*Dr. Al Kertz is a board-certified, independent dairy nutrition consultant with ANDHIL LLC based out of St. Louis, Mo. His area of specialty is dairy calf and heifer nutrition and management. To expedite answers to questions concerning this article, please direct inquiries to Feedstuffs, Bottom Line of Nutrition, 7900 International Dr., Suite 650, Bloomington, Minn. 55425, or email [email protected]
THE 18th Dairy Calf & Heifer Assn. (DCHA) annual program was held March 31 to April 3 in Green Bay, Wis.
Somewhat fittingly, it was still cold, providing a taste of how the extremely cold winter was very hard on calves. On two days during the winter in this area, the high temperature was -17 degrees F. Some calves still died from hypothermia despite high feeding levels and evidence of significant body fat stores upon "field necropsy."
The format of the program varied as DCHA is trying to reach more dairy farm operations that raise their own calves and heifers.
The opening manager session was a panel discussion featuring a large calf operation from the area and two dairy farm operations. Some gleanings were:
* The calf operation started in 1995 and now has 26 clients. It picks up calves at 12-24 hours of age and keeps them through four months of age. The operation raises a total of 6,800 calves annually, uses radio-frequency identification tags, weighs calves (but producers take height), feeds pasteurized waste milk and milk replacer as needed three times daily and follows consistent protocols but adjusts nutrition as needed all the time.
* One large dairy with 2,900 cows uses individual maternity pens for calving and genomic testing. It feeds pasteurized waste milk and milk replacer as needed three times daily but feeds the same volume as if fed twice daily for three years. The operation regularly checks on liquid temperature, time fed and weekly samples.
* The other dairy uses individual maternity pens for calving, uses a colostrometer and refractometer for colostrum solids, pasteurizes colostrum and is particularly attuned to colostrum-related issues.
All three operations discussed at what point treating calves for health problems is enough, and their consensus was that such calves do not fully recover and perhaps should be culled sooner rather than later.
Another panel featured several dairy operations. Gleanings were:
* A Pennsylvania calf and heifer operation handles 10,000 heifers annually, beginning with wet calves through springers.
With weekly area dairy farm pickups, the initial age is 1-10 days old. Calves are fed 0.625 lb. of 25/20 milk replacer three times daily until weaned at around 60 days. Feedings are at 5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. Buckets are used for feeding liquid. A 17% crude protein calf starter is fed.
It is rare that calves are rejected upon arrival, but any flaws are recorded at that time. Bodyweights are recorded at arrival and 60 days, 12 months and 60 days before calving.
For potential producers (there is a waiting list), the calf/heifer operation wants to know mortality, age at first calving and the culling rate of the herd before accepting a client.
* A 300-cow Wisconsin herd of Jerseys provides four quarts of colostrum by tubing, feeds pasteurized milk at two quarts each three times daily until 45 days of age and then cuts back to once-daily feeding. Feedings are at 6 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The farm will have a summer intern who will take some growth measurements. The operation uses bottles for feeding liquid to calves and uses paste for early dehorning.
* A 1,600-cow California herd of Jerseys weans calves at 60 days and keeps them in individual hutches until 90 days of age. This operation also raises calves for other area dairies and has raised 10,000 calves over the last three to four years.
Daily gain of the calves averages 1.4 lb. at 90 days of age. Pasteurized waste milk is fed three times per day at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and midnight. Weights and heights are measured at birth, at 60 and 90 days and at six months.
Calves from the home dairy undergo genomics testing, because this operation believes in spending money upfront on calves and then uses weight and height measurements to cull calves. The first-calf heifers are as tall as the mature cows and produce 2,000 lb. more milk in the first lactation than previously.
Dr. Limin Kung Jr. of the University of Delaware reviewed "Factors Affecting Silage Quality." He considered forage quality along with cow comfort as the two key factors in a dairy operation. Forage quality is affected by harvest maturity, harvesting forage at its highest quality and following best management practices.
An undesirable fermentation and/or aerobic spoilage can lead to total dry matter losses averaging 7-12% but with extremes of 20-30%. Combinations of poor- or good-quality forage with poor or excellent management create four possible combinations, three of which can lead to losses.
For corn silage, he recommended not using the milk line to determine maturity but, rather, a moisture level of about 35%. A high level of fecal starch indicates low starch digestibility.
Processing corn silage reduces sorting of a total mixed ration (TMR) and improves starch digestibility by creating more surface area.
Bad microbes in silage include yeast, molds, clostridia and enterobacteria. When air gets into silage, yeast takes over, increasing heat and reducing digestibility.
Alfalfa silage is highly buffered due to protein and mineral content and levels. Alfalfa silage should be wilted to minimize clostridia, and when the fermentation runs out of sugar, that can lead to clostridia. Less than 30% or more than 45-50% dry matter leads to poorer-quality alfalfa silage.
The DCHA program brought back tours of operations this year. With a strong wind that day, we got a taste of what the calves endured during the winter. In addition to seeing the operations, there were various stops where related topics were addressed, such as TMR audits, sanitation, calf barn ventilation, near-infrared analysis for on-farm forage moisture determination, calf health and manure management strategies.
The two tour sites included a large calf operation (mostly heifers but an increasing number of bull calves too) and a large dairy with many calves from several of its sites. Hutches were used at the site toured, but the issue discussed was ventilation/respiratory problems in subsequent group housing at older facilities, although this was not an issue with those using newer, better-designed ventilation.
Genomics is a topic of increasing interest to dairy producers. Heifers typically have the best genetics on a dairy, with an average annual rate of 200 lb. of milk production in genetic progress.
As an aside, when available, I always reviewed Dairy Herd Improvement Assn. (DHIA) records by parity over several years to determine performance by lactation, with particular attention to predicted mature equivalent. Differences among parities can tell the status or direction of the herd regarding first-calf heifers in particular.
Genomics is of use as a shortcut instead of having to raise heifers through one or two lactations before knowing what they are really capable of.
The presentation on this topic described a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), which is a DNA sequence that represents variation occurring when a single nucleotide differs between paired chromosomes. An example provided was that a sequence of A, T, C or G from different animals could be AAGCCTA to AAGCTTA, with a difference of only a single nucleotide.
For protein yield, the SNP genotype would provide information equivalent to an additional 34 daughters versus a pedigree being equivalent to about seven daughters.
Genomics can be used for animal identification and parentage verification, early culling decisions, mate selection and identification of elite cows. Currently, 73% of genotyped U.S. Holsteins are fewer than 15 months old.
Mating selection can be improved by using complementary genetic profiles, sifting through animals to identify good versus poor genomics and identifying animals of poor genetic merit. By identifying elite animals, selection can be made of which animals to contract as bull dams, knowing which embryos to flush and selecting for sale of elite genetics.
Information required for testing includes the DHIA herd number, country of origin, sex, breed, animal identification number, date of birth, sire and DNA sample number. There are key traits that can be categorized into three different fertility traits, seven different yield traits, 20 different type traits and other options such as horn/polled, A2 beta casein, Brachyspinea and coat color.
The future of genomics will see faster testing in fewer than two weeks, ala carte data options, parentage-only testing and the potential to become standard farm protocol.
The Bottom Line
A variety of information was presented at the annual DCHA program. Panels of growers and producers highlighted what they do and their results. Bodyweights and heights — and now genomics — are increasingly being used to feed, manage and make decisions about the future of calves and heifers.
In light of recent studies showing the long-term benefits of feeding up to four quarts of colostrum at the first feeding and doubling calf birth weight during the first two months of age, it is heartening to see this being recognized and increasingly being practiced.