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Alta Advantage herd proves recording calf records is worthwhile
June 25, 2015

Dairy Dreams LLC takes all the precautionary measures to ensure calves are not only born alive, but they hit the ground running. This Advantage herd uses records to monitor protocol and employee compliance, effectively decreasing death losses and maximizing cow and calf health.By Lynsay Beavers, Altagenetics

The 2,700 cow dairy located near Casco, WI, is co-owned by veterinarian Dr. Don Niles. Several years ago, Dairy Dreams had Dead on Arrival (DOA) rates of over 10 percent for several months. Now, with the transition program under the management of Steve Lambrecht, the dairy sits at an impressive rate of 2%, and even statistically achieved 0% DOA one month.

Pre-Fresh Care

Dairy Dreams knows a healthy calf begins with a healthy cow. Pre-fresh protocols include an eight-way modified live vaccine as well as Scourguard. The herd’s effective vaccination program allows cows to build up antibodies in colostrum, while at the same time benefitting the health of the cow.

The herd is equipped with RFID tags, which are read by workers via wand, and vaccine administration is tracked in DairyComp 305. Lists are generated showing information such as time of day the animal was scanned and what drug was administered. These lists are useful for monitoring employee compliance with the vaccination program.

Pre-fresh cows are maintained at a stocking density of less than one animal per lockup. Urine pH’s are taken on 10 cows per week to monitor pre-fresh nutrition while BHBA’s are taken on all cows to track post-fresh nutrition. Results are recorded in DairyComp 305 so feed changes and intake amounts can be monitored.

Maternity Routine

A maternity technician monitors close up cows, walking the pre-fresh group every half hour looking for cows in labor. Cows are moved into individual maternity pens only once active labor has been established, as moving cows too early can cause calving issues.

The Dairy Dreams team advocates getting calves out naturally as opposed to quickly. Niles believes that the high percentage of natural deliveries is a contributing factor to the dairy’s impressively low DOA rate. Calf pullers are used only as a last resort. In fact, maternity pen technicians do not even have access to a calf puller, only the maternity pen manager does.

The goal is to have less than 2% DOA monthly. Each DOA is treated as an event needing investigation. The worker involved is interviewed by the fresh cow manager. Additionally, a video tape is reviewed, and in some cases, a post mortem is performed.

Neonatal Protocols

Once respiration has been established, the newborn calf is moved into an individual calf box. The cow is quickly milked and colostrum is tested using a colostrometer. For accurate readings, Dr. Niles recommends the colostrum is tested before it has been allowed to cool. He also believes calves should be fed colostrum before it has been allowed to cool – it is the easiest way to heat colostrum to the right temperature for feeding.

Calves are fed 1 gallon of colostrum within 20 mins after birth. If the dam’s colostrum tests poorly, extra good quality colostrum from the day prior may be on hand.

Employees are set up with a kit containing all of the equipment necessary to do their job. That includes things like a colostrometer, ear taggers, IV hose, calving chain, etc. The employee must purchase a replacement if a piece of equipment needs to be replaced because it was lost or broken for any other reason than normal use. This protocol, which holds employees accountable for their own tools, has substantially increased the care, cleanliness and maintenance of equipment.

Calf Protocols

Serum total protein (STP) levels are tested weekly on all calves between 24 hours to one week old and are recorded in DairyComp 305. Average monthly STP’s are listed in Table 2. Successful passive transfer of immunity is generally considered any STP score of 5.2 g/dL or greater. Average STP’s hovering at nearly 6 g/dL indicate Dairy Dreams is doing an exceptional job with colostrum management and delivery.

After day one, calves are moved from individual calf boxes to individual pens within their brand new nursery barns. Here, they are fed up to three quarts of pasteurized milk twice daily. In the past, calves were fed two quarts in the summer and three in the winter, however, this protocol was modified when employees noticed calves grew much better on three quarts year-round.

The pasteurizer is a critical component of raising healthy calves at Dairy Dreams. It allows for delivery of a cleaner, more consistent product from calf to calf. Temperature and flow rates are monitored daily to confirm the machine is working properly.

Calves are given an intranasal vaccine at three days of age. All calf feeders are responsible for watching for sick calves, however, only the calf manager treats sick calves. All treatments are recorded in DairyComp 305, a process which has proven to be extremely valuable. Recently, records indicated that the Calf Manager was over-treating calves for scours, giving treatments when most calves could do without, even though very few death losses were due to scours.  After the herd manager spent a few days with the calf manager to help identify which calves truly needed treatment, the problem was remedied.

On Mondays, milk fed to calves is cultured on-farm. Samples that are cultured include 1) milk that has not been pasteurized, 2) milk after it has been pasteurized, 3) milk fed to the first calf and 4) milk fed to the last calf. Testing at these different stages lets the Calf Manager know if bacteria are accumulating at a point in the process.

Starter is introduced to calves at one week. At six weeks of age, calves are transitioned to once per day feeding, followed by no milk one week later. At eight weeks, a calf is moved to a super hutch which they share with seven other calves.

In the future, the goal at Dairy Dreams is to have 99 percent of heifers born alive and stay alive. Although this would be a lofty goal for many producers, it is certainly one that is within reach at Dairy Dreams. Superb record keeping, protocol compliance and employees will one day likely turn this goal into a reality for Dairy Dreams.


Summer 2018