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Do Your Calves Fulfill All Their Promise in the First 100 days?

The President of the United States benchmarked 100 days on Saturday, April 29th. Throughout the weekend, there was a flurry of analysis, assessment, and judgemental summations.  The hope is to clarify what the future holds and if it will be productive.

Although we can easily get wrapped up in the drama of a new presidency, it is important that our dairy livelihood takes a serious opportunity with each calf to set the stage for a lifetime of production. While a President may recover from setbacks or early missteps taken in his administration, the future health and productivity of your dairy cows depends on what happens to your calves during those first three months. There are no referendums, replays or recalls in calf rearing.

It’s Okay to be Unique.  But Protocols Must Be in Place.

Every successful dairy sets up protocols.  To have every opportunity for success, you must have a standard to compare to. The ideal is that calf protocols are not only posted but that there are regular training and review sessions for all those involved in this role. We have all heard those directions many times. The difference between success and slipping into failure is that successful dairies have a “NO Tolerance” for less than perfect compliance.

Don’t Let a Difficult Calving Dictate the Whole 100 Days and the Future!

Every dairy operation has had to deal with an unusually difficult calving. Sometimes unforeseen environmental challenges before, during and after calving have an impact. The calving itself may result in malformations. Any or all of these can all negatively affect the vigor and progress during the first few days of the calf’s life. Proper observation and care protocols must be in place in order to survive the uphill battle of getting the calf off to the best start.  This is no place for a survival of the fittest attitude.  Use every intervention available to overcome these initial hurdles. For just two examples, every calf handler should be aware that calves are often prone to diarrhea and navel infection during this period.  The calf should receive every possible attention to treat these challenges during first days of life.

Don’t Accept Less than Perfect

If you’re willing to accept less tan the best, in the beginning, be prepared to end with less profit too!  For example, where calf protocol says, “move to a clean and comfortably bedded hutch” …. a hutch that has not been completely cleaned … with bleach … after the last occupant is NOT the place where a newborn calf should be placed.  In the first twelve hours of life, a new calf needs two bottles of high-quality colostrum (the sooner, the better), proper vaccinations and placement in a clean, comfortably bedded hutch with access to fresh feed and water.  Providing one or two of these, will not get your calves off to a start that will positively impact the future of your dairy herd.

No Tolerance for “the Easier way.”

In the first days of calf rearing, familiarity can gradually backslide into slipshod attention to detail.  Providing fresh water, calf starter and one bottle of milk twice daily is an absolute that cannot be done to the highest level of timing and cleanliness.  It is crucial that careful inspections of the eyes, nose, ears and manure are done every morning.  Skipping any of these steps is not optional. It is dangerous to think that a routine overview will catch problems.  Without the certainty that the procedures and inspections can be 100% relied upon, there is no way to make an informed decision, if a problem does arise.  The easier way may seem to help staff but, eventually, there will be longer hours dealing with more difficult problems.

Time, Space and Repetition

I am not going to print a list of calf rearing protocols.  I am not raising calves. I am (maybe) raising awareness.  My excuses of time, different goals, and space are the ones that are holding me back. What holds you back from having a fully operational calf rearing protocol that is posted in your barn and adhered to every day? Excuses don’t fill milk buckets.  Poor calf rearing protocols can actually empty them!  

You Must Put it in Writing

As each step of the plan is noted, posted and carried out the beginning of each stage is the most crucial.  With every change in routine, the observation of calf responses is key to ensuring that the transition is smooth and healthy.  Once again steps ensuring cleanliness of hutches must be scrupulously adhered to.

What Impact do Proper Calf Protocols Produce in the First 100 days and Beyond?

  • Increased growth in calves. Growth rates during the first 60 days of life determine the future production potential of a dairy cow. A slow growth during these first 60 days of life cannot be compensated by speeding up the growth later in life.
  • Healthy calves equal Healthy cows: Well-grown dairy cows produce high quantities of high-quality milk. It’s too late to question calf rearing protocols when the cows are in the dairy line, and you see less than expected
  • Early Treatment and Prevention are the goals: Worse than poor production is having to face health issues. A serious episode of, for example, scours may kill the calf, but even if it survives, the chances it will meet expectations with regard to future milk production are slim.

Where Would You Start, If You Were Going to Do It Wrong?

The 24/7 nature of dairying sometimes puts you in a position where repetition makes it hard to see what it is that is preventing success. We can all analyze political gaffes and missteps because our spectator viewpoint gives us a different perspective.  Try distancing yourself from your own calf-rearing operation.  What would a reporter, interviewer or competitive peer point out as being “wrong” if they inspected your calf operation?

Are any of these “Don’t Do’s” present in your calf operation?

Temperature Stress: Too cold or too Hot.

Wet:    Wet calves. Wet bedding

Poor hygiene: Fecal or other contamination of milk, feed or water

Non-existent or poor air flow: Are calves exposed to draftiness or poor ventilation.

Lack of attention to detail: No posted protocols.  No recorded observations.  

Exposure to germs and bacteria: irregular or haphazard cleaning. Exposure to other sick animals or by feeding or handling of young calves after older animals

Mishandling of unhealthy calves: Not isolating calves that show any sign of disease.

Are You Making Your Young Calves Sick?

Even with the best intentions, you could be setting yourself up for failure by the way you carry out your calf care.

Here are five things you don’t want to make part of your calf raising routine.

  1. Feeding older calves before feeding and handling the youngest calves. This could spread infections from the one group to the other.
  2. Feeding unpasteurized milk and waste milk containing antibiotics
  3. Allowing calves to drink milk in an incorrect position. Calves drink best by sucking from a bottle where the milk is placed higher than the teat so the calf sucks more naturally.
  4. Rapid changes of milk type and concentration of milk replacer
  5. Using milk replacer not adapted for young calves

These two steps could make a tremendous difference in your calf-rearing success.

  1. Check calf health at least twice daily and re- cord, inform and act immediately on issues
  2. House sick or weak calves separately until they have recovered and are vigorous

A Calf’s First Weeks Shape the Cow’s Future

The first 100 days is where even the most seasoned dairy managers -and Presidents – make a lot of critical missteps. It’s too easy to manage by getting the job done rather than by managing the results. When you catch the signals as early as possible, there is a chance to make corrections so that the future isn’t compromised.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Make sure that your first 100 dairy days don’t close opportunities. Whether you’re presidential or not, it is much more than simply fulfilling promises. It is all about fulfilling potential.



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