Using Newborn Calf Checklists to Go Beyond Nutrition

At ANC, we value Going Beyond Nutrition everyday. As do farmers across the state. One example of a calf program that goes beyond nutrition happens to be at my home farm near Watertown, Wis. At Rosy-Lane Holsteins, each newborn calf is not only provided with standard care and high-quality colostrum, but fed, cared for and monitored through a holistic system. Since there are numerous variables involved in the birth of a calf, this system of care can reduce some of the variability. A “Newborn Calf Checklist” is central to the system and provides consistency of newborn calf care and accountability for staff, especially important at a dairy the size of Rosy-Lane Holsteins, with approximately 850 milking cows and 75 calves on milk. The checklist includes Date Sex Tag # Dam # Time Born, AM or PM Number of colostrum bottles fed 2 required Quality of colostrum Fresh or frozen? Brix Reading # Calf weight Position at birth Normal or Backwards? What vaccinations were given? Dipped Navel Dipped navel again in calf barn Place of birth Staff name Other Notes With each birth, Rosy-Lane staff is responsible for recording the information on the checklist sheet. Daphne Holterman, Rosy-Lane partner and calf care advisor, says “Staff do these items automatically, but the checklist is to reinforce the proper steps that cannot be overlooked each time a calf is born.” The checklist then travels with the calf to the calf barn where the calf care staff take over. “It explains to us what was done to the calf in the first hour. So, when that calf comes up here we know exactly...

Hedging a Milk-Feed Margin

Written by Katie Krupa, Guest Contributor from Rice Dairy As dairy and feed price volatility has increased in recent years, many producers are interested in hedging both the milk and feed prices when profitable opportunities exist. With higher milk prices and lower feed prices currently projected for 2014, many producers want to protect that milk-feed margin but are unsure of how. First, let’s examine the milk-feed margin. I use a milk minus feed formula that is about 45 pounds of corn and 17.3 pounds of soybean meal for every hundred pounds of milk produced. This is a generic formula to cover a majority of energy and protein needs to produce one hundredweight of milk. This formula is certainly different for every farm, and probably not perfect for your milk production, but it is a generic formula that is a good representation of the dairy industry. The graph shows the historical milk-feed margin since 2007, and the current milk-feed margin using the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) futures prices for Class III milk, corn and soybean meal. On the graph, the line turns red for the prices that are futures prices and yet to settle. This chart goes through the end of 2015 and as you can see, the red line remains above the 50th percentile mark for all months. The last time the milk-feed margin was above the 50th percentile mark for two consecutive years were 2007 and 2008. Going forward, the market could continue to move higher, or change course and turn lower – no one knows. The thing that stands out to me is that producers rarely see...

Housing Calves in Groups Can Lead to Success at Weaning Time

Weaning is a stressful time for any mammal, especially dairy calves. This stress can have detrimental effects on animals, such as a reduced immune system and growth rate. Group housing can combat this stress. A study was done at the University of British Colombia to understand what effects group housing calves had on the pre- and postweaning periods. The results demonstrated that there are some benefits to group housing. In the pre-weaning period, calves that were housed in pairs showed a higher intake of starter. Their intake was around 34 grams more per day than the individually housed calves. The researchers also measured vocalizations to determine the amount of distress during the weaning processes. The individually housed calves vocalized three times more often than the group-housed calves, indicating that they felt more distress than the group housed calves. After weaning, calves were mixed into groups containing one pair of group-housed calves and one calf that had been individually housed. In this setting the group-housed calves performed better than the individually housed calves. The group-housed calves spent more time eating, ate more often, and overall consumed more starter. They also gained more weight on day two and three after co-mingling. The individually housed calves actually lost weight, about 2.4 lbs on day two and 0.9 pounds on day three. A possible reason for the better performance of the group-housed calves is that the early social interaction gives the paired calves better ability to adjust to changing environments, allowing them to learn how to use the feeder in a new environment faster. Another reason could be that the paired calves are...

Time to Think about Heat Stress?

As we transition from extremely cold weather to warmer weather, especially this year, it is important to start thinking ahead for summer! Heat stress can have a far greater impact on animal performance than extreme cold weather.  During extreme cold weather animals need deeper bedding, higher energy diets, and more shelter.   With proper adjustments cattle can endure very cold conditions with only minor loss of milk production and weight gains. On the other hand, managing heat stress is more challenging and the potential production losses from heat stress are greater. At >70◦F cattle become uncomfortable due to their limited ability to sweat. At >80◦F feed intake drops leading to reduced milk production. At >90◦F production decreases significantly and reproductive performance declines. At >100◦F the risk of death is high unless a heat abatement system is used to cool cows. Heat stress changes the way cows metabolize nutrients. The production of volatile fatty acids in the rumen is altered, reducing the supply of nutrients available to make milk. When cows pant their maintenance energy requirements increase by as much as 20%. Hot cows eat 8 to 12% less feed. Cows become depleted of minerals including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. For these reasons this is an expensive problem.   The annual cost attributed to heat stress is over $900 million in the United States.   However, implementing effective strategies to mitigate heat stress can greatly reduce the impact on individual farms. Developing a heat abatement strategy in the middle of winter makes sense!   Starting early allows plenty of time to implement the plan before hot summer weather arrives.    Take time to conduct the...

Your Rations are Only as Good as Your TMR Mixer

I frequently take phone calls from dairy farmers who complain their milk components are too low, hoof health is poor, and/or their cows are underperforming.   In many cases, when we evaluate cow comfort and forage quality, we find these factors are conducive to high production and cow health. In these situations, the herd nutritionist may be blamed for doing a poor job of balancing the diets. This could be the case. To achieve high production, cows need to be fed a balanced diet designed to meet their nutrient requirements. Rations that are not formulated properly can result in subpar performance. However, chances are, your herd nutritionist is doing a good job of designing rations that will encourage cow health and support reasonable levels of milk production. If this is the case, then why do cows fall short of expectations? If the diet is well-balanced, then maybe the person responsible for mixing the TMR is doing a poor job. Delivering a well-mixed TMR to your cows is also important. Sometimes cows don’t meet expectations for milk production because the recipe your nutritionist delivers to you is not being followed closely. If the person mixing feed deviates from the prescribed ration, cows may fall short of your goals. However, most people mixing TMR on-farm do a good job of following the nutritionist’s recipe. One reason TMRs fail is that the TMR mixer is not functioning properly. We rely on the TMR mixer to blend a wide range of ingredients with different moistures, textures and particle sizes into a homogenous blend so every mouth full of feed the cows eat matches the ration...