Streamlining Communication

By Grace Kline

While standards and methods for caring for dairy cattle has evolved over the years, we are able to learn more about cattle now than we ever have. We have increased cow comfort capabilities and become a more efficient industry. Over the years, there have been varying opinions, each farm doing what works best for them. One thing that has remained true over the history of dairy farming, is that cows like consistency.

Consistency does not happen without communication.

Record keeping is a huge part of communication. Keeping accurate records allows other team members to see an animal’s history, as it can impact future decisions. This can be done with computer apps such as Dairy Comp 305, PC Dart, or even an excel spreadsheet. It can also be done with a simple notebook and pen.

One method of record keeping I have seen is a pre-printed “questionnaire.” This will make sure all the right questions are being asked, and you will have the same information for each calf. For example, you can record calvings this way. Marking the sex, calving ease, when colostrum was fed, how colostrum was fed, and a variety of other essential information that could be useful later.

Whether you have a calf care team of 5 people or one single calf manager, employees get sick, need time off, etc. It is almost impossible to have a single person care for your calves every single day. We will go through a few different communication methods that can be applied to both small and large teams.

One thing I have seen time and time again is a white board with a map or grid of the calf hutches. The grid would be made of several boxes/rectangles modeling the hutches, with the calf’s name or number written inside of it. Using different color markers, you can indicate if the calf is sick, what stage of weaning they are at, or even if they are still bucket/bottle training. I would not recommend leaving notes of vaccinations, treatments, symptoms, or missed feedings on a whiteboard as they are easily erased. This should be written in a notebook or into a computer system where it is not so easily removed. One tactic my family used required ankle bands, similar to the picture here. We used the plastic ones that would last longer than fabric ones, as the calves enjoyed playing with them on the hutch fence. We fed 3 times a day and used a step-down weaning program. The colors and instructions were as follows:

No band: feed 3x/day.

Green– skip noon feeding. Fed 2x/day for 2 weeks.

Yellow– skip morning and noon feeding. Fed 1x/day for 1 week.

Orange– weaned, consuming grain, and awaiting weight measurements to move to group pen.

These can also be used to indicate calves that are sick or being treated, they are not just for use in weaning programs- the above is merely an example.                              

One item Cal-Tel provides are stickers for the indoor calf pens. The stickers can be used for the calf’s basic information, such as birthday, parentage, number, etc. Whatever works for you!

Similarly, a clothespin would work just as well for the group pens.

These can be used to identify calves that may drink slower than others, or that they are sick/being treated.

Wall signs with instructions are also very helpful to maintain consistency. These can contain milk mixing instructions, a bedding schedule, or even vaccinations. If wall signs are not of interest to you, having clip boards placed around the facility with checklists/reminders can be helpful to team members as well.

Our cell phones are useful communication tools, especially apps that allow you to leave notes/memos for multiple people. One of the apps that we use on our dairy is Slack. It is not specific to agriculture, but you can create different channels that allow conversations to be more specific, all in the same app.

For example, we have channels labeled treated cows, days off, and a general channel. Some of the app’s features require payment, but most of the use is free. Another very common one is Microsoft Teams, which also allows you to have different members and channels but requires a Microsoft payment plan.

While apps and computer programs can be helpful, nothing will beat in-person team meetings. Employees like to see managers taking an interest in their feelings and opinions, and a good manager will accept different points of view to find ways to improve. Within these meetings, you can also decipher what learning/communication styles your employees have, which will build a stronger team.

Consistency is key when it comes to caring for all ages of cattle, and it takes a team to do so. Proper training, record keeping, and willingness to communicate creates a strong calf care team. There are many routes to achieve excellent communication skills, and it is up to you and your team to find what works for you!

Grace Kline assists in the operation of Diamond Valley Dairy in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, with her husband and brothers-in- law. There, she cares for calves and heifers that are born both naturally and as a result of embryo transfer from deep-pedigreed show cattle. Grace has been caring for calves since her first job at 12 years old and has worked on four different farms, including an internship at Budjon Farms where she specialized in calves and show heifers.

A Spot of Tea

By Cari Reynolds, W. H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute

Artwork by Tyler Bell

One thing that I will never tire of is watching all the different ways that calves drink from a pail. Some cleanly and efficiently finish their offering in a matter of seconds, some sink their heads up to their eyeballs longer than a Navy diver on a recovery mission, and some slurp loudly enough to be heard at the other end of the barn. Our calf manager observed recently that one of our calves daintily sips at her milk, as though she’s having tea. Lady Sippinsby, as my overactive imagination immediately coined her, would likely be very excited to know that research examining possible benefits of green tea extract to newborn calves has recently been published in the Journal of Dairy Science. Could a spot of tea provide benefits to calves born by dystocia?

Calves experiencing dystocia, or difficult birth, can often experience poor vigor. Indicators of poor vigor can include delayed suckling reflex, slower standing time, and failure of passive transfer due to inadequate colostrum ingestion, all of which can have long-term consequences on calf performance. Absorption of immunoglobulin G (IgG) from colostrum can also be affected by poor vigor. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) have been administered to calves to alleviate effects of dystocia, but some results suggest that they may also interfere with IgG absorption. Since parturition is an inflammatory process for the calf, the anti-inflammatory properties of green tea extract may improve stimulation and early life vitality as an alternative to NSAID. The antioxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols of green tea extract- all exhibiting antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits- have demonstrated health effects in preweaning calves, but no studies have evaluated effects of administration immediately after birth. Researchers at the University of Kentucky were interested in determining if green tea extract had any association with apparent efficiency of absorption (AEA) and would improve vigor if administered after birth. It was hypothesized that green tea supplementation would not affect AEA, and that vigor would be improved within 72 h after birth.

The 24 calves enrolled in the study (10 heifers and 14 bulls) were randomized to receive either a 15 mL dose of green tea extract or a control of distilled water, which was administered 3 h after birth. Three liters of colostrum replacer with 150 g of IgG was tube-fed 4 h after birth. Blood samples were collected from the calves at 2.5 h after birth, and again at 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h after birth. Vigor assessments, such as heart rate, respiration rate, initial movement, rectal temperature, and response to stimulation (a piece of straw in the nasal cavity) were performed on the calves before removal from the dam, after placement in an individual pen, after green tea supplementation, and at 6, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h after birth. Vigor was scored on a scale of 0-3 (0= poor vigor, 1= reduced vigor, 2= normal vigor, 3= alert).

Nineteen of the 24 calves enrolled in the study experienced normal births. Mean serum IgG concentrations for the green tea and control groups were 13.56 ± 0.80 and 12.38 ± 0.80 g/L, respectively, with AEA for both groups at 24 h averaging 25.73 ± 1.17%. Average AEA in healthy calves is typically between 20-35%, so while there were not enough calves born by dystocia to evaluate a true effect, these results support the hypothesis that the green tea supplementation did not affect AEA. However, no evidence of difference in overall vigor scores was observed, and all but five calves demonstrated either normal or alert vigor scores at 72 h after birth. The authors also suggested that the 15 mL dose of green tea extract may not have been enough, so a higher dosage may be a consideration for future study. These results invite further exploration of green tea extract on the health and vitality of newborn calves, and future work should include more calves born under stressful conditions to determine if green tea extract provides any therapeutic effect.

Standing, walking, exploring the pen environment, and vigilance behavior (ears forward toward pen entrance) within the first 24 h after birth are some easily-observed examples of vitality in newborn calves. Calves that have experienced a difficult birth should be monitored for any signs of poor vigor, and intervention provided if the calf is struggling to breathe, cannot stand, or appears to be in pain. As always, provide high-quality colostrum (Brix >22% or >50 g/L) within 2 h of birth to facilitate adequate absorption of IgG. Calves who demonstrate poor suckling reflex should be tube-fed to ensure that the whole allotment is received. Pens should be dry and clean to reduce exposure to enteric pathogens such as E. coli, and calves should be dry and kept warm with a bed of straw or dry sawdust. Toweling off the calf after removal from the dam also be an encouraging stimulant.

With the opportunity to further explore the use of green tea extract in newborn calves, perhaps improving vitality could be added to the list of life’s tribulations that are able to be solved with a cup of tea.

Cari Reynolds can be reached at with questions or comments.


Godden, S.M., J.E. Lombard, and A.R. Woolums. 2019. Colostrum management for dairy calves. Vet      Clin North Am Food Anim Prac. 35(3):535-556. DOI: 10.1016/j.cvfa.2019.07.005

Quigley, J.D., C.J. Kost, and T. M. Wolfe. 2002. Absorption of Protein and IgG in Calves Fed a   Colostrum Supplement or Replacer. J. Dairy Sci. 85(5): 1243-1248.

Reis, M.E., M. Cantor, C. M.M. Bittar, and J.H.C. Costa. 2022. Association of a green tea extract with     serum immunoglobulin G status and neonatal vitality in newborn calves. J. Dairy Sci. 105:2022- 2029. DOI:

Milk Replacer Management

Written by Grace Kline (Winner of the 2022 Calf-Tel Content Contest)

As a dairy producer, you have different options for feeding milk to your calves. These options are pasteurized whole milk, acidified milk, and milk replacer. While they all have their own benefits and require different management styles, I want to discuss the management of milk replacer powder. We will touch on how to read the milk replacer label, what those numbers mean, and how to calculate pounds of solids.

Before we begin, one important phrase in calf raising is Average Daily Gain (ADG). Although self-explanatory, ADG refers to how much weight a calf should gain in a day to reach proper weaning weight. The recommended amount of ADG is about 0.8-1.3 lbs./day (Van Saun, 2022). This will vary between different dairy breeds.

When researching milk replacers, you may see them displayed as a 22:20, 20:20, or even 28:20. There are various other combinations, which are decided upon with the producer’s goals in mind.

These numbers are a protein-fat ratio, displayed as: Protein : Fat

Milk replacer formulas vary with the producer’s goals, budget, and timeline. On average, the most common replacers are between 20%-22% protein and 20% fat. Some higher-protein replacers, such as a 26:20 or higher, can be used as part of an accelerated feeding program, to grow calves faster in a shorter amount of time (Van Saun, 2022). When feeding high protein replacers, it is imperative that calves always have fresh water in front of them. While this is a good rule of thumb regardless, calves that are fed higher protein will use more water to digest after each feeding. In addition, calves that do not have access to free choice water will consume less starter grain, thus have a lower ADG (Erikson, et al., 2020).

All milk replacer bags will come with a tag. That tag will have a “Guaranteed Analysis” describing the fat and protein ratios, along with a handful of other vitamins and minerals. That will be followed by an ingredients list, and some general recommendations/instructions.

Here is an example of the Guaranteed Analysis.

Land O Lakes Cows Match Milk Replacer

You can see at the top that the example from Land O Lakes is a 28:20 replacer. This tag also comes with mixing and feeding instructions.

In the directions, you will find one other important
thing to note- water temperature. These directions
specify mixing between 110-120°F. The milk
replacer will mix more thoroughly in hot water and
should be stirred until there are no clumps or
floating bits. Furthermore, it is important to feed
calves before the solution is below their body
temperature. A good range is 105-110°F. A good
way to ensure every calf is receiving warm enough
milk is to take the temperature while it is mixing
when you feed the first calf and the last calf. This
will allow you to tell how much heat you lose from
mixing to final delivery. If the milk is falling below
105°F, you may need to either mix and deliver in
smaller batches or mix at a higher temperature to
help the heat last longer.
Weighing milk replacer ensures that a calf receives
the same percentage of solids at every feeding.
There are different scales that you can use. A
hanging scale or electric scale can let you know how much a scoop will hold, and you can then adjust accordingly.

For example, if you use the milk replacer cup that comes in the bag, the tag may tell you it holds 12 ounces of powder. Depending on how packed or loose the milk replacer is, you may only have 10 ounces or even an excess of 14 ounces in your 12-ounce scoop. This mistake is important to avoid and to maintain consistency.

When we talk about the ratio of water to replacer, we must realize that the “final solution” is the combination of water and replacer together. Notice at the top, to mix 5 gallons of milk, it is instructed to add the powder while stirring. This will bring the final product to 5 gallons, not 5 gallons of water plus 6.25 lbs. of replacer powder. This is important because we can drastically change the percent of total solids. Using the formula from Michigan State University, let’s check the difference.

Hanging Scale

Percent Total Solids = pounds of powder / pounds of solution (Cullens, 2018)
Following the directions for week 1 in the above example, the formula works like this:
(.94 lbs. of powder) / (.75 gallon * 8.6lb/gallon) = 14.6% solids.

Now, if we were to take the weight of 3 quarts and combine it with the weight of the powder, we have a weight of 7.39. divided by (.75 gallon * 8.6lb/gallon), we are down to 12.7% solids. This nearly 2% difference will directly affect your average daily gain. If your calves are consuming fewer solids per feeding, they will not be receiving enough energy to grow to their full potential. Ensuring that your calves are fed properly will give them the ability to fight off potential disease and ease the transition to weaning. Proper handling of milk replacer will help you achieve the goals within your calf herd and give your calves a good foundation to become productive cows.

Grace Kline assists in the operation of Diamond Valley Dairy in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, with her husband and brothersin- law. There, she cares for calves and heifers that are born both naturally and as a result of embryo transfer from deep-pedigreed show cattle. Grace has been caring for calves since her first job at 12 years old and has worked on four different farms, including an internship at Budjon Farms where she specialized in calves and show heifers.

Cullens, Faith. “Total Solids in Milk Replacer – It Matters!” MSU Extension, 21 Mar. 2018,
Erickson, Peter S., and Kenneth F. Kalscheur. “Nutrition and Feeding of Dairy Cattle.” Edited by
Fuller W. Bazer et al., Animal Agriculture, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 24 Jan.
Land O Lakes, Land O Lakes. “Land O Lakes® Cow’s Match® Milk Replacer –”
MK Copp,
Van Saun, Robert J. “Feeding Young Dairy Calves – Management and Nutrition.” Merck
Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 10 Oct. 2022,

Hampel’s Calf-Tel Welcomes Back Brandon Sowder as Director of Global Business Development

Hampel’s Calf-Tel is excited to welcome back Brandon Sowder as Director of Global Business Development – Calf-Tel. Brandon was Calf-Tel’s Director of Sales from 2017-2020. He’s returning to us from ABS where he was Director of Business Development for North America. Brandon’s tenure in the dairy industry spans 20 years and includes various roles of increased responsibility in business development and sales leadership, with assignments in various regions of the U.S. as well as in Europe.

“Hampel has experienced tremendous growth over the past 2 years. In order to continue our trajectory, we’re making significant investments throughout our organization in manufacturing, design and innovation. Brandon’s progressive approach, global reach and pervasive understanding of leading trends make him an ideal leader to match our ambitions for Calf-Tel,” said Scott Struve, Head of Brand Development for Hampel.
“Calf-Tel is already a leader in the calf housing space. However, I believe we’re just getting warmed up! I’ve had a peek behind the curtain of what’s to come and I’m looking forward to leading the charge; getting the Calf-Tel brand and product in front of customers globally,” said Sowder.

Brandon holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science from The Ohio State University. His first day with Calf-Tel will be November 14th.

Brandon can be reached at:
(502) 655-1896

For more information on the Calf-Tel line of products, visit or call (262) 255-4540 or email:

Hampel’s Calf-Tel, 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

Calf Jacket How-To Guide

While calf jacket use varies depending on your location, climate, and management practices, the following information will provide you with valuable tips on:

  • How and why to use calf jackets
  • How to care for calf jackets
  • How to choose the best calf jackets

Why use a calf jacket?

Calf jackets, also referred to calf coats, are a cost-effective tool that helps prevent cold stress in calves. Calves have a temperature range where they are considered to be comfortable, known as the “thermoneutral zone”. For a newborn Holstein calf, this zone is between 50 and 78°F (10 to 25°C). If a calf’s temperature goes above or below these temperatures, the calf will divert its energy from growth and immune function towards maintaining its core body temperature.

How to properly use a calf jacket

  • A jacket can be used when outside temperatures dip to 50 degrees F (10°C). Cold stress begins when temperatures drop below 60°F for calves less than 21 days of age and when temperatures drop below 50°F for calves greater than 42 days of age.
  • Jackets are highly recommended on newborn calves up to three weeks of age and for calves suffering from illnesses as a way of ensuring they aren’t using all available energy just to stay warm.
  • First, make sure the calf has dry, clean, deep bedding it can nest down into. In the first few weeks, newborn calves spend most of their time lying down. A good way to know if the bedding is dry enough is to kneel in the bedding for a few minutes. If your knees are damp or wet, then the bed is not dry enough to eliminate additional cold stress. This can lead calves to spend more time standing, exposing more body surface to heat loss.
  • The calf’s natural hair coat should be clean and dry before putting on a jacket. Newborn calves should have time to dry before being moved to an outdoor hutch or indoor pen. As the temperature drops, any moisture trapped under the jacket will cause the calf’s body temperature to lower further.
  • Ensure calves are not sweating while wearing calf jackets during the day. Again, as temperatures drop the moisture will cause a decrease in the calf’s temperature.
  • The jacket should be snug, not tight. We recommend just loose enough to slide your hand under the jacket. Be certain to adjust the straps at the front chest and rear legs every week to accommodate the growing calf and avoid the natural hair coat from rubbing off.

How to maintain and care for a calf jacket?

  • Jackets should be regularly machine washed and dried to reduce the spread of bacteria. High quality calf jackets, like those from Calf-Tel, are well insulated.
    • Insulation works by trapping air molecules between the calf and the outside air. The more air the insulation is able to trap, the better the insulation will be. If the jacket is compacted with soiled material, then the insulation may not work effectively.
  • Calf jackets should be stored in a clean dry location ready for use.

How to choose the best calf jacket for you?

There are many types of jackets to choose from. Here are some of the key factors to consider when choosing the best calf jacket for you and your calves.

  • Straps & Fasteners:
    •  Straps should be long enough to allow for use on large and small calves as they grow.
    •  Most jackets use either Velcro or plastic buckle fasteners.  Velcro is cost effective but can become clogged and matted with debris.
    •  Plastic buckles ensure a secure fastening, adjustable strapping and are long lasting.
  • Material: Calf jackets are used in harsh conditions and should be durable enough to withstand normal day-to-day conditions and multiple washings. A water-repellant shell on the jacket also helps keep both the calf and jacket drier in outdoor settings.
  • Insulation: Insulation is what keeps the calf warm. Calf jackets should be properly insulated with material that is densely woven, preferably 200g or more, thick and durable.
  • There are typically two sizes of jackets, large (Holstein) or small (Jersey).

Helping Calves Thrive Through the Cold

By Grace Kline

During the fall season, some of you may be having chilly but calm weather. Soon enough, that’s going to change. The winter weather can be unpredictable, so this is the perfect time to review the protocols that help our calves thrive through the cold.

One term that is good to remain familiar with is the thermoneutral zone. The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range where a calf does not need to expel extra energy to maintain comfortable body heat. According to the Calf Care Corner run by Veal Farmers of Ontario, “From birth until four weeks of age, this range is between 10°C and 25°C (50 – 77°F), and from four weeks to weaning, it decreases to 0°C to 25°C (32 – 77°F)” (Veal Farmers of Ontario, 2019). Because we cannot control the outside temperature, we need to provide the calves with the environment and the tools necessary to continue to grow through the winter and turn into profitable cattle.

How do we do this?


Keeping calves clean and dry is one of, if not the most crucial, aspect of calf raising. When setting up a hutch for a new calf, I first lay down a pile of shavings. This will absorb moisture, keeping wet groundwater away from the calf and holding moisture out of the straw. Sawdust and shavings will provide a good base for the straw bedding. During the winter, calves need to be bedded in deep straw. It should be deep enough for the calf to “nest” in, creating an extra layer of insulation for their body heat. Sam Leadley, a calf and heifer management specialist with Attica Veterinary Associates of NY, always recommended a nest that is 4”-6” deep (Leadley, 2019). It is essential to keep an eye on the weather and monitor the status of your bedding so that you can be prepared for any winter storms or freezing weather.


Another tool that is useful for insulating calves is a calf jacket. These provide another valuable layer of insulation and require careful monitoring. Calf jackets are adjustable and should fit the calf well to prevent the jacket from coming off. Jackets should only be placed on dry calves with cold temperature living facilities. A jacket on a wet calf will not allow the calf to dry, adding to its cold stress. Also, a jacket placed on a calf living in a warm environment or under a heat lamp could overheat the calf, causing it to sweat.

Jackets will get dirty, no doubt about it. They will need to be changed to keep the calves clean, especially if they are in a group setting. Bacteria could stay in a dirty jacket, and we risk the calf becoming ill. They are machine washable for easy clean-up.

Energy Demands

As the weather gets colder, calves use more energy to keep warm. This can damper their ability to grow and maintain body heat if feed rates are not carefully managed. We can discuss a few different options, and you can decide what works for you.

Feeding more milk in the winter is one option that can be done in one of two ways. Adding a third feeding will give the calves an extra boost during the day, if you are not already doing so. Purposefully visiting your calves for this third time will allow you to monitor them closely and exchange any frozen water buckets for fresh, warm water that encourages drinking. You can also choose to increase the solids in the average amount of milk you choose to feed. If you feed a milk replacer, getting a winter-specific or even a higher fat milk replacer will increase the amount of energy the calf digests. There are other options for fat additives if you are feeding whole milk as well, such as a milk fortifier. It is best to consult your herd nutritionist or veterinarian about changes to the calves’ diet.

Calves can ingest energy from their starter grain as well. Even in the winter, keeping fresh and clean water in front of calves will help boost the amount of starter they can eat (Leadley, 2019.). Offering warmer water in the winter may be more appetizing to the calf, which will in turn encourage them to eat grain.


Calf-Tel strives to keep your calves comfortable all year round. Calf hutches have been preferred by farmers worldwide for the fresh air they offer, and Calf-Tel continues to make them better and more adaptable to each farmer’s specifications and preferences.

The new 24|74 hutch from Calf-Tel features an upper ridge vent, which slides back and forth along the top of the hutch to open and close. The rear bedding door comes in different styles, which can all be propped open for maximum air flow in the summer. An additional lower rear vent has been added to the back of the hutch, giving you 5 adjustable pieces to control air flow in each hutch.

So, what do you do for the winter?

While the nights are cold, but the days are warm, I have been leaving the rear bedding door propped up on a lower setting than I would during the summer here in the northeastern US. This still allows for fresh air flow, but does not expose the calf to the cool nights too much. This would be a good time to consider closing the lower rear vents as well. You may have to decide whether it is time to close 1 or 2, or all 3 based on your location and if you have dramatic temperature changes.

The front of the calf hutch allows for the most air exchange (Tyson, 2021). During the winter, you will notice that calves prefer to nestle into the back of the hutch, removing herself from the air that moves in the front. When the temperatures fall under the calf’s thermoneutral zone (50°F) on a regular basis, it is time to close the remainder of the vents. Monitoring the air in your hutches will reduce the risk of a draft, which can cause pneumonia.


Let’s recap. A few of the most important things to monitor during the cold are bedding, calf jackets, ventilation and energy demands. Keeping your calves clean, dry, and well bedded will allow them to maintain their body heat with less energy. Giving hutch calves jackets will give them an added layer of protection, while nestling into their deep straw bedding. Properly managing hutch ventilation will keep drafts off calves, reducing their risk of respiratory illness or pneumonia. Finally, keeping up with energy demands will help calves not only maintain, but grow, and thrive through the cold.

Grace Kline has raised dairy calves in the northeastern USA for many years. She is a graduate of SUNY Morrisville and farms with her husband at Diamond Valley Dairy LLC in Pennsylvania. Grace’s family enjoy growing and showing registered Holstein and Jersey cattle. Grace is also a valued member of the sales team at Farmer Boy Ag.

Citations and References:

Leadley, Sam. “Cold Weather Bedding.”, ATTICA VETERINARY ASSOCIATES, P.C., 2019,

Leadley, Sam. “Good Growth in Cold Weather.”, ATTICA VETERINARY ASSOCIATES, P.C., 2019, Accessed Sept. 2022.

Tyson, John. “Winter Ventilation for Calves.” Penn State Extension, 27 Sept. 2021,

Veal Farmers of Ontario. “Adapting Calf Housing and Feeding to Winter’s Cold Temperatures.”, Veal Farmers of Ontario, 2 Aug. 2019,

Tool, Timing, and Techniques to Consider for Disbudding

Alycia Drwencke, Sarah Adcock, Cassandra Tucker

In the U.S., 94% of farms disbud their dairy calves. Despite how common it is, the number of decisions involved with disbudding are not often discussed. We have laid out several areas for considerations with this procedure, based on research we have conducted in recent years.

One of the first decisions is which tool to use for disbudding. Currently, the two most common methods use a hot iron or caustic paste. We have used both methods in our research and discuss the timing and some techniques that are used.

Hot iron disbudding

Tools: Several disbudding irons are available, and they use either butane or electricity for heat. Having an outlet near the calves makes the electric option a good choice, and butane power often makes more sense in outdoor housing or in barns where electricity is not nearby. Sometimes the size of the iron tips varies, for example, ¼ or ½ inch. We use the ¼ inch tip with young calves, 2 weeks or less, and the ½ inch tip when we disbud calves between 3 to 8 weeks of age. We adjust the tip size with age to create the smallest wound possible while making a uniform copper ring around the base of the bud.

Timing:  Disbudding before 8 weeks of age reduces the need for more invasive procedures. The best time to use an iron in the first 8 weeks is still unclear. Disbudding at a younger age may lead to more sensitivity to other procedures later in life (Adcock and Tucker, 2020). Near 8 weeks there may be a greater risk for scurs as the horn buds are bigger and disbudding is more likely to overlap with other stressful events such as weaning. We typically disbud before 6 weeks to minimize the overlap with weaning and large horn buds.

Techniques: Beyond the decision to use a butane or electric iron, considerations for hot iron disbudding include shaving the hair or not, the temperature of the iron, the amount of time the iron will be applied, motion of the iron and whether the horn bud will be left in or scooped out to remove it. When disbudding, we have the best success when our iron is heated to between 750 to 900°F. The iron can cool down as we disbud calf after calf and so we re-check the temperature with an infrared gun when doing multiple disbuddings (Figure 1).We apply the hot iron to a shaved horn bud with a small amount of pressure while gently rocking around the base of the horn bud for 10 to 20 seconds until a uniform cooper ring is formed and leave the bud in. For some irons, like the butane Portosol it is also important to consider the depth in which the iron will be applied, as these irons can easily “cut” into the calf’s head, creating a deeper wound. To minimize the wound size and damage, we only burn the horn growing tissue around the bud, highlighting the importance of watching the depth of the iron and avoiding burning into the white fat tissue.

Outcomes from our research:  In a study comparing an electric and butane hot iron, wounds for both types of iron went through similar stages and were healed in ~8 weeks (Figure 2; Adcock et al., 2019). Throughout this healing time, calves disbudded with a hot iron show increased sensitivity to touch compared to intact horn buds for at least 3 weeks and fully healed tissue (Adcock and Tucker, 2018). In a recent study, our collaborators Reedman et al. (2022), used the bud-out approach and found that approximately 50% of calves had healed wounds at 7 weeks, suggesting a similar healing timeline to the bud in method. There is currently no published data looking at how leaving the bud in or taking it out may affect the calves.

Caustic Paste Disbudding

Tools: Currently there are several types of paste available including Dr. Naylor’s, Remoov, Hornex, etc. No detailed comparisons have been made between these brands. In our work we have primarily used Dr. Naylor’s but also used Hornex, a paste common in New Zealand, in a pilot study.

Timing: Typically, paste is applied within the first week of life because this is when the horn bud is small enough to be destroyed by a small amount of paste. Calves that are only a few days old also move less than older ones. This may favor earlier application because, one challenge with paste is how easily it can rub off from the horn bud onto other parts of the calf, housing, and pen mates. An unwanted burn will result on any body part it contacts. If paste is found in an undesired area, we used vinegar to neutralize the paste and stop it from creating any further burns.

Techniques: For caustic paste, technique decisions include the amount of paste, use of a balm around the horn bud, covering with tape, shaving the hair, or wiping the paste off after a set time period. The suggested amount of paste to use varies by manufacturer by referring to a quarter, a pea, or the amount of turns in the tube you should make. In our recent study (Drwencke et al.) we applied Dr. Naylor’s paste on the third day of life using 0.25 mL per unshaved horn bud on calves weighing less than 75 lbs and 0.3 mL for those 75 lb or more (Figure 3). These amounts allowed for sufficient coverage of the horn bud when applied and resulted in no regrowth. In a pilot study, we used only 0.05 mL per horn bud, but this amount did not lead to sufficient damage to horn-growing tissue and lead to regrowth in 46% of animals. While the precise quantity to apply is still unknown, one thing is clear, a large volume of paste leads to extreme burns. When too much is applied, the paste wounds increase in size and severity, often creating a wound that looks like a plate on the top of the head instead of being focused on the horn bud (Figure 4). In addition to preventing more severe injuries, using less paste may reduce the risk of undesired burns.

In a pilot test, we found that using a balm increased the paste running and mixed with it, creating a mess. When tape was used, we found the paste spread out more and increased the size of the wounds. Farms have reported mixed results with how successful they found the use of tape and balms (Saraceni et al., 2021). In our recent study (2021), we chose to leave the horn buds unshaved, based on a producer recommendation who was having success with it keeping the paste where it was applied. Other producers have also mentioned wiping the paste off after an hour of application to help reduce the risk of calves rubbing it off. There is currently no research available on how shaving the hair, using tape or balm, or wiping paste off may influence disbudding success, infection rates, wound severity, or other factors.

Outcomes from our research: We found that caustic paste wounds took an average of 15 weeks to heal, twice as long as hot iron wounds. While the wounds followed a similar progression, the paste wounds sank into the calf’s head, which differed from the hot iron wounds (Figure 2). The wounds from caustic paste disbudding are also more sensitive to touch for at least 6 weeks compared to intact buds, which is as long as we looked before disbudding the control calves. We also found that calves with caustic paste wounds were more responsive to touch on their wounds through the entire process than healed tissue.

Best practice for mitigating pain

Regardless of the method or timing of disbudding, the current gold standard for mitigating pain is to combine a local block and an NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug). A local block, such as lidocaine, reduces the initial pain at the time of the procedure, both for hot iron and caustic paste disbudding. Behavioral changes that indicate pain are observed immediately for hot iron disbudding and within 5 minutes of paste being applied, supporting the use of a local block. An NSAID like meloxicam helps suppress the inflammatory response for up to 3 days afterwards. Pairing a local block with an NSAID is the best currently available technique for pain relief. We have made a YouTube video that shows how we give pain relief and hot iron disbud. An additional resource is available by visiting this website from the University of Guelph.

Other considerations

Two other considerations for farms as they approach disbudding include the risk of horn regrowth and the ease of implementation. Horns can regrow with any method of disbudding if there is insufficient tissue damage. Some farms have reported a higher rate of horn regrowth when using caustic paste compared to hot iron (Saraceni et al., 2021). Finally, the ease of implementation either due to employee training, access to resources such as electricity, and cooperative standards can all influence the method and technique of disbudding on farm.

Figure 1: An infrared sensor is used to measure the temperature of a hot iron. When disbudding, hot irons should be heated to between 750°F to 900°F. The iron can cool as it is used on calves and should be re-checked for temperature when disbudding a series of calves, one after another.

Figure 2: The wound healing process following disbudding with 3 different tools. The final photo shows when a new layer of skin has formed. For hot iron disbudding this takes an average of 8 weeks and caustic paste average 15 weeks.

Figure 3: Paste on a gloved finger and spread in the area of a US quarter. Our research used 0.25 mL on calves weighing less than 75 lbs and 0.3 mL on calves’ weighing 75 lbs or more. In a pilot study, 0.05 mL resulted in almost half the calves re-growing horns, while the 0.25-0.30 mL prevented all horn regrowth.

Figure 4: A large disbudding wound from applying too much paste. The approximate size of the horn bud is indicated by the white circle. The wound extends far beyond the edges of the horn bud, indicating less paste could have been used and created a smaller wound.


Adcock, S. J., & Tucker, C. B. (2018). The effect of disbudding age on healing and pain sensitivity in dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science101(11), 10361-10373.

Adcock, S. J., & Tucker, C. B. (2020). The effect of early burn injury on sensitivity to future painful stimuli in dairy heifers. Plos one15(6), e0233711.

Adcock, S. J., Vieira, S. K., Alvarez, L., & Tucker, C. B. (2019). Iron and laterality effects on healing of cautery disbudding wounds in dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science102(11), 10163-10172.

Drwencke, A.M., Adcock, S.J.J., Tucker, C.B. Wound healing and pain sensitivity following caustic paste disbudding in dairy calves. In preparation.

Reedman, C. N., Duffield, T. F., DeVries, T. J., Lissemore, K. D., Adcock, S. J., Tucker, C. B., Parsons, S.D., & Winder, C. B. (2022). Effect of plane of nutrition and analgesic drug treatment on wound healing and pain following cautery disbudding in preweaning dairy calves. Journal of Dairy Science105(7), 6220-6239.

Saraceni, J., Winder, C. B., Renaud, D. L., Miltenburg, C., Nelson, E., & Van Os, J. M. (2021). Disbudding and dehorning practices for preweaned dairy calves by farmers in Wisconsin, USA. Journal of Dairy Science104(11), 11995-12008.

I’ve Got A Solution for That!

Putting Hutches to Work for Other Uses

Compiled by Abbey Dugan and Kelly Driver

Just when I think I’ve seen and heard it all, I find myself tapping the brake pedal on my truck as I pass by hutches and continue to be amazed at all the ways people are using their hutches.

  • A dog house
  • Covering an outdoor generator
  • A safe space to lock ducks in overnight
  • Being used in a life-size Dungeons & Dragons game

Regardless of the use, seeing animals live their best lives in Calf-Tel housing makes my heart the happiest. So, I thought it would be fun to share a few photos.

  • A pair of swine!
  • A sheep duo named Rambunctious & Ewe-calyptus
Mini Donkey

But whatever the use, our favorite are still the dairy calves. 😊

If you have a unique use or alternate livestock in your Calf-Tel hutches, please share a picture with us by email at

Barn Windmill

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Our dealers understand the complexities of raising cattle and can help identify the best, most cost-effective solution for your operation.