Calf Management –A Look at Successful Calf Programs

Here is a look at how six different farms manage their calf programs. This article originally appeared in a previous edition of Cowsmopolitan.

Calf Management –A Look at Successful Calf Programs
The Jorgensen Family of Ri-Val-Re Farm

Ri-Val-Re (Jerry Jorgensen) – Ri-Val-Re milk 300 Holsteins and have an additional 700 head of young stock. There are 9,000 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat & alfalfa. Their farm was established in 1926 in Webberville, MI. Ri-Val-Re continues to purchase new land and cattle every year. The purpose of their farm is to be efficient, profitable & safe.

The McDonah family of Speek-NJ
The McDonah family of Speek-NJ

Speek-NJ Holsteins (Neil McDonah) – Speek-NJ has 385 tillable acres and a 110 cow parlor freestall with 350 youngstock on feed. They have been a service provider for ABS and PEAK female programs for the last 18 months, as well as a few registered breeders.

Kathleen Comtois of Comestar Holsteins

Comestar – (Kathleen Comtois) – Comestar Holstein is a family farm business located at Victoriaville, Quebec.  They develop high genetics and have established an international market.    The 200 cow milking herd is housed in a tie stall environment and the total herd consists of around 700 head. The base of the herd comes from the great Comestar Laurie Sheik VG-88 23*. Several bulls were tested from this great family such as Stormatic, Lee, Lheros, Outside. The farm also works to develop other attractive families to answer the markets and has had many successes in the showring. In 2008 Marc Comtois was inducted into the National Dairy Shrine during World Dairy Expo.

Alex Arena of Coomboona Holsteins
Alex Arena of Coomboona Holsteins

Coomboona Holsteins (Alex Arena) – Coomboona Holsteins consists of 5000+ acres of land, milking 1000 cows heading to 2000 cows, running both freestall & compost systems. They are located two hours north of Melbourne in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria, Australia.

The Kappelman Family of Meadowbrook Farms
The Kappelman Family of Meadowbrook Farms

Meadow Brook Dairy Farms (Erin Kappelman) – Meadow Brook Dairy Farms, located in Two Rivers, WI, is owned by Pete and Shellie Kappelman. Their children Beth, Mitch and Erin, are involved in the farm when not working their full-time jobs. The Kappelman’s milk 450 Holsteins, with some Brown Swiss, three times per day. They run 1200 acres of mainly corn, alfalfa, and small grains. They are averaging 95 pounds of milk with 3.61 of butterfat, 3.09 of protein and 101 SCC.

The Haeni Family of Lone-Pine Farms
The Haeni Family of Lone-Pine Jerseys

Lone Pine Jerseys (Adrian & Vreni Haeni) – Lone Pine Jerseys was established in 1993 when Adrian & Vreni immigrated to Canada from Switzerland. Later that year Vreni’s parents Kurt and Marie-Louisse Haenni joined them to form the Lone Pine partnership. Today along with their four sons, Michael, Sam, Jonas and Nils, they milk 70 top quality registered Jersey cows with an average herd classification of 87 points. They also farm 850 acres of land. Lone Pine has become well known in the show ring with multiple grand champions in Western Canada and recently, Lone Pine On Time Believe was 5th Senior 3 Year Old at World Dairy Expo for Avonlea Genetics and Anselmo Vasconcellos Neto.

  1. Tell me a bit about your calf raising facility (Type), when it was built, group or single housing, # of calves it houses, type of bedding, type of ventilation and the general layout of the building. 
    The calf facility at Ri-Val-Re

    RI-VAL-RE – Our new facility was built in 2008 and houses 107 calves on milk. We use straw bedding, fresh 4 times per week. There is a ventilation tube that runs length of building and side rolling curtains that can be raised or lowered depending on conditions.


    The calf barn at Speek-NJ
    The calf barn at Speek-NJ

    SPEEK-NJ – Our calf facilities are a combination of 4 barns from birth to breeding age. The calves on milk are housed in a 32 x 176 barn built in 2012, with 12 foot curtained walls and tube ventilation. In this barn we have mixing room, 76- 4 x 7 Calf-Tel pen systems for individual housing, and barn cleaner equipped. The barn has tube ventilation run from end to end over the calves. From here, males and females are separated at weaning. Males enter our outdoor superhut system, housing 4 males per hut. Each hut has a 20-foot poured concrete pad and headlocks at the head of each run. This allows males for AI to remain segregated and active. Males will remain here until their fates are determined. Females enter our newest barn, a 60 x 96 structure containing 12- 12 x 24 pens with 4 females per pen. Upon entering they are vaccinated with Inforce3. Females in this barn range from 2.5 months to 6 months of age. The final barn built in 2012, is a 42 x 174 structure with 10- 15 x 30 pens, 12 foot curtained walls to the north and 10- 10 x 10 roll up doors to the south. Each pen in this barn has a 15 x 70 paddock runs with fiberglass fencing. Calves in this barn range from 6 months to 15 months, and each pen has 6 to 8 head/pen. Both of the weaned female barns have 72″ Cyclone Fans. All locations are bedded with sawdust in the spring, summer, and fall, and straw in the winters.

    Calf Hutches at Comestar Holsteins
    Calf Hutches at Comestar Holsteins

    COMESTAR – At Comestar, all the calves are raised in individual hutch until weaning which is about 2 months old. All hutches are outside, back to the prevailing wind and facing the sun. During the first week, bedding consists of straw then we integrate wood shavings to it to counter humidity, as needed.

Group Housing at Meadow Brook
Group Housing at Meadow Brook

MEADOW BROOK – We moved into our new automated feeder calf barn this past February. It consists of two barns with a warm room in the middle. Each barn has 2-28’x45’ all-in-all-out pens that each hold 18-20 calves. We have a Holm & Laue pasteurizer and automated feeder system. We are using year-around positive pressure ventilation, which can reach 49 air changes per hour in summer. Our calves are on full-potential feeding and are receiving 2.5 to 3.1 pounds of milk solids per day. We have started to scale-in and scale-out each calf, and we are accomplishing 1.97 pounds of gain per day. We feed pasteurized waste milk and powdered milk balancer at a 80%:20% ratio. After each pen is weaned and the calves moved to our weaned barns, the sawdust bedding pack is cleaned out, the pen is steam cleaned and sanitized, and left to sit empty for a week before it is filled again. We also implement long-day lighting.

Calf barn at Coomboona Holsteins
Calf shed at Coomboona Holsteins

COOMBOONA – We have a specially built calf shed. It has 96 individual pens for the calves for their first 3 weeks. After that they are moved into group pens within the shed, with about 12 calves per group. The bedding is wood shavings and straw. The shed is naturally ventilated and the airflow is regulated by adjusting a series of sliding doors on each side of the shed.

Calf facilities at Lone Pine

LONEPINE – We have our calves in a group housing system. We built the new calf barn in 2007. Calves are housed in 3 group boxes, in 2 they get milk replacer fed from a Urban automatic calf feeder with 2 feeding stations and the remaining box stall is for the calves after weaning, before we move them outside. We have a positive pressure Tube Ventilation system in the made for our specific barn layout. We use lime and barley round bale straw for bedding. In the barn we have about 50-60 calves at all times.

  1. What made you choose this type of facility for raising calves? Was cost a factor?RI-VAL-RE – We have always put our animals first when building or remodeling, cost was not a factor, health and comfort were.

SPEEK-NJ – Human comfort, calf comfort and work load were the greatest reasons for choosing these designs. All of the barns have well thought out gate systems that allow calves to be moved and sorted easily and cleaning to be conducted efficiently. Some of the ideas did cost more than desired, but it is all worth it to have less grief and work!

COMESTAR – To get productive cows, healthy calves are the key to success! That means that we spare no means to optimize the comfort and health of our calves. Each one of them is important and raising them in individual hutches is the simplest way to see each and every change that may occur on their health.

MEADOW BROOK – The automated feeder system was a clear option for us when we decided that feeding in hutches was a system that could be improved upon. Our number one goal was to increase growth rates in our calves pre-weaning and make a positive improvement on the growth curve early in their lifetime, in order to decrease age at first breeding and increase future milk production. Worker comfort came in at a close second. After all, I don’t think spending 2-3 hours feeding calves outdoors in the middle of a Wisconsin winter is fun for anyone. Feeding indoors with the majority of the time spent in the heated mixing room is definitely a step up. Lastly, it will be interesting to see how calves who are naturally social animals will respond to being raised in a group compared to the solitary confinement of hutches.

We decided that if we were going to put the time and money into a new building and complete feeding system, we had better not cut corners. At that point, potential future gains were more important to us than cost.

COOMBOONA – We were expanding the dairy to 2000 cows and we had to have a facility to handle year round calving in all weather conditions. This made us decide to centralize calf raising in a specialized calf shed. Cost was not a factor. We felt the investment in the calf shed would pay for itself in terms of reduced sickness and mortality, thus making better calves and later healthier cows in the dairy.

LONE PINE – For us it was important to have more flexible hours to tend to the calves. Because of the automatic calf feeder most of the calves except the very young ones get fed through the day. This gives us the flexibility to move away from the busy milking and chore times to attend and work in the calf barn. Also with our cold and long Alberta Winter’s it is sometimes more comfy and warmer to work in closed calf facility. The cost of this kind of calf facility is relatively high, but the advantages’ in our case still outweigh the higher cost.

  1. What is your protocol for newborn calves? (eg: naval practices, colostrum or anything else to give best possible start)
    Ri-Val-Re calves
    Ri-Val-Re calves

    RI-VAL-RE – Navals are dipped with iodine and calves are tagged within 5 minutes of calving. Also all calves receive 3cc of Bo-Se, Clostridium Perfringens type C Antitoxin-Echerichia Coli antibody tube, 10cc Clostridium Perfrnigens types C & D and Bovine Rota-Corona Virus vaccine and then calves are fed 150 IGG of bagged colostrum one hour after birth. We have a death rate of less than 1%.

SPEEK-NJ – Newborn calves navals are immediately dipped in a 7% triodine. We recently have gone to a double dose of calf guard in the first hour and Alta Gold colostrum replacer packets for the first 3 feedings. The first packet is in a newborn in the first 4 hours of life. Calves are removed from calving pen and mother within 20 minutes.

COMESTAR – Newborns remain with the mother around 30 minutes, just enough time to get dry. Then they are taken to their hutch filled with new straw. Of course, we clean the navel with iodine, tag them and we make sure they drink 3-4 liters of good quality colostrum. If the calf does not drink by themselves within two hours following birth, we will not hesitate to intubate so they benefit from the colostrum.

MEADOW BROOK DAIRY – Each new calf receives one gallon of pasteurized colostrum within two hours of birth and is tagged. The navel area is drenched with iodine and the navel is clipped with a plastic clip. They receive 1cc of a selenium/Vitamin D injection and an oral rota-coronavirus vaccine, and are moved into an individual stall in the calf barn as soon as possible. Once in the barn, they are given Inforce 3, weighed, tagged with an RFID tag, and dehorned using caustic paste.

COOMBOONA – We pay particular attention to colostrum since proper intake at birth makes a substantial impact on the calf’s health and development. We record time of birth, time of first feed and the amount of colostrum consumed plus the staff member who was responsible.  Also calf navals are sprayed for 3 days after birth.

Lone Pine Jerseys

LONEPINE – Calves are born in a separated calving facility. We separate the calf from the cow as soon as possible to eliminate infections, but also to make it easier for the calf and the cow to separate them before they bond too much. Within the first 2 hours after birth we feed the calf as much colostrum as it can drink, but a minimum of 2 litres. With a second feeding after 12 hours. Calves get housed for the first 5 days in single hutches, before we move them in main calf barn on day 6. In those first 5 days they get milk from their mom. All first feed colostrum is tested for IGG levels and we never use milk from first-calf females for colostrum.

  1. What is your feeding protocol for calves up until weaning?

RI-VAL-RE – calves are fed pasteurized whole milk twice a day form birth until 8 weeks. They are offered fresh water at all times and have free access to dry grain as well.
SPEEK-NJ – We are currently feeding a 2 quart bottle of Land-O-Lakes Maxi Care milk replacer 3 times a day, 5 am, 12 noon, and 7pm. Calves will take in 6 quarts of milk, at a 1.5# milk replacer/calf/day and free choice water all day in a bucket. All calves are offered fresh feed twice a day, with refusal being picked up before new feeding. Based on age, calves on milk will each eat 1/2 pound to 3 1/2 pounds of 22% calf starter/day.

Comestar Holsteins
Comestar Holsteins

COMESTAR – During summer, calves are milk fed 2 times a day. When temperatures drop, a third meal is added to the normal routine. At any time, the calves have access to fresh water, warm and at will. I also offer them feed supplement around 7 to 10 days of age. We also gave them a little bit of hay in their hutch as soon as they are 1 month old. At 8 weeks, I gradually reduce the amount of milk given and I add just as gradually the new supplement feed to the old one. After weaning, they are transferred into big hutches.

MEADOW BROOK – The calves start in individual pens in the calf barn and are fed 4 pounds of pasteurized milk and balancer taken directly off of the feeding unit for consistency. The majority of calves are moved from the individual pens to the group pen and automated feeding between five and ten days of age, depending on behavior. The stalls are designed so that they can be removed once all of the calves are old enough to be on the automated feeder. By day 10, they are receiving their full allotment of milk. Most calves are receiving eight liters of milk per day, with the option of changing the feeding program for each calf to six liters per day for twins or small calves, or ten liters per day for the larger calves. From day 40 to 60 the calf’s allotment will decrease by 0.4 L. By 60 days of age, the calf is weaned and will not receive any milk out of the feeder. All animals receive free choice grain.

COOMBOONA – We use milk replacer until weaning, up to 5 litres per day, two times a day for the first 21 days. Then they are fed once a day until weaning plus we introduce a high protein grain mix immediately. Fresh drinking water is provided from day one.

Lone Pine Jerseys

LONEPINE- We only raise Jersey Calves so the milk amount and milk replacer may be different then for other breeds. Calves in the main calf barn are feed with an Urban Calf feeder. We use a custom made 28-28-25 milk replacer to feed the calves until weaning and we use a rate of 130 grams/litre of water. We start calves from day 6 on with 4 litres a day and move them up to 9 litres a day by 35 days old. Starting around day 50 we begin the weaning process going down in milk and by day 75 they are only getting 0.8 litres per day and by day 90 they are totaling weaned off.  We use a rate of 0.6 litres per feeding and move this up to 0.8 litres per feeding when calves get the highest amount of milk. This way the calf feeder automatically calculates the interval when the calf is allowed to drink again. We also have a free choice texturized calf starter. Also hay and water always available from day 6 on. Our goal is to double birth weight by 2 ½ months.

  1. What is your vaccination protocol?RI-VAL-RE – On day 2 we give Salmonella & Inforce 3 in nose, week 4- Salmonella & Presponse and week 10- Bovi Shield & Presponse.

SPEEK-NJ – Females are vaccinated with Inforce 3 at weaning. They will then be Bangs vaccinated at 6 months of age, as well as start on our Mastergaurd program. Every female on the farm, over 6 months, will be vaccinated 3 times a year, or every four months with Mastergaurd 10. We use additional vaccinations (C&D, Endovac, and Spirovac) in our close up and dry off programs.

COMESTAR – We only vaccinate with Gold 5 (Bovi-Shield Gold 5) around the third week of life and a booster is given at 6 months old.

MEADOW BROOK – After the oral rota-coronavirus and Inforce at birth, the calves get vaccinated at around four months of age. At this point they get Bovi-Shield Gold FP5 VL5 HP and Alpha 7. They receive boosters of both of these vaccines about a month later, along with a Brucellosis vaccine.

COOMBOONA – We run a full 7-1 program for birth right through to milking.

LONEPINE – We vaccinate the calves at 3 days old with Inforce 3 (internasal), modified live viral vaccine, and we repeat this protocol with 6-8 weeks of age. At weaning they get Bov-Shield Gold (live viral vaccine) and Vision 8 (Colostrial 8 way, killed bacterin vaccine).

  1. What do you feel your biggest advantages are in this type of environment?

RI-VAL-RE– None other than we need more space.

SPEEK-NJ – The greatest advantage is the human and cattle comfort. The elements are avoided in the barns, allowing for everything to be dryer, cleaner, and more enjoyable for all involved. The calves thrive in the Calf-Tel pen systems and on the bedding packs. All of the stress of snow removal, rain, and wind are all avoided in the barns.

COMESTAR – For me, the biggest advantage of individual housing is the decreasing of contamination between calves or the reduction of the viruses’ propagation. I also noticed that the calves were much more consistent since they do not have to compete at a young age; there is no superiority effect between them. It’s also always nice to work outside and enjoy nature!

Feeding Station at Meadow Brook
Feeding Station at Meadow Brook

MEADOW BROOK – One of our biggest advantages is the time spent on observation compared to physical labor. Instead of hauling milk, water, and grain to each animal, we can spend our time watching the calves and checking the automated feeder display on a calf-by-calf basis for any discrepancies with drinking speed, times visited the feeding station, and amount of milk consumed. Additionally, it is easier to keep the calves’ environment clean and sanitized in order to prevent disease.



Coomboona Holsteins
Coomboona Holsteins

COOMBOONA – The biggest advantage is that both calves and staff are in a controlled environment and routines and protocols can be established and maintained.

LONEPINE – The biggest advantages with this system are that the feeding is done automatically leaving you more flexibility for doing the rest of the calf barn work. Also because of the group housing the calves get a lot of social contact early on making the transition easier into different groups later on. Also with this system we don’t get any weaning stress. The biggest advantage is we hardly have any scours in calves, and when we do the calves seem to get over it much easier because of smaller amounts per feeding.

  1. Have you faced any other challenges?

RI-VAL-RE – No we are very happy with this setup. We can control the environment to the best of our ability and it is very employee friendly. We use to have hutches and there is no comparison for the health and safety of calves.


SPEEK-NJ – There have been fewer challenges since building the barns, but the greatest challenge we have is respiratory. With the young calves in close proximity, the nose to nose contact and airborne spread can be a struggle. We are constantly cleaning and sanitizing, and watching for any early clinical signs and treating immediately.

COMESTAR – Our biggest challenges are definitely extreme and rapid temperature changes. The adaptation is hard for calves and for us as well. The intense rainfalls, heavy snowstorms, freezing cold or extreme heat are the most critical times of the year where we need to react quickly to maintain calves’ comfort. But when it’s a passion, the temperature doesn’t stop you!

MEADOW BROOK – Our biggest challenge so far is the fact that the freestalls in our growing heifer barn are now too small due to the calves’ increased growth rates. In the past few years we have transitioned from feeding milk replacer in hutches, to feeding pasteurized milk in hutches, to feeding pasteurized milk in automated feeders. This higher plane of nutrition is doing its job, and the calves are doing exactly as we had hoped. I think this is a problem that any producer would be glad to have!

Coomboona Holsteins calf crew
Coomboona Holsteins calf crew

COOMBOONA – Our main challenge is staff turnover and the need to constantly train new staff and teach the proper protocols.

LONE PINE– We had lots to learn when we moved to this kind of facility. In the beginning we had lots of calves sucking on each other and we were close to moving back to a single calf housing. We were able to almost eliminate this problem by moving to a higher % milk replacer and feeding less litres per feeding by keeping the amounts up. This way the calves are always well fed and not bored. Also in a system like this your scour cases will be down, but because of the group housing and the calves sucking on the same feeding station there is greater pressure for them to get infected with pneumonia. Again with a good ventilation system, vaccination program and lots of clean dry bedding we are able to keep this at a minimum.

Compiled by Lexi Wright & Nicole Schirm