More Milk Please!

By Dr. Marissa Hake, Calf Vet

We’ve historically fed calves to meet their maintenance needs, but not to their full potential. There’s lots of reasons why – milk replacer cost, bucket or bottle size limitations, fear of over-feeding or nutritional “scours”. Or maybe it’s an even worse reason like “This is the way we’ve always done it”. We’re not feeding cows the way we did 30 years ago, so why are we still feeding our calves the same way?

The standard milk replacer feeding program has traditionally been 2 quarts of milk replacer (at 12% solids) fed twice a day. This program was developed to drive calves to eat more grain but leads to poor weight gains in the first month of life. We have fed calves this way to get them off milk and onto solid feed because milk replacer is expensive as compared to grain. One thing that we must remember is in the first 3+ weeks of life, the calf’s rumen is developing, and we cannot rely on grain to provide enough calories for the calf. In addition, calves are only born with 2-4% body fat, so they cannot rely on fat reserves to sustain them in the first month of life either. Restricting calories during the most vulnerable time results in poor growth and increased susceptibility to disease.

We often forget that calfhood diseases impact future lactating performance. So, while it might be a long 2 years until that newborn heifer steps hoof into your parlor, what happens to her in the first couple months of life will pre-determine your return on investment. Research has shown that for each pound of daily gain pre-weaning, milk production increased by 1,540 lbs. in the first lactation or 6,000 lbs. over three lactations. Management and nutritional practices during calfhood have 3-7 times more influence on future milk production than sire selection!

So why is the traditional 2 quarts of milk replacer twice a day not optimal? First, we need to discuss maintenance energy.

What is maintenance energy? Maintenance energy is what the calf needs to just maintain normal body functions, body temperature, and stay alive. This is the energy used before the calf can allocate resources to grow.  A calf’s maintenance energy increases as their body size increases. So, the maintenance needs of a 60lb calf are less than that of a 110lb calf, yet we feed them the same way. Maintenance energy also changes based on ambient temperature and thermal conditions. This means a calf in a wet and drafty pen will require more energy than a calf in a dry, well-ventilated pen, even at the same temperature. Maintenance energy also increases with disease pressure. Sick calves require more energy to mount an immune response. In my opinion, what you don’t pay for in milk the first month of life, you’ll pay for in performance, treatments, and death loss.

The chart below from Cornell University shows how many quarts of 20:20 milk replacer that a calf needs based on body weight and ambient temperature. The blue bars show how much MR is needed to meet maintenance energy (just stay alive) and the yellow bars represent the additional MR needed to achieve 1 lb of gain per day. The left side of the chart is the number of quarts/day the calf would need of 20:20 milk replacer.  As you can see, when temperatures decrease the calves need to be fed more for maintenance energy. Also, you can see that with the traditional 4 quarts/day feeding program the 80lb calf at 10 degrees and the 100 lb calf at 30 degrees and below are not growing and possibly losing weight. Another thing to note is that at optimal temp of 50 degrees, the 100lb calf requires more for maintenance than the 80 lb calf.

(Chart Credit: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/animal-health-diagnostic-center/programs/nyschap/modules-documents/LiquidFeedManagement#:~:text=Whole%20milk%20can%20be%20used,feeding%20when%20fed%20twice%20daily.)

What does this mean? At an optimal temperature of 50 degrees, our 80 and 100 lbs calves will gain very little in the first 3-4 weeks, but will hopefully get to the point where they are eating enough grain to start using that for growth. If the temperature drops to 30 degrees F our 80lb calf is now gaining very little and our 100 lb calf is losing weight! I hear calf raisers say this all the time “I would rather raise the 70-80 lb calves than the big 100lb calves. The smaller ones do better, probably because less stress at birth”. I argue it’s that we’re not optimally feeding those larger calves making them more prone to disease.  Again, remember these calves are less than 4 weeks old and rely completely on milk to survive. We need to provide our calves with more calories to grow and thrive.

According to the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association’s Gold Standards for Heifer Growth, it’s recommended that calves should be doubling their birth weights in the first 56 days of life. In order to achieve this, an 80 lb calf would need to be gaining 1.4lbs+ per day. If we consider our chart above, an 80lb calf at IDEAL conditions with 0 disease stress would require almost 6 quarts of 20:20 milk replacer to achieve 1lb of gain per day.

How to provide more calories for growth

  1. Increase volume
  2. Increase calories

Increasing volume is relatively easy and most calves can tolerate greater than 4 quarts daily. Smaller calves sometimes can’t tolerate that large of volume so adjustments should be made based on size. If farms can swing the logistics, feeding 3 times a day can also help increase volumes fed. Another option is to increase the caloric content of the milk. This can be done by feeding bulk tank milk or by adding extra milk replacer to your mix. Adding 2-4 extra ounces can increase energy by 25-50. You can also use a higher fat:protein milk replacer or add a balancer to your current milk replacer or bulk tank milk. Make sure that you are closely monitoring the total solids and feeding above 12-13% solids should only be done if calves have access to free-choice water!

4-quart Calf-Tel bottles can help producers looking to increase feeding volumes.

One lesson that I’ve learned along the way is “feed calves based on your top 50%, not your bottom 10%”. We need to stop making feeding decisions that hold back our top calves.

Nutrition is just one piece of the calf health puzzle, so make sure to work with your veterinarian and nutritionist to develop your herd health and feeding programs. 

Dr. Marissa Hake is a veterinarian who has focused her career on calf management and welfare. In her previous role she managed 60,000+ pre-weaned calves annually and is passionate about developing practical ways to improve calf care. Feel free to contact her at drhakecalfvet.com with any questions.

References

https://www.wvdl.wisc.edu/index.php/calf-maintenance-in-cold-weather/#:~:text=to%204%20quarts.-,Feed%20the%20calves%203%20quarts%20of%20milk%20or%20milk%20replacer,instead%20of%20twice%20a%20day.https://extension.psu.edu/feeding-the-newborn-dairy-calf

https://www.vet.cornell.edu/animal-health-diagnostic-center/programs/nyschap/modules-documents/LiquidFeedManagement#:~:text=Whole%20milk%20can%20be%20used,feeding%20when%20fed%20twice%20daily.

https://www.extension.iastate.edu/dairyteam/files/page/files/PracticalEconOfAccelratedCalfFeeding_Tyler.pdf

http://livestocktrail.illinois.edu/dairynet/paperDisplay.cfm?ContentID=358

https://www.progressivecattle.com/topics/feed-nutrition/brown-fat-ensures-survival-in-calves

https://dairy.osu.edu/newsletter/buckeye-dairy-news/volume-21-issue-1/cold-weather-dairy-calf-care

https://dyson.cornell.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2020/09/Dairy-Replacement-Costs-Writeup-Final1-VD.pdf

Amaral-Phillips, D.M. Dairy Calf Management Practices Impact Future Production. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

https://vet-advantage.com/vet_advantage/improved-calf-health-benefits-long-term-performance/

https://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/agupdate.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/f/88/f88f3b45-67bd-5bff-aa15-232e05789fe5/5f7765c2b9341.pdf.pdf

Are Calves Better Together?

Calf Care Givers Share Their Experience with Paired Housing

It seems one only need pick up the latest farm publication or attend a dairy conference and the topic of paired or social rearing of calves comes up. We thought it worthwhile to ask some calf care managers to share their experiences with it and appreciate Calf-Tel dealer Holm & Laue assisting in gathering responses from customers in Germany to join the panel.

Mitch Breunig
Mystic Valley Dairy, Wisconsin, USA
Number of pre-weaned calves: 60
Calves raised annually: 325
Daniela Schönberger
Schönberger Hof, Western Germany
Number of pre-weaned calves: 110
Calves raised annually: 300
Steven Houchens, DVM
Capstone Ranch, California, USA
Number of pre-weaned calves:  400
Calves raised annually:  2000
Konstanze Rohwer
Marcus Rohwer, Northern Germany
Number of pre-weaned calves: 48
Calves raised annually: approx. 70, plus 180 calves sold after their 14th day
Mahmudjon Pirimov
Lübbinchen Milch & Mast, Germany
Number of pre-weaned calves: 76 in pairs & 94 on milk bars with 10 nipples
Calves raised annually: 570 (27% of calvings)
Please share a bit about your operation.

BREUNIG: We milk 460 Registered Holsteins and farm 1070 acres. We currently have a 33,000-lb. rolling herd average and have developed a market for fresh cows to other farms. With our calves, we see very little scours or death loss and bull calves are sold at birth.

SCHONBERGER: We have a mixed farm of grain, dairy cattle, fattening bulls and biogas in the Westerwald, between Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany. We cultivate 300 hectare and milk 300 Holstein cows. Our last major construction project was the cowshed and milk house in 2009, but now a new calf barn is in the planning stage.

HOUCHENS: Capstone Ranch consists of 2 dairy locations, crop and orchard farming, and a calf ranch.  In the summer of 2019, we started raising a portion of our calves in house.  The rest of our calves are raised off-site by a custom grower.

ROHWER: Our farm has 240 Holstein-Friesian cows with prolonged lactation in individual animals resulting in 10,000-liter herd performance. To reduce the number of offspring, we are using beef sperm for crossbreed calves. We have 160 hectares of grass and corn silage, with little arable farming, at Westerronfeld in northern Germany.

PIRIMOV: We milk 2000 Holstein-Friesian cows and have 70 total employees. Forty of them are on the milk production team. We are GMO Free.

What led your operation to start pairing calves?

BREUNIG: Following the research from Dr. Jennifer Van Os at UW-Madison we began pairing calves. The research showed no negative effects. I also wanted to improve the stalls in my calf barn to get better ventilation too. Animal welfare is a big deal and consumers do not like calves being raised individually. We did pairs to proactively address this concern.

SCHONBERGER: I read some reports that appealed to me a lot and so I tried it out.

HOUCHENS: Research articles and word of mouth led us to the idea of pairing calves.  We were hopeful we could grow a more resilient animal through earlier onset of starter intake, earlier social interactions, and improved adaptability of the calf post-hutch.

ROHWER: We are able to increase our stock with the same number of hutches.

PIRIMOV: Three years ago, there were not enough hutches available for all the calves, so two calves were sometimes housed in a hutch. It worked very well, so it has become the standard.

How long have you been raising calves in pairs? How did you raise calves previously?

BREUNIG: We have been raising calves in pairs since March 2020. Prior to that, calves were raised in individual hutches with half in a tunnel vent barn and the other half outside in hutches.

SCHONBERGER: We have been raising in pairs for about three years now. Before that, they were raised in single (individual) hutches.

HOUCHENS: We have been raising calves in pairs for about a year and a half.  We first began pairing calves with two calves in one XL (Calf-Tel 35|85) hutch.  This worked well but the pen and hutch area were difficult to keep dry and required much more frequent bedding.  We have since transitioned to two calves in two XL hutches connected through shared fencing.  Prior to beginning paired rearing, we were raising calves one calf per XL hutch.

ROHWER: We started raising in pairs in 2017 and prior to that were in individual hutches.

PIRIMOV: We have been raising in pairs for about 3 years. Previously the calves were in individual hutches.

Tell us about when and how you pair calves please.

BREUNIG: We pair calves from day 1 of their life and they stay paired until moving to the weaned calf barn. We usually have enough calves born so there is only a 1 or 2-day difference in age of the pair.

SCHONBERGER: My approach is to keep them in pairs as early as possible, preferably from the beginning. If it doesn’t fit, I wait until after the colostrum/transit phase is done before pairing. We have Twin Hutches (Calf-Tel 35|85) from Holm & Laue outside but with a canopy and calf pens in the stable.

HOUCHENS: Calves are placed in hutches that are paired but have fencing to separate the calves.  This fencing stays in place for at least one week and is not removed until both calves drink their bottle well and are healthy.  If one of the calves become sick, the fencing is replaced to separate the pair until the calf returns to health.  Calves remain paired until they are removed from the hutch.

ROHWER: We raise only the calves for the market in this system because in our calves despite ad lib feeding the cross sucking has caused high looses with empty quarters, injured teats and failure to let down milk as cows. These calves are housed in Calf-Tel Pro hutches with an additional bucket holder on the door.

PIRIMOV: We have 8 heat boxes in the calving area and calves remain there for between 12 to 24 hours and are supplied with 3-4 liters of colostrum within 3 hours. They are then converted to the pair housing.

How much milk or milk replacer do you feed and how often each day do you feed?

BREUNIG: Calves are fed one gallon twice per day with Vita Plus Magnify. We start to wean at 46 days and calves switch to buckets at day 7 of weaning. The weaning process takes 20 days.

SCHONBERGER: Normally I feed 4 liters of milk replacer three times daily, but due to the current price situation, we are currently feeding 3 liters of milk replacer three times each day.

HOUCHENS: We feed hospital/line milk fortified with a balancer.  Calves are fed every 8 hours.  They start at 2 quarts for the first week and then go to 3 quarts until weaning. 

ROHWER: Twice daily in a hutch each receives 7-8 liters of whole milk. From the 20th day of life, they move to the Holm & Laue automatic feeder up to 50 days of age, maximum of 15 liters per day of whole milk. They are then weaned until 100 days of life.

PIRIMOV: For the three weeks of pairing, we feed about 12 liters/calf. The schedule follows:

6:00 a.m. Empty residual quantities
7:00 a.m. Filling 15L into each double nipple bucket
10:00 a.m. Filling all empty and almost empty buckets up to 2-4 liters
Afternoon Replenish to 7 liters

We feed 100% whole milk that is pasteurized, acidified and fortified with additive. From the first day we use hard teats, as no big difference was found when using soft teats.

Do you see any cross-sucking between calves? And if so, how do you address it?

BREUNIG: We feed with Peach Teat buckets instead of normal buckets and that helped a lot. We also wean over 10 days by giving smaller meals. We had more trouble with cross-sucking when calves were switched to 1x per day milk feeding at weaning. The calves were too hungry.

SCHONBERGER: No, we don’t see any more problems than before.

HOUCHENS: I can’t say it never happens but it’s uncommon for us to see.  If we see it persist in a pair, we will separate the calves with the fencing.

ROHWER: Yes, we spray bitter substance from the horses (antibite) or cannibal spray from poultry farming onto the udder system. For heifers a ring is pulled through the upper lip by a veterinarian. The regular suction weaners are difficult to use because of our water fountains with push valves.

PIRIMOV: Cross sucking is an annoying topic. No solution has yet been found, in the pairing phase or the groups of ten. We use nose rings as a young animal to discourage it.

Do you track any metrics for your paired calves? Was there a difference from your previous calf-rearing system?

BREUNIG: We like to double birth weight by weaning and try to get two pounds per day gain. Starter intake is also a big deal for calf success and needs to be palatable.

SCHONBERGER: We weigh calves at birth, after moving to the calf barn and to wean consistently, but only for a year.

HOUCHENS: When we first started with two calves in one hutch, we had the same average daily gain in paired vs unpaired groups.  Since the switch to two hutches per pair we have seen a slight improvement in the paired calves vs single in the hutch. 

ROHWER: No, we have over 1000-gram daily increases, so there has been no difference.

PIRIMOV: From birth to 3 weeks, our average daily gain is 850 grams. From four weeks to 90 days, calves gain an average 950 grams/day. We have tested whether we can go down to weaning at 70 days, but daily gains reduced to 750g, so now we are weaning again at 90 days. We also weigh again before insemination.

Is there any advice or observations you would share with others considering paired raising?

BREUNIG: It is important to make sure both calves are healthy. One can fall behind, if you don’t monitor their intake closely. We also ultrasound the calves’ lungs to look for subclinical pneumonia too. An observation on paired calves in hutches is that they like to lay together in the same hut.

SCHONBERGER: Just do it. There is nothing more beautiful than pair keeping with completely different social behavior of the animals. They drink more and learn from each other.

HOUCHENS: A high level of nutrition has been important in reducing the negative impacts in raising calves in pairs.  It limits negative behaviors like cross-suckling and reduces negative health events like pneumonia.  I also think it is beneficial to be ready to separate calves if one is suffering from illness.

ROHWER: We pair bull calves and calves for market at any time, but in the case of heifers, I advise against pair housing because of the cross sucking we have experienced. I also recommend using light colored drinking buckets for water as it allows better control of water quality!

PIRIMOV: The size of calves is more important than age. Calves of the same size are always paired into a hutch, even when a large and small calf might be closer together by age.

The Calf is Born, Now What?

by Grace Stroud

Congratulations! The next generation of your dairy has just arrived. What can we do to make sure they get a great start to a long, healthy, and productive life?

Whether you choose to allow the cow to lick her newborn or dry the calf with a towel, the calf needs stimulation to increase blood flow and get an appetite for colostrum. Cleaning the calf of the amniotic fluid will also prevent bacteria and debris in the bedding from sticking to their coat. One of the most important things to remember is that calves do not have much of an immune system at birth. That is why calf managers, veterinarians, and industry professionals like Calf-Tel stress cleanliness. The cleaner the calf and its surroundings, the healthier start the calf will have.

The calf should also have its navel dipped to eliminate the umbilical pathway for bacteria and be relocated to a clean location with minimal distractions. Having fewer distractions will reduce the calf’s stress and be beneficial as you feed colostrum.

The next step is to administer colostrum. This should be done within the first one to two hours of birth. The sooner, the better. Keywords to remember in colostrum management are: “quality, quantity, and quickness”.  The longer the calf goes without colostrum, the guts’ ability to absorb the IgGs decreases. IgGs, or immunoglobins, transfer some of the mother’s immunity to the calf to help the calf build its immune system (Lopez et al., 2022).  To help determine the quality of your colostrum, an optical Brix refractometer or a digital Brix refractometer work well on the farm. A Brix value of 22% needs to be the cut-off. Anything lower than that should be discarded, and anything higher than 22% can be fed or frozen for storage (Life Start, n.d.). The calf should drink at least a gallon of colostrum. Working with your vet, you can create a colostrum management plan that will work for you and your farm.

Because of their weak immune system, calf performance can be boosted by being isolated in a clean, controlled environment for 7-10 days before going to your preferred housing for the remainder of their time on milk. Spending this time alone allows the calf to get a healthy start, begin building an immune system, learn to stand on their own, and learn to drink from a bottle holder or bucket.

Cleanliness, calf performance, and ease of use for the producer drove Calf-Tel to create the S-Series Starter Systems.

The System has a low opening front gate, making it easy to gain access to the calf. Here, you can give calf hood vaccinations, help the calf learn to stand, and easily feed colostrum, or help with daily feedings, if necessary. The Calf-Tel starter bowl can easily hold 2 quarts of milk. If you prefer to pail train your calves, this shallow bowl will make it easy for calves to learn how to drink from a bucket as they are not placing their head deep into the bucket right away. Using light colored buckets for water and milk can increase fluid intake as they can see inside the bucket more easily.

The Calf-Tel Starter Series units allow you to create an environment suitable to each calf’s needs, no matter the season. The System comes with a single upper vent and 2 lower vents. With an optional roof, the calf can enjoy increased airflow in the warm seasons, additional protection in the cooler months and extra warmth with an optional heat lamp. The vents combined with the heat lamp create a warm environment with proper airflow for your newborn.

Optional Cover and Heat Lamp
Adjustable Ventilation

Calf-Tel’s Starter Series comes with customizable accessories to adapt to your operation. The series comes with an optional steel base, which can be fitted with legs or wheels for ease of calf movement or simply rearranging. Placing this series on the ground can help you take advantage of any heated flooring you may have, while the optional base will hold the calves slightly above the ground and help with liquid drainage from the starter system.  Other accessories include chute or wire style bottle holders, and direct attach pails for water and calf starter. The Starter Series is easy to clean and sanitize, for safe and continued reuse, providing the perfect start for your youngest herd members.

Grace grew up with dairy, spending many days on the farm shadowing her dad as a herd manager. She quickly grew an appreciation and an attachment to the dairy industry, leading her to her career in ag sales and dairy farming today. Grace participated in 4-H for 10 years, competing in local, state, and national dairy judging; as well as local and state dairy quiz bowl competitions. Previously, Grace has worked in the milking parlor, with calves, and as an assistant herd manager. The assistant herd manager role included working with the dry cows, fresh cows, and any sick cows that needed special attention. Grace was also responsible for vaccinating all ages on the farm. Today, Grace enjoys raising calves, heifers, and preparing for local and national dairy shows when she is not in her office at Farmer Boy Ag.

If you have any questions or would like to contact Grace, please send all email inquiries to graces@farmerboyag.com.

SOURCES

Life Start. (n.d.). Measuring colostrum quality with a Brix refractometer is a practical method to ensure each calf gets good quality colostrum. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://ruminants.lifestartscience.com/colostrum-management/measuring-colostrum-quality-by-using-a-brix-refractometer

Lopez, A. J., & Heinrichs, A. J. (2022, January 27). Invited review: The importance of colostrum in the newborn dairy calf. Journal of Dairy Science. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(22)00037-6/fulltext

Buzz Off! Reducing Fly and Pest Populations Near Calves

by Kelly Driver, MBA

Yes, I know it’s only April and, in many regions, there may still be some snow on the ground. But this is exactly when we need to begin thinking about a fly control plan for calves, before the temperature gets much warmer.

Choose Your Methods. Using an integrated pest management (IPM) system approach to fly control is often more effective than a single strategy. Integrated Pest Management is an effective, environmentally and cost sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices, along with complete information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment.

The parts of an IPM program are:

1. Cultural control – practice good sanitation.

2. Biological control – parasitoid releases that help reduce the number of hatching flies.

3. Chemical control – sprays, larvicides, and residual premise & whole animal sprays.

Experience around dairy farms has shown that an effective IPM program for fly control often includes a combination of all three parts.

The First Step. Identifying the type of flies and pests on your farm is the first step in an effective control program. We have to know what we are dealing with to be able to treat the problem. To identify the types of flies, consider hanging sticky tapes or ribbons to trap them. The Internet, gardening magazines, or local experts may be helpful in accurately identifying the pests. I like to think of it like going to the doctor to identify if you have a viral or bacterial infection, in order to best treat the problem.

The three most common types of flies around dairy operations are:

Stable flies: These pests deliver painful bites that cause irritation to the animal and can reduce growth or production.

House flies can often be found laying their eggs in cow manure and multiply quickly. They can spread disease among the herd.

Horn flies feed on the blood of the animal, causing tissue damage, irritation, and can result in weight loss or reduced gains.

Cultural Control. Preventing fly populations from becoming a problem should be the number one priority of any pest management program and the single most important step on a dairy or calf operation is waste management. Removing piled manure, waste feed, and even the wet waste that can accumulate around the base of waterers should be a regular part of the weekly farm chore routine. Immature flies love to live in this type of moist waste and if the temperature is right, they will hatch in 10-21 days. Cleaning up and removing waste interrupts the fly life-cycle and helps reduce the population.

Another area that can be a great hiding place for flies is tall grasses and weeds. Keeping areas like this near hutch pads or the perimeter of calf barns trimmed throughout the season makes one less place for flies to live.

Biological Control. Fly parasites can be considered an effective natural biological control because they are a natural enemy that kills developing flies in the immature maggot and pupa stage. These parasites are gnat-sized, burrowing insects that are a naturally occurring enemy of all manure breeding pest flies. These tiny wasps are specific to flies and stay close to manure and areas where flies like to reproduce. The wasps are naturally nocturnal, have no ability to sting, and disregard humans or animals in the area. Because fly parasites reproduce in 2-3 weeks, they are constantly replenishing the beneficial insect population as the warmer, damp seasons progress. However, because the fly life cycle is much shorter than that of the parasite, it is important to start using the parasites early in the spring season.

John & Lynda Lehr had seen testimonials of other farms using fly parasites successfully and began to look into it further. They have been using fly parasites at their New York operation the past four years and have found that starting early is the real key to effectively managing flies. They are on an automatic delivery system with Spalding Fly Predators™ that begins in late April and continues until October. Their goal is always to be ahead of the fly development. In the peak summer months, new fly parasites are dispersed more often, but the Lehrs find it averaging every 2-3 weeks.

When the Lehrs began looking into fly parasites “we found good information on websites, but actually talking to the customer service reps by phone was most helpful for us,” they note. “The representatives really helped us determine a schedule and the number of Fly PredatorsR we needed for our operation.” The team put parasites around waterers, barns, calf hutches and any wet or manure areas and have found that it has really helped manage their fly populations in conjunction with the pour-on and feed-through measures they were already using. Both their milk replacer and calf grain have ClariflyR in them during the summer months. The Lehrs also use a pour-on fly repellant for heifers on pasture, but since adding the Fly PredatorsR, find they only need to use it 2-3 times during the summer, instead of every two weeks as they did previously.

Another biological control method often considered on calf rearing sites is ClariflyR, the feed through fly control the Lehrs mention. This product stops flies in the larval stage and can be included in both milk based and calf starter portions of the calf’s diet.

Chemical Control. As you develop your fly control plan for this season, it may also include some chemical control measures as well. These may be residual premise sprays, larvicides, and pour-on or sprays applied to the animals directly. Once again, when considering a product, it is best to select one that best aligns with the type of flies on your calf-rearing site.

Spring is in the air. As I write this, the first spring flowers are starting to appear from the ground and as the temperatures continue to warm, the pesky flies won’t be far behind. Now is the best time to develop a robust pest management plan for your farm. Start now to tell flies to “buzz off” this season.

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 kellydriver@hampelcorp.com with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.

Courtesy of our dealer –

CRI REPRODUCCIÓN ANIMAL

MÉXICO SA DE CV

Dairy Calves Can Get Coronavirus Too?

by Kelly Driver, MBA

Yes, dairy calves are affected by their own bovine-specific strain of coronavirus. This sickness can be a
significant cause of diarrhea (calf scours). Calf caregivers have been treating it for many years before the
novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 emerged on the scene worldwide.

Is There a Connection?

In short, beyond the name, there is very little in common between the two strains because there are
many different versions of human and animal coronaviruses throughout the world. Each different
version of coronavirus has a very specific molecular makeup of the “spikes” on its surface. In order to
cause infection, these specific spike molecules must be able to attach to corresponding specific
molecules on a body cell, according to Dr. Russ Daly, South Dakota State University Extension
Veterinarian and Professor.

He further explains “pig cells have different surface molecules than do calf cells, than do human cells,
and so on. Additionally, respiratory cells have different surface molecules than do intestinal cells” (Daly,
2020). Calf caregivers may recall hearing about cats diagnosed with Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) or
swine producers struggling with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED). These are all different forms of
coronaviruses (Daly, 2020).

Calf Scours

Scours is a term that the cattle industry has long used to refer to diarrhea in young calves. 95% of
infectious calf scours in calves under three weeks of age are caused by coronavirus, rotavirus or
Cryptosporidium (U of MN). All calves are exposed to these pathogens starting the very moment they
are born in the calving area. Whether a calf gets sick or not often depends on how much of the
pathogen the calf receives. The higher the dose of pathogen, the greater the risk of calf scours. So, let’s
take a quick look at the University of Minnesota’s description of these three contaminants:

-Rotavirus infects cells essential to the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. The lack of small
intestine nutrient absorption causes nutritional deficiencies for the calf and interferes with the rest of
the digestive tract’s ability to absorb water. The result is diarrhea, with an added complication of
missing nutrients for the calf.

-Coronavirus infects cells in a similar way to rotavirus. However, instead of just interfering with
absorption, the virus actively kills cells in the lining of the intestine. The result is widespread destruction
of the lining of the small intestine. The calf cannot absorb any nutrients, the inflammation is massive,
and severe diarrhea occurs.

Cryptosporidium, often referred to as ‘Crypto’, is a protozoan (a microscopic animal). The most
important thing to remember is that Crypto is not bacteria. Crypto implants itself in the wall of the
intestine and causes severe inflammatory damage to the lining of the intestine. This damage results in
diarrhea for the calf. Crypto infections are incredibly painful for the calf. Outside of the body, crypto has
a thick shell that allows it to survive for long periods in the environment (Source: University of Minnesota Extension).

Since Cryptosporidium was addressed in a previous Calf Corner blog, we will continue to
focus on the corona & rota viruses.

Rotaviruses are the most common cause of diarrhea in young calves, typically from 5-21 days of age.
Pale yellow diarrhea is common, and calf caregivers may also observe blood specks and mucus in the
feces. Affected calves are often lethargic, reluctant to drink, and have dull eyes.

One of the big challenges with rota and corona viruses is as the calves become dehydrated, they become
more susceptible to secondary infections.

Diagnosis

Proper diagnosis to determine the cause of calf diarrhea should be done with your herd veterinarian.
This may include fecal sampling at a diagnostic laboratory.

Treatment

Oral fluids are the most important treatment that should be started at the first signs of diarrhea to help
prevent the dehydration that ultimately kills calves. Allowing calves to drink the electrolytes themselves
is preferred, as oral fluids delivered by stomach tube may have delayed absorption because they are
deposited in the rumen. If the calf is already quite dehydrated, intravenous fluids should be given.
Please do NOT stop feeding milk to these calves. They need all the nutritional value they can get from
the milk to help fight off disease.

Scours is quite uncomfortable and painful for calves. Work with your veterinary to provide an approved
anti-inflammatory for pain relief as needed in your calf management protocol.

Taking the calf’s rectal temperature should be a standard part of any health assessment. Antibiotics are
another tool that should be addressed in calf protocols. Remember that 95% of calf scours under 3
weeks of age are caused by viruses and protozoans, not bacteria, rendering ineffective to treat the cause
of the disease. Therefore, antibiotics would normally be reserved for cases when the calf’s temperature
is outside normal range of 101-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (U of MN).

Prevention

Prevention of calf scours all together is the real key.

Starting early with a solid vaccination program administered to a healthy cow helps to boost the
antibodies available to the calf in the four quarts of colostrum it should be fed within the first two hours
of life. Vaccines given at the correct times while the calf is still in utero can also target scours-causing
agents. There are also some products available that can reduce scours when given at birth to the calf.
The herd veterinarian can help develop a robust vaccination program tailored to each specific herd
situation.

I can’t emphasize how important it is that everything the newborn calf has contact with should be very
clean. From their arrival in a very clean, well-bedded calving area to well-managed, high-quality
colostrum that is low in bacteria, to properly clean and sanitized feeding equipment and housing, try to
look at every item your calves will come in contact with. The more pathogens that can be removed
through proper cleaning, the more we set our calves up for success.

Another key in calf success is proper nutrition. Calves need a minimum of 8 quarts of either whole milk
or high-quality milk replacer each day to meet their maintenance and growth needs. Their need for
additional energy and nutrition increases anytime the temperature is outside their thermal neutral zone,
particularly when it is colder. (We can help keep calves warmer with a properly fitted calf jacket that
contains a true insulating material, like ThinsulateTM.) Delivering calves ample nutrition with a consistent
temperature, total solids level and on a routine time schedule also aids in prevention.

Housing units, whether individual or group, should be cleaned and disinfected between each use. Calf-Tel offers many plastic feeding and housing options that are designed for easy clean up and can be
viewed at Calf-Tel.com.

All of these factors can be combined to best prevent calf scours. Remember that rotaviruses,
coronaviruses and Cryptosporidium naturally exist on dairy farms. It is our job as the calf caregivers to
limit each newborn calf’s exposure level to these threats. Using a farm-wide approach that includes total
herd health under supervision from a veterinarian, high-quality colostrum management and calf
nutrition, and cleaning and sanitizing all feeding equipment and housing areas gives the best chance of
limiting calf scours events.

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 kellydriver@hampelcorp.com with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like
addressed in a future blog.

Sources:
Armstrong, Joe, DVM. (2019). Causes and prevention of dairy calf scours. University of Minnesota
Extension. Retrieved from Causes and prevention of dairy calf scours | UMN Extension.

Daly, Russ. (2020, September 9). COVID-19 and Livestock: Is there a connection? South Dakota State
University Extension. Retrieved from COVID-19 and Livestock: Is there a connection? (sdstate.edu).

Keha A, Xue L, Yan S, Yue H, Tang C. Prevalence of a novel bovine coronavirus strain with a recombinant
hemagglutinin/esterase gene in dairy calves in China. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2019 Sep;66(5):1971-1981.
doi: 10.1111/tbed.13228. Epub 2019 May 31. PMID: 31077561; PMCID: PMC7168545.

by Kelly Driver, MBA

Yes, dairy calves are affected by their own bovine-specific strain of coronavirus. This sickness can be a
significant cause of diarrhea (calf scours). Calf caregivers have been treating it for many years before the
novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 emerged on the scene worldwide.

Is There a Connection?

In short, beyond the name, there is very little in common between the two strains because there are
many different versions of human and animal coronaviruses throughout the world. Each different
version of coronavirus has a very specific molecular makeup of the “spikes” on its surface. In order to
cause infection, these specific spike molecules must be able to attach to corresponding specific
molecules on a body cell, according to Dr. Russ Daly, South Dakota State University Extension
Veterinarian and Professor.

He further explains “pig cells have different surface molecules than do calf cells, than do human cells,
and so on. Additionally, respiratory cells have different surface molecules than do intestinal cells” (Daly,
2020). Calf caregivers may recall hearing about cats diagnosed with Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) or
swine producers struggling with Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED). These are all different forms of
coronaviruses (Daly, 2020).

Calf Scours

Scours is a term that the cattle industry has long used to refer to diarrhea in young calves. 95% of
infectious calf scours in calves under three weeks of age are caused by coronavirus, rotavirus or
Cryptosporidium (U of MN). All calves are exposed to these pathogens starting the very moment they
are born in the calving area. Whether a calf gets sick or not often depends on how much of the
pathogen the calf receives. The higher the dose of pathogen, the greater the risk of calf scours. So, let’s
take a quick look at the University of Minnesota’s description of these three contaminants:

-Rotavirus infects cells essential to the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. The lack of small
intestine nutrient absorption causes nutritional deficiencies for the calf and interferes with the rest of
the digestive tract’s ability to absorb water. The result is diarrhea, with an added complication of
missing nutrients for the calf.

-Coronavirus infects cells in a similar way to rotavirus. However, instead of just interfering with
absorption, the virus actively kills cells in the lining of the intestine. The result is widespread destruction
of the lining of the small intestine. The calf cannot absorb any nutrients, the inflammation is massive,
and severe diarrhea occurs.

Cryptosporidium, often referred to as ‘Crypto’, is a protozoan (a microscopic animal). The most
important thing to remember is that Crypto is not bacteria. Crypto implants itself in the wall of the
intestine and causes severe inflammatory damage to the lining of the intestine. This damage results in
diarrhea for the calf. Crypto infections are incredibly painful for the calf. Outside of the body, crypto has
a thick shell that allows it to survive for long periods in the environment (Source: University of Minnesota Extension).

Since Cryptosporidium was addressed in a previous Calf Corner blog, we will continue to
focus on the corona & rota viruses.

Rotaviruses are the most common cause of diarrhea in young calves, typically from 5-21 days of age.
Pale yellow diarrhea is common, and calf caregivers may also observe blood specks and mucus in the
feces. Affected calves are often lethargic, reluctant to drink, and have dull eyes.

One of the big challenges with rota and corona viruses is as the calves become dehydrated, they become
more susceptible to secondary infections.

Diagnosis

Proper diagnosis to determine the cause of calf diarrhea should be done with your herd veterinarian.
This may include fecal sampling at a diagnostic laboratory.

Treatment

Oral fluids are the most important treatment that should be started at the first signs of diarrhea to help
prevent the dehydration that ultimately kills calves. Allowing calves to drink the electrolytes themselves
is preferred, as oral fluids delivered by stomach tube may have delayed absorption because they are
deposited in the rumen. If the calf is already quite dehydrated, intravenous fluids should be given.
Please do NOT stop feeding milk to these calves. They need all the nutritional value they can get from
the milk to help fight off disease.

Scours is quite uncomfortable and painful for calves. Work with your veterinary to provide an approved
anti-inflammatory for pain relief as needed in your calf management protocol.

Taking the calf’s rectal temperature should be a standard part of any health assessment. Antibiotics are
another tool that should be addressed in calf protocols. Remember that 95% of calf scours under 3
weeks of age are caused by viruses and protozoans, not bacteria, rendering ineffective to treat the cause
of the disease. Therefore, antibiotics would normally be reserved for cases when the calf’s temperature
is outside normal range of 101-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (U of MN).

Prevention

Prevention of calf scours all together is the real key.

Starting early with a solid vaccination program administered to a healthy cow helps to boost the
antibodies available to the calf in the four quarts of colostrum it should be fed within the first two hours
of life. Vaccines given at the correct times while the calf is still in utero can also target scours-causing
agents. There are also some products available that can reduce scours when given at birth to the calf.
The herd veterinarian can help develop a robust vaccination program tailored to each specific herd
situation.

I can’t emphasize how important it is that everything the newborn calf has contact with should be very
clean. From their arrival in a very clean, well-bedded calving area to well-managed, high-quality
colostrum that is low in bacteria, to properly clean and sanitized feeding equipment and housing, try to
look at every item your calves will come in contact with. The more pathogens that can be removed
through proper cleaning, the more we set our calves up for success.

Another key in calf success is proper nutrition. Calves need a minimum of 8 quarts of either whole milk
or high-quality milk replacer each day to meet their maintenance and growth needs. Their need for
additional energy and nutrition increases anytime the temperature is outside their thermal neutral zone,
particularly when it is colder. (We can help keep calves warmer with a properly fitted calf jacket that
contains a true insulating material, like ThinsulateTM.) Delivering calves ample nutrition with a consistent
temperature, total solids level and on a routine time schedule also aids in prevention.

Housing units, whether individual or group, should be cleaned and disinfected between each use. Calf-Tel offers many plastic feeding and housing options that are designed for easy clean up and can be
viewed at Calf-Tel.com.

All of these factors can be combined to best prevent calf scours. Remember that rotaviruses,
coronaviruses and Cryptosporidium naturally exist on dairy farms. It is our job as the calf caregivers to
limit each newborn calf’s exposure level to these threats. Using a farm-wide approach that includes total
herd health under supervision from a veterinarian, high-quality colostrum management and calf
nutrition, and cleaning and sanitizing all feeding equipment and housing areas gives the best chance of
limiting calf scours events.

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 kellydriver@hampelcorp.com with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like
addressed in a future blog.

Sources:
Armstrong, Joe, DVM. (2019). Causes and prevention of dairy calf scours. University of Minnesota
Extension. Retrieved from Causes and prevention of dairy calf scours | UMN Extension.

Daly, Russ. (2020, September 9). COVID-19 and Livestock: Is there a connection? South Dakota State
University Extension. Retrieved from COVID-19 and Livestock: Is there a connection? (sdstate.edu).

Keha A, Xue L, Yan S, Yue H, Tang C. Prevalence of a novel bovine coronavirus strain with a recombinant
hemagglutinin/esterase gene in dairy calves in China. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2019 Sep;66(5):1971-1981.
doi: 10.1111/tbed.13228. Epub 2019 May 31. PMID: 31077561; PMCID: PMC7168545.

Courtesy of our dealer –
CRI REPRODUCCIÓN ANIMAL
MÉXICO SA DE CV.

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 kellydriver@hampelcorp.com with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.

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 kellydriver@hampelcorp.com with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.

Courtesy of our dealer –
CRI REPRODUCCIÓN ANIMAL
MÉXICO SA DE CV.

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.

Conclusion

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.

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MÉXICO SA DE CV.

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 kellydriver@hampelcorp.com with your calf questions or suggest a topic you would like addressed in a future blog.

Courtesy of our dealer – CRI REPRODUCCIÓN ANIMAL MÉXICO SA DE CV.

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