents on Calf-Tel hutches or pens to encourage airflow will also help keep the bedding dry.

Hygiene Program for Calf Housing and Equipment

There are two major areas of concern; the pieces that you use to feed calves (buckets, bottles, nipples and mixing utensils) and the housing units. Both are key to keeping calves healthy.

Recommended Steps for Cleaning Calf Contact Surfaces:

  1. The initial step is to remove the interfering agents like organic load and biofilms by cleaning the visible signs of organic matter with warm water at a temperature of 90oF.
  2. Scrub with a chlorinated alkaline detergent (CAD) at no less than 130oF water. The CAD helps to breakdown the biofilms and fats that many organisms thrive in. The use of a CAD will also create a higher pH (11-12), which aids the destruction of certain organisms and the removal of the biofilms that can interfere and reduce the effectiveness of your germicide used to disinfect.
  3. Rinse with a solution of Chlorine Dioxide (ClO2)/Acidified Sodium Chlorite (ASC) at a minimum of 50-75 ppm per research completed by Dr. Don Sockett, DVM, Ph.D. at of the University of Wisconsin. (Dairy Herd Management) We have seen excellent results at 240-250 ppm if any of the above steps are marginal.
  4. Let it dry.
  5. Rinse a second time with a solution of 50ppm chlorine dioxide (ClO2)/acidified sodium chlorite (ASC) less than two hours before use, allowing a minimum of one minute of contact with the equipment. This is especially important with nipples/bottles or buckets for milk. Not all germicides are the same. It is important to test your germicide regularly with an approved method for the specific product you are using to ensure you have the germicidal killing power needed to achieve your calf hygiene goals, whether applying it by brush, spray or foaming action.

(Source: James Umphrey, Regional Sanitation Advisor for ABS Global Inc.)

Hygiene is always a critical piece in the puzzle of maintaining healthy calves. Keeping calf care utensils and equipment clean is critically important to assuring the health of the youngest herd members. At Calf-Tel, we are passionate about helping assure calves a successful start. You can learn more about these “dirty words” and others in Calf-Tel’s Calf Corner!

Kelly Driver, MBA has been involved in the New York dairy industry all her life. In addition to raising dairy calves and replacement heifers, she is the Eastern US & Canada Territory Manager for Calf-Tel. Feel free to contact her at with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.

Calf Ventilation: Northern New York Case Studies

By Lindsay Ferlito & Casey Havekes, Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Regional Ag Team

Over the past year and a half, we’ve received several requests for calf barn ventilation support. Some of the most popular questions have been, “I’m thinking about building a new calf barn. What ventilation system works best?” Or, “I just built this calf barn but I’m having a ton of respiratory challenges. What is going on?” And last, “How can I retrofit this old facility to provide better ventilation for my calves?”

The simple yet complex response to all of these questions is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of prevailing winds, the direction of barns, wind shadows, mechanics, and a variety of other variables, there are so many different moving parts when it comes to calf barn ventilation.

To begin addressing the incoming questions, we designed an exploratory research project that aimed to investigate a variety of different calf barn housing and ventilation systems across Northern New York. This research project was funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. One of the study objectives was to evaluate air flow and air exchanges through ‘fogging’ the facilities. The study enrolled 15 calf barns across northern NY. Many others have reached out through word of mouth and because of our outreach efforts. To try to capture some of the complexity and uniqueness of each calf barn, we compiled 5 of the most interesting case studies that arose because of our study and further troubleshooting efforts. The assessments and solutions described in this article are the result of a collaboration between participating farms, herd veterinarians, Cornell Cooperative Extension Dairy Specialists, Lindsay Ferlito and Casey Havekes, and PRO-DAIRY Strategic Farm Planning Specialist, Tim Terry.

Figure 1. Barn layout for Case Study #1

Case Study #1

Facility Description: Calves are group housed and fed acidified milk ad libitum. There are positive pressure tubes above calves, as well as fans on one side of the barn.

Problem: The farm owner mentioned a high number of respiratory cases and high treatment rates which is consistent with the herd veterinarian’s higher than usual lung ultrasound scores.

Assessment: It was a hot breezy day and all side wall curtains were open. The overhead doors were open on each end of the barn. There was air moving in every direction with some circling in one corner of the barn. It appeared that there was too much going on at once with the fans and tubes running, the open side curtains and open overhead doors on each end of the barn.

We also noticed that the bins holding the acidified milk were blocking some of the air movement across the pen from the fans. This resulted in dead spots and pooling directly surrounding the feeding bins.

Solution: We came up with two potential solutions for this facility. One option involves removing the fans from the side wall and installing new fans in two rows about the calves (one row on each side of the center feed alley). The other option involves closing the overhead doors and cross-ventilating by adding a bank of fans to the side walls. A concern with the latter option is that the bins holding the acidified milk will block too much of the air and consequently the air quality will be poorer directly behind this area. The farm owners are still working through these action plans to assess which option will work best for them.

Case Study #2

Facility Description: Calves are group housed and fed with automated feeders. There is one tube above the calves.

Problem: The farm owner mentioned a high number of respiratory cases. Additionally, as you can see in Figure 2, there is bird netting below the tube which is potentially impairing air flow.

Figure 2. Barn layout for Case Study #2

Assessment: It was a cool, fall day the day we did the assessment. On one side of the barn, the top curtain was all the way open and the bottom curtain was all the way closed. On the other side of the barn, both curtains were all the way open as well as the overhead end doors. After the fogging, we noticed that although the fog came through the tubes properly and reached calf level, the dust covering the bird netting could be impeding air flow through the tubes. We noticed that there was a dead spot around calf level towards the closed side curtain. Additionally, we saw that the closed curtain was ‘bulging’ out because air wanted to get through, despite the curtains being closed.

Solution: We recommend cleaning the bird netting or removing it entirely. We also recommended opening the bottom side curtain a minimum of 6 inches so that the air moving across the barn could get out and keep moving across at calf level.

Unless precipitation is entering the building or bedding is being blown off the pack, the curtains should remain open. If these recommendations do not improve ventilation during the summer months, we suggest considering adding two summer positive pressure tubes to supplement the natural ventilation.

Case Study #3

Facility Description: Group housed calves fed ad libitum acidified milk. There are several tubes above the calves, and curtains on the side walls.

Problem: Farm owner has observed high respiratory issues and high treatment rates. One of the side walls also requires maintenance and as a result the curtain must stay up on that side of the barn to prevent calves from getting loose. Several of the tubes also require maintenance and are not functioning.

Assessment: The day of the assessment was hot with very little wind. Fogging demonstrated pretty good airflow and exchange in most of the barn except for the pen that had curtains blocking the wall. The fog stayed in that area for over 15 minutes (the objective is for the fog to clear within 1-2 minutes to achieve proper air exchanges for summer conditions.

Figure 3. Barn layout for Case Study #3

Solution: We recommend the farm fixes the side wall so the curtain can be lowered in order to achieve proper air exchanges in that section of the barn. We speculate they can get closer to the recommended 40-60 air exchanges/hour for summertime by having all the tubes running. As a result, we also recommended the broken tubes be fixed, and all tubes be cleaned so they can run as designed.

Case Study #4

Facility Description: Calves are group housed and fed acidified milk ad libitum. The barn utilizes neutral and positive pressure for ventilation. This system incorporates a bank of fans behind the wall with the hole cutouts, pictured to the right (inlet side). There is an identical wall on the opposite side of the barn with a bank of fans behind it (outlet side). One side pushes air through the holes while the other side pulls air out through the holes and exhausts it out of the building.

Problem: The farm owner questioned whether the system was truly doing what it’s suppose to do. The farm owner also mentioned that at times, the end doors stay open and questioned whether that was having a negative impact on the efficacy of the ventilation system.

Figure 4. Barn layout for Case Study #4

Assessment: The day of the assessment was hot and breezy. We fogged the barn once with the end doors open and then again with the end doors closed. When the end doors were open, the prevailing wind counteracted the air coming through the inlet holes and basically pushed it back out through the open curtains. As a result, it was obvious that the fog did not move properly across the pens. When we fogged the barn with the end door closed, air movement was better. However, there was still dead spots and inadequate air exchanges for summer.

Solution: We recommend installing more fans in the inlet side to help push more air through and increase air exchanges. We also recommend keeping the end doors closed so that the ventilation system can properly do its job without interference from prevailing winds.

Case Study #5

Facility Description: Calves are individually housed. The barn relies on natural ventilation. There are side wall curtains and 3 chimney exhaust fans.

Problem: Very high treatment rates and respiratory cases. There is also a second calf barn directly behind this barn that is used to house older, weaned calves. This barn creates a wind shadow for the barn housing the younger animals. The barn prevents fresh air from getting to the calves. This area also gets very cold in the winter making it especially difficult to ventilate it appropriately.

Assessment: The day of the assessment was a cool, breezy, fall day. Ventilation felt adequate, although we previously went on a very hot, summer day and felt that there was little to no air movement. Our assessment discovered winter ventilation is likely adequate, however, there is not sufficient air flow coming into the barn to meet summer ventilation requirements. This is largely influenced by the new barn creating a wind shadow and preventing air flow into the barn.

Figure 5. Barn layout for Case Study #5

Solution: We recommend designing tubes to supplement summer ventilation. Two tubes will hang above each bank of calves and they will be turned off during the winter. This will help the facility achieve the recommended air exchanges for summer. Owners should also consider housing younger calves in the new facility – prevailing winds will carry from younger to older.

Also, the cropping rotation will have to consider physically smaller crops in the adjacent field. Larger crops plus the existing knoll upwind from the facility creates a wind shadow.


There are so many factors to consider when troubleshooting calf ventilation systems. Here are a few important takeaways from previous research and our case studies:

  1. Summer Ventilation requires 40-60 air exchanges per hour and winter ventilation requires 4 air exchanges per hour.
  2. Naturally, we want to open everything up on hot summer days. However, it may not be the best idea if you’re ventilation system is designed to have the barn closed up.
  3. Air will always take the path of least resistance. Keep this in mind if you have structures and equipment in the barn that could impede air flow.

Finally, you don’t have to tackle calf barn ventilation alone. Regardless of where you are reading this from, reach out to your local Extension agents, your herd veterinarian, or a trusted calf advisor to get started if you need help troubleshooting your ventilation system.

Courtesy of our dealer – CRI REPRODUCCIÓN ANIMAL

Communication in the Calf Team: A Visit with Two Calf Care Team Leaders

by Kelly Driver, MBA

Megan Opperman, Genetic Futures
Junction City, WI
400 Pre-Weaned Calves
Rachel Holtz, Willow Bend Farm, LLC
Clifton Springs, NY
600 Pre-Weaned Calves

When we consider calf care, we generally focus on things like colostrum, consistency and cleanliness, but how often do we consider another ‘C’ word of great importance – communication? This month we will hear from two skilled managers, of both calves and their calf care teams.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

RACHEL: I am currently the Dairy Operations Manager at Willow Bend Farm, LLC. My career started at Willow Bend Farm 10 years ago. Throughout that time, I have taken on many opportunities, ranging from working in different areas of the dairy, taking management courses and networking in the dairy industry.

MEGAN: I am the farm manager at Genetic Futures. While I did not grow up on a farm, I did spend lots of my time on my family’s farm, Erbacres Holsteins, and showing dairy cattle. I attended UW-Madison and obtained a degree in Dairy Science and have been working at Genetic Futures for 5 years.

Please tell us a bit about your operation.

RACHEL: Willow Bend Farm, LLC is a 4500 Cow Dairy in the Finger Lakes region of NY. We milk at three facilities, all within 30 miles of each other. We have 4100 head of young stock, and all our wet calves are raised at the home farm. We feed 600 pre-weaned calves in hutches, three times each day.

MEGAN: Genetic Futures is a recipient facility in Wisconsin, owned by Mike and Julie Duckett, where the end goal is to produce a healthy calf for our customers. We put a strong emphasis on calf care as we are raising some of the most elite genomic animals in the breed. We raise our calves in both hutches and calf barns. We have around 400 calves on milk at a time and they are fed bottles the entire time they are on milk. We feed calves 3 times a day.

Please tell us about the team you lead.

RACHEL: The calf team is made up of a total of 5 full time employees. 4 working on the day shift and one at night. This team also cares for the maternity area.  

MEGAN: I lead a team of 4 people during the day and we do the morning and afternoon calf feeding as well as take care of bedding, cleaning, etc. Then the milking team does the night feeding.

How would you describe your leadership or management style?

RACHEL: Visionary, Leads by inspiring.

MEGAN: I would describe my management style as involved, as I enjoy being hands on with the calves and working closely with my team members. I would also say that it is performance focused as I strive to produce the best calf possible for our customers and I push my team to do the same. Finally, I would say that it is protective as I fight hard for my team and do the best I can to make it worth their time to be here and do a good job.

How do you recruit members of your calf care team and what qualities do you look for in team members?

RACHEL: We love to grow our people within the farm. Becoming a part of the calf team is a part of climbing the ladder. Rarely do we hire outside of the farm when it comes to working with young stock. It gives our employees something to strive towards. We look for our 5-core values in potential calf team members: Safety, Teamwork, Professional, Can-do attitude, and Positivity.

MEGAN: I find new employees through the other people I have working on my team. The main thing I look for is that they are willing to work hard and care about doing a good job. I am less concerned whether or not they have experience with calves as I like to have the opportunity to train them from scratch so I can avoid any bad habits that may have come from previous employment.

If you employ a person without previous calf raising experience, how do you train them?

RACHEL: Employees start off with our on-boarding program where they will get a minimum of two weeks training.

MEGAN: I rely on my other team members that have been here the longest to train new employees. I have a lot of confidence in the group of people I have trained to make sure that the new people are properly trained. They know the standards to which we raise our calves and keep the others held to that standard. They also know that it will come back to them as well as make their job more difficult if they do not do a good job training the new people. 

Do you use job descriptions or protocols in any way to assure that employees understand their specific duties, or do you employ a learn-as-you-go model?

RACHEL: We have job descriptions for our employees and written protocols for our employees to follow along with holding yearly trainings. 

MEGAN: We have treatment and cleaning protocols that are in place on our farm. We try to keep things very consistent and as routine as possible so that there are never any questions as to how things should be done. 

How do you keep the communication between yourself and team members open and ongoing?

RACHEL: We have lots of meetings! We like to meet and go over things before we start each day, then we also have monthly vet and staff meetings to review how things are going or any concerns.

MEGAN: I am working with my team every day and will jump in to help them from time to time. I believe that this helps them know that I don’t consider myself higher than them and during this time we can talk about anything that might need to be fixed or changed. If we are ever having problems with the calves, I will ask their opinion as to what is going wrong to see if they are noticing something I am not.

How do you balance the need to cross-train, in case team members need to cover for one another, with getting the normal daily work completed?

RACHEL: We believe you should always have three people trained to every job in case one is on vacation, one calls in sick or has an emergency, then you still have one person to rely on. 

MEGAN: The calf team all knows how to do any of the jobs that would be required of them when it comes to things like bedding, feeding and cleaning. I have one person that is trained to treat and vaccinate calves when I am not there. For training, I had my protocols translated to Spanish and then had him work alongside me as I was doing the treating and vaccinating for a few weeks. We still will do this every once in a while, and ask questions, just to make sure he is confident in what he is doing and handling these situations.

How do you address any calf health or management issues that arise?

RACHEL: We have monthly vet meetings where we sit down and talk about all the positives and negatives happening within the calf department. We like to focus on the things we need to improve on before our next meeting.

MEGAN: When calf health issues arise, I check with my calf team to see if they have noticed anything that I haven’t. From there I do testing with our vet to find where the problem is. From there we work to make adjustments to make sure we do not run in to the same problem again.

How do you address on-going education and training of team members?

RACHEL: We have a yearly schedule of trainings that need to be reviewed and once a month we will check off those trainings as the year goes on. For example, sanitation training is due in September. We will make sure we set up a training date to review this with our teammates.

MEGAN: I work with my assistant calf manager a couple times a month to make sure we are on the same page. 

Have you found any outside resources or websites particularly helpful in educating team members?

RACHEL: Lots of them! A few that came to mind are Cornell Cooperative Extension, Merck Animal Health and Zoetis.

MEGAN: I have not used outside resources to train. 

Do you offer any incentives to your calf care team if certain goals are achieved (one example: average daily gain targets for x number of months each year)?

RACHEL: We have in the past, but we’ve stepped away from it for many reasons. If we could, we would! I think incentives are a creative way to help get employees engaged.

MEGAN: We do not have any incentives but I try to always make sure they know I appreciate the work they do. For example, if they worked really hard and got a lot done on a hot day, I will get them ice cream. I also like to get lunch for them once in a while when I notice that they have been working extra hard. I think small gestures like that go a long way to show appreciation for what they do for the farm.

What are three key things you would share with a first-time calf team manager?

RACHEL: Communication is key. Trust your employees. Inspire new ideas. 

MEGAN: First, I would suggest finding a main go-to person on your team that you trust to take care of the calves when you are gone. You have to be gone at times and coming back to calves, that weren’t taken care of at the same level as you would, is not helping your calf program progress. Second, your team is going to put in as much as you do. Show them how important calf health is to you and they will make it a priority as well.  Third, make sure you have protocols in place as this keeps everyone on the same page and gives something to fall back on when things are not getting done properly.

Kelly Driver, MBA has been involved in the New York dairy industry all her life. In addition to raising dairy calves and replacement heifers, she is the Eastern US & Canada Territory Manager for Calf-Tel. Feel free to contact her at with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.


Calf-Tel Welcomes Mikaela Schneider as the Newest Addition to the European Team

Oberdischingen, Germany  [September, 2nd 2021] – Calf-Tel proudly welcomes onboard the very first Marketing Coordinator to the German office. Ms. Schneider will be responsible for building brand awareness and marketing efforts in all of Europe.

“I am greatly looking forward to advancing marketing efforts in the European market. I have been given the eminent opportunity to make Calf-Tel the #1 calf hutch brand overseas and am determined to work fervently towards this goal,”      says Ms. Schneider.

Ms. Schneider has formally undergone two marketing internships in the diverse industries of IT and environmental science, and will apply her expertise to optimize the website, strengthen the advertising and social media presences as well as attend important trade shows across Europe.

“We are very pleased to have Mikaela on board and I am confident she will contribute greatly to promoting Calf-Tel through our social media, print and other media and advertising efforts, ” says Bernd Kleiner, Managing Director in Germany.

Ms. Schneider is from the Midwest and currently resides in the south of Germany. She completed her Master’s of Global Business at the University of Victoria in British Colombia, Canada and her B.S. in Business Administration at Chapman University in Orange, California. New to the agricultural industry, she is excited to learn a lot and give this industry a kickstart to what a solid marketing plan can achieve.

Ms. Schneider can be reached at:

For more information on the Calf-Tel line of products, visit or email If you prefer to contact us by phone, please call (262) 255-4540.

Hampel Animal Care, a division of Hampel Corporation, began serving the agriculture industry in 1981 with the introduction of Calf-Tel housing systems. Today it is the number one choice for calf housing, worldwide. For more information, visit or learn more at and


Out of Balance = Sick Calf

by Sam Leadley and Kazzie Nero

  • Too many challenges and too little immunity
  • The futile search for “THE” cause of sickness (scours, pneumonia).
  • A team approach is most likely to succeed.

We are bombarded with messages about the importance of doing a good job of colostrum management, including feeding plenty of high-quality colostrum as soon as practical after birth and the well-accepted “3 Q’s” (Quantity, Quality, Quickly) for doing a good job of establishing passive immunity in the newborn calf. Why, then, in the face of what should be “good-enough” passive immunity, do young calves get sick?

While answering a question about calving pen management a speaker at a dairy meeting observed, “Sh** always wins.” He was simply stating the fact that sufficient exposure to adult cow manure, especially before the newborn’s first feeding of colostrum, will virtually insure all the exposed calves will get sick. When the “challenge” side of the balance on the right above outweighs the “defense” side on the left above, we have a sick calf.

The Futile Search for “THE” Cause of Sickness (Scours, Pneumonia)

One approach to solving this “imbalance” between pathogen challenge and immunity is to search for “THE” cause of the imbalance or sickness. This is a very seductive mind set. It falsely promises to simplify a very complex biological world.

For example, we are treating an excessively large number of pneumonia cases among 11-week-old calves in our transition pens. It is easy to be seduced into thinking that the most recent diagnosis (coccidiosis) is still appropriate. Treat for that, and we can forget about it.

Nevertheless, why does this pneumonia issue keep repeating among this age group in this barn? Are there other multiple underlying causes? Is the problem more intense when we begin feeding free-choice hay as soon as the calves arrive at this barn rather than limit-feeding hay for the first 10 to 14 days (a rumen development issue)? Is the problem more intense when a high proportion of calves coming into the barn have a history of pneumonia in the pre-weaning phase (lung tissue damage issue)?

The Team Approach Can Help Identify “Real-World” Causes and Solutions

Who are the folks that could make up the “calf management” team? On-farm, this may include the primary calf care person, “fill-in” or relief calf-care persons, the herdsperson(s) and/or owner(s). If your nutritionist is skilled in calf growth and development, she/he should be included. Especially important in this case is to include the herd veterinarian.

If the rates of calf sickness or death are higher than desired, probably the primary calf care person needs to take the initiative to push for a “team” approach to solving the problems.

The first and most important goal for a first team meeting is support and encouragement. “We can do a great job rearing calves!” Always start on a positive note. We want to work together to improve calf care. Then, it is time to review what is currently happening – successes in weaning gains as well as weaknesses in sickness and treatment rates as well as death.

These are the steps in team building. This is where you build commitment to working as a team.

Then, it is time to go on to the next steps:

Identify the most likely causes of morbidity and mortality. Draw on the varied experiences of the team – every person has the opportunity to see the calf/heifer enterprise from a different perspective. Avoid being caught in “THE Cause” trap.

Identify the multiple ways in which immunity may be compromised.

Select one or more courses of action designed to enhance immunity. The resource “Increasing Resistance to Pathogens” is available at INCREASING RESISTANCE TO PATHOGENS (

Identify the multiple sources of pathogens involved.

Select one or more courses of action designed to reduce pathogen exposure below critical levels. The resource “Reducing Exposure to Pathogens” is available at REDUCING EXPOSURE TO PATHOGENS (

Another systemic approach to morbidity problems was suggested by Dr. Sheila McGuirk (School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Wisconsin) in her presentation, “Managing Calf Diseases.” And outline for this is available at HAACP Application ( Her analysis is divided into two parts: (1) Preventing excessive exposure to pathogens and (2) Inadequate resistance in the calf.

Thank you to Attica Veterinary Associates, Attica, NY for sharing this article written by Dr. Sam Leadley, who traveled the world leading calf care discussions, and his associate Kazzie Nero. You can access more of their calf related materials at, under the Resources tab.


A Second Feeding of Handy Hints

by Kelly Driver

Let’s kick off this second round of handy hints with a few items related to the warmer summer temperatures that have arrived. As I write this blog, we are experiencing temperatures in the mid-90°F range and everyone is warm…calves and their caregivers. Read on farther for some more handy ideas I have observed on different farms recently. Dairy farmers are certainly some of the most innovative and creative people to know.

Fresh, Cool Water

Fresh, clean, cool water is one of the most important things we can deliver to calves during high temperatures to help with heat stress. In the photo on the left, the Calf-Tel starter bowl is used to encourage the youngest calves to drink water sooner in the shallow dish. The calf on the right is drinking a mid-day delivery of electrolytes from the gray colored direct attach fence pail. Many calf caregivers prefer lighter colored pails to keep water cooler in the summer.


Shade can’t be emphasized enough to help calves in hot weather. Pictured below are two different examples of ways we see producers provide shade on the warmest days.

Fresh Air

Calf caregivers are always clever when thinking about ways to help get more fresh air to calves. The picture on the left is from the western United States where they built a platform for their hutches to sit on allowing calves to enjoy the gentle breeze via the mesh floor under the hutches, while also providing the shade inside the hutch. On the right, we see producers retrofitting the Calf-Tel Lower Rear Vent Kit into a hutch, allowing for better air flow at calf nose level when they are laying down. These kits are available at or your local authorized dealer.


Do you have old rubber mats from your cow barn? This producer put them to use with their hutches to provide a barrier that minimizes the mud and mess in front of the hutches. They also use them in the hutches with wood shavings for calf comfort in the summer heat.

Latches & Gates

Are you looking for a way to load calves more efficiently onto a trailer after weaning? This producer installed clips on the corner of each fence panel so they can just swing the front back and bring calves out. They also made the laneways between hutch rows wide enough to back the cattle trailer through easily, loading one calf at a time.

Pail Washer

Take a look at this homemade pail washer! This innovative calf raiser mounted a spinning brush into a sink and powered it with a small motor to help speed the process of cleaning calf pails regularly at their facility.

Dehorning Past Tape

Are you using dehorning paste and concerned about other calves licking it off their pen mates? We really liked this idea of putting short strips of duct tape over the paste application to prevent others from ingesting the caustic paste. By the time the tape falls off, the horn bud spots are generally healed nicely.

At Calf-Tel we are passionate about helping calf raisers accomplish their goals easily. If you have tips and ideas that you would like to share with others, please email them to and be sure to follow Calf-Tel on Facebook.

Kelly Driver, MBA has been involved in the New York dairy industry all her life. In addition to raising dairy calves and replacement heifers, she is the Eastern US & Canada Territory Manager for Calf-Tel. Feel free to contact her at with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.


Heidi Fischer Wins Calf-Tel Producer of The Month

In early June, Calf-Tel kicked off the first Producer of the Month contest. Nominees were asked to submit answers to a variety of questions for an opportunity to win tickets to a Milwaukee Milkmen game!

We are pleased to announce that Heidi Fischer, Manager of Calves and Operations at Fischer-Clark Dairy in Hatley, Wisconsin, is July’s Calf-Tel Producer of the Month! Heidi has been in the dairy industry for 6.5 years and is the board secretary for both Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative and Partnership for Progressive Agriculture of Marathon County. Fischer-Clark Dairy currently milks 925 cows and raises 125 calves.

Check out Heidi’s answers to a few questions we asked her!

History of Fischer-Clark Dairy

“Our farm was started in 1972 by my father-in-law and mother-in-law with 8 cows; growth has been constant. We went from a tie-stall barn to a retro-fitted double-eight parlor, to the new double-20 we installed in 2015, currently milking 925 cows. Our cows maintain a rolling herd average of 32,651 lbs. of milk, a 4.25% butter fat and a 3.25% protein, all while averaging a somatic cell count below 100,000 each month. The facilities have been updated to match the growth of our herd, with a focus on efficiency. We recently remodeled our transition cow barn to a tunnel-ventilated barn to complement the other tunnel-ventilated barn, which now both house milking cows. A new heifer facility was constructed in 2012, and expanded on in 2015 in preparation for the latest milking herd growth in 2016. A new calf barn was constructed in 2017, doubling the size of the current one. And a new young-stock heifer facility was built in 2018. Jon (son/partner) started farming with his parents after high school. I (wife of Jon/partner) joined the farm in 2014 to be more available for our two young daughters.”

Is your farm a family farm? If so, how many generations has the farm been in the family?

“Our farm is starting to be a multi-generational farm as we have begun the process of transitioning.”

What makes your operation unique?

“What makes our operation unique is our focus on efficiency and details. Whether it is putting up a new building or implementing a new work flow – it has to make sense and it has to be efficient. Our goal is to have as few touches as possible with our animals so they can spend their time being calves, heifers and cows.”

How do you balance your career and family?

“Balancing family and the farm is always a challenge. When possible, I like to bring my kids to the farm with me – age 16 and 8, and have them work alongside of me. We can spend time together and accomplish a goal. We do try to set aside time twice a year for a family vacation. Whether it is a long weekend up north, or even a vacation that is an extension of a conference at a fun location. We always try to make the most of our time together. And we have a rule for when we are on vacation. When we go into a restaurant, phones are either turned off or left in the car. Having those moments to sit down, focus on the kids, have good discussion is what it’s all about.”

What is an important lesson you’ve learned working in the dairy industry?

“I’ve learned so many lessons – the minute you conquer something, there is always something else to conquer. Just because something didn’t turn out the way you expected it to, doesn’t mean it was a failure if you took something from it. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should! It may not work for your business plan, operation, work flow, etc. I learned this with feeding 4 quarts of milk, twice a day to my calves. I just wasn’t getting the rate of gains I had hoped to be getting. And the starter intake was not where I wanted it to be. We dropped the feeding amount to 3 quarts, twice a day and saw starter intake increase as well as the rate of gain. When feeding 4 quarts of milk, this was satisfying their appetite enough that they didn’t need to eat the grain.”

Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work? Why?

“I worked off the farm in a few different corporate settings. I’ve had good managers and bad ones, and so much of what I do on a day-to-day basis is drawn from each of the types of managers I’ve had. I know what a good manager is capable of – and I know what my employees don’t want in a manager through my own experiences. So, between the two I try to be as accessible, encouraging, honest, and as fair as I can be.

I always stress to my employees that I have an open-door policy no matter the issue. Plus, I love when they come to me with a new idea or way of managing a certain task. When I interview them for a position, I tell them that I am the bulldozer. If they have an idea or want to try something, they let me know. I will get the tools and resources needed to get it done. I’m there all along the way to help them succeed. One thing you will not hear on our farm is, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it”. If there is a better, smarter, more efficient way of doing something, why not?!”

Want to be Calf-Tel’s next Producer of the Month? Stay tuned to Calf-Tel’s Facebook and Instagram page for upcoming details! Or, sign up for our Calf-Tel newsletter!

Taking Care of Calf Bottle Nipples

by Kelly Driver, MBA

When was the last time you stopped your work to ponder the important part rubber calf nipples play in getting your newborn calves off to a good start? There are many brands of nipples on the market, so how do we know which is best for our operation? Every manufacturer is striving to achieve the perfect blend of durability and ease of use. Newborn calves often find it easier to nurse a softer nipple, but that softness can also lead to a shorter useful life of the nipple. Let’s take a look into factors impacting the nipples that often carry the first critical colostrum to our newborns and perhaps even deliver the calf’s meals until weaning, depending on the farm’s feeding program.

Factors Causing Wear. There are two primary factors that cause calf nipples to wear. The first is mechanical wear, caused by calves sucking or chewing on the nipple. The second factor is chemical effects, brought about by repeatedly cleaning and sanitizing the rubber. Many cleansers and sanitizers are known to have a harsh effect on nipples, with iodine sanitizers noted for being extremely harsh and shortening the usefulness of the nipple most quickly.

How to Best Maximize Useful Life of the Nipple. While nipples are designed to resist the wear caused by calves nursing and chewing on the nipple, as well as cleaning and sanitizing chemicals, eventually they all wear out. Some of the signs of wear are a thinning of the wall and elongation of the nipple when compared to a new one. We might also observe splitting or tearing of the x-cut on the end of the nipple resulting in milk leakage when the bottle is tipped or turned upside down.

Rob Costello of Merrick’s nipple manufacturing company offers these tips for extending nipple life in a Merrick’s Tech Bulletin:

  1. Use a gentle detergent for cleaning. It is recommended to wash nipples with a common dishwashing detergent purchased at a local grocery store. Let the nipples soak in the detergent water for about 5 minutes with a water temperature of 125-135oF.
  2. Use an effective, gentle sanitizing solution. After nipples are removed from the detergent solution, place them into a dilute chlorhexidine solution. Costello suggests using 8 oz. of 2% chlorhexidine for every 10 gallons of water, again with a water temperature of 125-135oF. Let nipples remain in the solution for about 2 minutes. Straight chlorine and iodine are used by some producers to sanitize nipples and are harsh enough to pull the natural oils out of the rubber, drying the nipples out.
  3. Remove nipples promptly from solutions. Nipples should not be allowed to soak for long periods of time in either the detergent or sanitizing solutions. Rubber will swell when left in water, so immersion times should be short. When the nipples are removed from the sanitizing solution, place them on a rack to air dry until the next use.
  4. Remove bottles and nipples promptly after calves have finished drinking. Nipple life is greatly affected by the amount of time a calf sucks and chews on the nipple after emptying their bottle.
  5. Be attentive to subtle changes in feeding, cleaning and sanitizing protocols. Minor changes can have significant effects on nipple life, according to Costello. Small changes in the amount of time calves have access to empty bottles or the concentration of cleaning and sanitizing agents can have significant effects on the useful life of the calf nipple.

Stop! Don’t Cut that Nipple. Have you looked to ensure that the x-cut hole in the calf bottle nipple is not too large? There is a happy balance to be struck here. The opening should be large enough that the calf does not have to struggle to get milk. But the opening should not be so large that milk runs out of the bottle when it is turned upside down.

One item I have learned to examine over the years is the vent hole in the nipple. The vent allows air into the bottle while milk is being sucked out, keeping the bottle sides from collapsing. The air from the vent hole releases the vacuum that is formed when the calf is nursing the bottle. Sometimes when examining new nipples that calves are struggling to get milk out of, I have found a thin membrane on the vent hole left over from the rubber molding process. This actually prevents the vent hole from working properly and I suggest using a pin or small sharp item to assure the vent hole is open. This will allow for quicker and more even milk flow for the calf and is a much better option than cutting the nipple to enlarge the actual nursing hole.

If the nipple opening is cut or gets too large from wear, milk can enter the calf’s mouth faster than they may be able to swallow it, which increases the chances it may end up in the lungs. This results in what we call aspiration pneumonia. Calf care givers all know a calf with pneumonia means extra work for proper treatment and increased costs for medicinal treatment. Aspiration pneumonia is potential for permanent lung damage and even culling. For these reasons, we always want to take a few seconds to examine and evaluate calf nipples.

As calf raisers, we notice big differences in drinking speeds between calves. Some can swallow more milk quicker and easily. Others will struggle with harder nipples and even moderate amounts of milk. A skilled calf feeder will recognize these differences and adapt the nipple being used to match the calf’s ability to nurse safely from the bottle. This is a skill that we cannot undervalue when considering the health of our herd.

Kelly Driver, MBA has been involved in the New York dairy industry all her life. In addition to raising dairy calves and replacement heifers, she is the Eastern US & Canada Territory Manager for Calf-Tel. Feel free to contact her at with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.


Calf Feeding & Housing 101

Brought to you by Calf-Tel and Holm & Laue. A webinar about the basics of raising healthy, productive calves! A multitude of topics are discussed including the 5 C’s of Calf Care, Calf Rearing Do’s and Don’ts and basic practices of calf feeding and housing by Calf-Tel’s Eastern US and Canada Territory Manager, Kelly Driver and Holm & Laue’s Marketing Manager, Holger Kruse.

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