SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — From dry cow heat stress to calf nutrition and from heifer reproduction and monitoring systems to genomics, PDMP’s in-state tour last month highlighted both the basics and the latest technologies in raising the next generation for the milking herd. During the “roving classroom” on the bus, Dr. Tim Trayer, semi-retired from Ag Vet Associates and doing consulting work for Dream Farms, talked about how genomics can be used on commercial dairies as a herd management tool, but said any discussion of tools and technology will be frustrating without first addressing calf health.He focused first on the basics, giving tour-goers an outline of the vaccination and health protocols he has helped the team at Dream Farms put in place. “One important economic benchmark for the dairy producer is to return to the herd or to market 95% or more of the calves born live,” said Trayer, emphasizing how achieving
this begins with the dam before the calf is even born. “In addition to sound health protocols, there are precision heifer tools available today” — like genomic testing, rumen and
activity monitoring, improved methods of keeping good individual health records on each calf, and superior nutrition enabling her to double her birthweight in the first 60 days of life– all combining to help producers reach industry growth targets as well their own goals for the herd, according to Trayer. He also talked about extra steps and observation during periods of heat or cold stress to help bolster the immune system of the young calf to counteract such weather stressers that supress the immune system. “That’s often why we see calves with respiratory issues in mid-fall because their immune systems are affected by the summer heat, slowly increasing their susceptibility to disease challenges from any environment,” said Trayer. Trayer urged producers to cool dry cows, especially the prefresh group, and to pay attention to nutritional needs during the summer heat because both have an effect on the calf’s development, birthweight and the vigor of the calf’s immune system. He noted that rumen monitoring helps catch problems early for individual prefresh cows as well as giving an indication of how the nutrition program is working for a
group as a whole. BVD testing is also important, according to Trayer, and one of the protocols at Dream Farms is to test every calf that arrives to the 10,000-head facility — whether or not the owner has already tested them — no exceptions. Trayer says that even though herds can be BVD negative, it is still possible and fairly common to see a farm suddenly come up with a PI-positive
(persistently infected) animal. “Those are the ones we need to find.” he said. Good control of Johnes is also essential as well as protocols for single needle use when giving vaccines to prevent the spread of leukosis. When the calf is born, of course, Trayer said stick with the 4-hour / 4-quart rule and that colostrum should be fed fresh or frozen, not refrigerated. In addition to the 4/4 rule on colostrum, and clip-dip for the navel, Trayer advises intranasal vaccine for bovine respiratory syndrome virus (BRSV). “Calving environment is also critical,” he said, explaining the knee-test calving pens should always pass to determine if sufficient dry bedding. “When you get down on your knees, is it soft and dry?” A rule of thumb for determining where there are failures in a dairy’s protocols is to look at when calves are showing signs of ill health. “If you see problems at 7 days of age or less, look at your calving pens,” said Trayer. “If you are seeing problems in calves that are older than 7 days, look at your individual calf pens, milk buckets and the hygiene of feeding management.” He gave charts with photos showing how to evaluate calves by “scoring” their eyes, ears, nasal discharge and manure and recording rectal temps as well as whether or not a cough is developing. Jud Heinrichs, Penn State professor of dairy science, used his “roving classroom” time on the bus focusing on feeding and managing dairy heifers in view of the progress and changes that have occurred over the past 50 years. “Today we know the desired starting and ending points, and we know that replacement heifers represent the second or third largest cost in the production of milk,” said Heinrichs. He went over the Penn State 2015 goals for dairy replacements
include calf mortality below 2% and age at first calving at 22-24. Heinrichs said the weight of the heifer at breeding should be 55% of mature bodyweight, and by calving, it should be 85
to 90% of mature bodyweight. He confirmed that the nutrition of the calf has a large impact on growth and rumen development and that the combination of milk and grain produces more rapid rumen papillae growth in 6-week-old calves than feeding milk alone, or feeding milk and hay. Trayer said there’s a good bit of profit in the practice of feeding the pre-weaned calf for aggressive growth in the first 60 days of life. He referenced the ongoing Cornell study of cows now past their third lactations showing that by doubling the birthweight of a calf in the first 60 days of life, the net average gain has was 1500 pounds of milk for each of the first three lactations. That’s 4500 pounds of milk as a dividend on well grown heifers, and the study is continuing to look at subsequent
lactations over time. The pre-weaned calf is also quite efficient in putting on gains, so the economics are there to do it when the bovine is most efficient in achieving it.. “At Dream Farms the focus is to do all of the little things better,” Trayer noted. “We figure everything in terms of days-at-Dream,” said Dream Farms general manager Lane Sollenberger, noting that most calves come in at an average of four days of age. They test every calf for total protein and for BVD. Calves are scored for respiratory health, dehorned, and weighed. “We receive animals from 15 herds,” said Sollenberger, so they have seen everything and developed their systems to handle it.” Using DairyComp as well as rumen and activity monitors, calf managers are able to pull up each animal’s data as well as her dam and sire on a computerized “tablet” right on the spot. Weaned calf manager Cassie Yost and Agri-Basics nutritionist Tim Rutledge explained the weaning and nutrition program at Dream Farms, where calves are fed three times a day. They get a textured starter feed and no hay. Once they are weaned and meeting benchmarks for starter consumption, they begin to transition onto a full forage diet with a step-down process. “The textured calf starter we feed now has calves performing much better than feeding pellets and hay,” said Sollenberger.
“We see 35-day-old calves chewing cud.” By 55 days, they are moved out of hutches into small group pens. “We want to see average daily gain of 2.25 pounds/day from 55 days to 100 days, and we want them weighing 440 pounds (Holsteins) by six months of age,” Yost and Sollenberger explained. “When we get that accomplished, they can average 1.55 lbs/day gain to get to 800 pounds by the time they are a year old for breeding. That first 60 days is critical to build the frame for growth. “Textured starter feed gets rapid papillae growth in the rumen so calves can transition to full forage without stalling-out,” Rutledge explained. Dream Farms focuses on growing quality forages, and they feed corn silage, haylage and various commodities. Herd manager Josh Rabar talked about their first full year with the ai24 system in place to monitor heifers for heat detection and rumination. “As pens graduate, we run rumination graphs and use weight points to dial-in how well our feeding program is working,” he explained. “We are getting data for heat detection 24 hours a day, and we can generate a breeding list easily from the report.” Noting the average age at calving is still 26 months for the state of Pennsylvania, Dream Farms has benchmarked 22. Collars are put on early instead of waiting for them to become yearlings. This sets up a baseline of activity and rumination for each individual animal. The biggest thing with monitoring is “we see the increasing heat right on the screen for every animal, so we know when she’s at her peak heat. That aspect is huge, and it’s a big reason why we breed twice a day (6 a.m. and 2 p.m.) — to be sure we don’t miss the peak heat when it is revealed,” said Josh. “The percentage of eligible animals pregnant here is consistent now at 92 to 93 and occasionally as high as 97. It used to be 80%.” He also noted that in the year that they’ve been using the monitoring system, pregnancy rate increased from 35 to 43. They expect to be at 45 by the end of August and to continue to improve from there. Sollenberger sees this as providing value to dairy customers by getting bred heifers back to them sooner so they can start producing income instead of generating bills. The keys to a quality herd, said Sollenberger, go back to their health and nutrition at the start. “We could not accomplish what we do if not for the team of good people working here,” said Sollenberger. “Each member of the team plays a vital role. Look for more in a future edition about Mount Rock Jerseys and Wa-Del Holstein tour stops as well as how they utilize genomics in their herd breeding and management.
By: Sherry Bunting