Transition calf housing crucial to development

Transition calf housing crucial to development

A GROUP of dairy calves that were recently weaned and grouped together are often called the "transition calf group," but these animals too often become "the forgotten group," according to John Tyson with Pennsylvania State University Extension.

Dairy farmers focus labor and capital on keeping calves healthy and growing and on catching heifers in heat and getting them bred, but if a month of time between these two points is lost, producers never get it back, he explained.

Furthermore, the transition group is also often called the "stunting group" on too many farms, Tyson added. These calves usually start as very healthy calves with a good rate of gain. They are also on track to freshen at 22-23 months of age, but once grouped, their growth slows, they battle health issues and may not be fresh until 25 or 26 months, he said.

"So, why is this? Maybe it's poor nutrition, but more than likely it is improper housing, animal care and management," Tyson said.

There are certain things to look for with this group. Tyson explained that the first thing to consider is that this is often the first time the calves have been in a group.

"I like to compare it to kindergarten," he said. "When it was just you, or maybe you and one other sibling, you didn't have much competition for your parents' attention, getting lunch or something to drink. However, when you went to school, you had to compete with 15 or more other kids for the teacher's attention. Lunch and recess were only at certain times of the day, and you had to go someplace else for it. Are your calves being put in a sink-or-swim environment?"

Second, Tyson said the ventilation for a transition group needs to be adjusted a little differently than for older heifers.

"Transition animals are less than 300 lb. at this age," he explained. "So, while lots of fresh air to remove moisture and provide good ventilation is important, care must be taken to not have cold drafts in this shelter."

Bedding also becomes crucial. "Because they lack the body mass to hold in heat, during cold weather, bedding like straw or fodder that allows the animal to make a nest is a better option than most other sources," Tyson said.

Bedding is also an important part of controlling moisture in the shelter by soaking up manure and urine and keeping high-traffic areas like the feeder and waterer areas dry, he added.

To help stop drafts in cold weather, Tyson said a solid divider from floor to ceiling every 20-30 ft. between pens is recommended.

"This does two things: It gives the animal something solid to lie against and also stops air from traveling the entire length of the shelter at animal level," he said.

Next, look at the resting space per animal. Common recommendations are 30-35 sq. ft. per animal, Tyson said. "However, remember that space does not include the 6 to 8 ft. around the feeder and waterer area, where we don't really want animals lying anyway," he added. "If animals will be housed here until they weigh 500 to 600 lb., I would move that resting area recommendation up to 40 sq. ft. per animal."

The last thing to consider is the shelter's environment in the other extreme: summer. Tyson said to ask whether the shelter can be opened enough to provide control of not only moisture but also heat.

"Perhaps circulation fans need to be added to help provide a cooling breeze on hot summer afternoons. The tough part of ventilation with this group of animals is that what is a draft on a 20-degree winter day is a cool breeze on a hot summer afternoon, and the design and management of the shelter must be able to cover both extremes," Tyson explained.


Waste milk

Properly pasteurized waste milk can be a great source of nutrition for young calves. However, there can be great variability in the nutritional profile of pasteurized waste milk, not to mention fluctuations in the available supply.

Results from a national study of 252 farms show just how dramatic the variability in solids, protein and fat content can be. In addition to the inconsistency in solids, protein and fat, waste milk can invariably lack crucial vitamins and minerals that calves require. Consider that whole milk is deficient in vitamins D3 and E, all seven essential trace minerals and five of eight essential B vitamins.

There are several factors that can contribute to this nutrient variability, according to Dr. Tom Earleywine, director of nutritional services for Land O'Lakes Animal Milk Products. These can include:

* Source. Waste milk is often a combination of transition milk from recently fresh cows and milk from treated cows. The nutritive composition of waste milk can vary greatly depending on the ratio of transition cows to sick cows.

* Inconsistent handling. This includes not agitating the waste milk as frequently or thoroughly as salable bulk-tank milk.

* Human error. No one's perfect. On occasion, wash water can enter the waste milk supply.

About 50% of a dairy cow's frame growth occurs during her first six months of life, so when consistency is lacking in the milk-feeding phase, you can't ignore it, Earleywine emphasized.

"A good solution for reducing the peaks and valleys — and supply challenges — associated with feeding waste milk is to add a milk balancer to pasteurized waste milk," he explained.

A balancer normalizes nutrient levels in pasteurized waste milk. It contains a level of protein similar to milk and a low level of fat, which helps to encourage calf starter intake, and it also is fortified with vitamins and minerals to support calf health and growth. As an added benefit, it can contain a feed-through fly control larvicide, as well as a product to control coccidiosis.

Earleywine pointed out that research shows that adding a pasteurized milk balancer to the milk diet can improve calf performance.

For example, a field trial conducted on an Arizona calf ranch found that calves fed a milk ration enhanced with pasteurized milk balancer gained 17% more from birth to weaning compared to calves fed just pasteurized waste milk. The fortified group also had an 8% improvement in hip height, 7% longer body length and 35% larger heart girth.

A pasteurized milk balancer also can be used with added water to extend waste milk supplies instead of using saleable milk to reach the quantities needed to feed. This can make a substantial impact on profitability, Earleywine added.

"A proper diet equals healthy, well-grown calves. Ensure consistency in the diets of calves fed pasteurized waste milk."


China stance on cheese names

The U.S. dairy industry recently applauded a commitment to stronger protections for common food names resulting from just-concluded trade talks with China.

The favorable outcome of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce & Trade (JCCT) meetings should facilitate exports of products like feta and parmesan cheese to China, which is a particularly large and fast-growing market for U.S. dairy products.

"We are extremely pleased that the United States and China have agreed to strong protections for products using these well-established cheese names as we seek to expand exports to this key market," said Tom Suber, president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

"We especially appreciate U.S. negotiators' recognition of the importance of common name preservation to U.S. exports and the heightened focus that the Obama Administration has given to a key dairy industry priority," added Jim Mulhern, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation.

"The outcome of the JCCT meetings is a great example of the progress that can result from frank and productive collaboration between two trading partners," said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Assn.

The issue of common food names and their relationship to geographical indications (GIs) has generated considerable discussion over the year due to the European Union's efforts to impose bans on the use of the terms feta, parmesan, asiago, muenster and other common cheese names in international trade unless the products are manufactured in Europe.

The EU is using talks like those under way for a transatlantic free trade agreement to impose these bans. In addition, it is seeking GI-specific agreements with individual countries, including China.

The U.S. dairy industry has strongly opposed EU efforts to impose these trade barriers as a way to limit global competition.

Volume:87 Issue:02

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