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Handle with care: Dairy cows inside

By Staff | Feb 7, 2015

DR. JIM PAULSON, of the University of Minnesota Extension, spoke on the pros and cons of automatic calf feeders during a daylong workshop, “Raising Your Best Calf Ever,” hosted by ISU Extension for Sioux County in Orange City.

ORANGE CITY – Keep dairy cows and calves comfortable and warm in cold weather, but not too warm, with proper ventilation to maintain herd health were among the advice offered at the 2015 version of “Moo University: Raising Your Best Calf Ever.”

The event was sponsored in January by the Iowa State University Extension for Sioux County in Orange City.

The workshop offered a close look at automatic calf feeders, tube ventilation systems, calf health concerns, milk replacers, heifer diets and feeding DDGS.

Regional University Extension Service specialists and other experts presented the topics to more than 40 dairy producers and other participants in the Orange City workshop.

Feeding time

Dr. Jim Paulson, of the University of Minnesota, addressed technology used in today’s automated calf-feeding operations, along with common sense care.

“You don’t want to have feeder calves going into the feeder in large groups,” he said. “Eighteen to 20 calves per nipple is really good.

“Over 20 or 25, and you’re going to compromise your calves. Farmers say they’re fine, but if you bend the rules, you are going to compromise your calves.”

And, Paulson noted, calves should each get 30 to 50 minutes at the nipple station.

Thirty- to 35-square-feet per pen is adequate, if the mechanical air exchange system is adequate, Paulson said.

And knowing when fresh, dry bedding is needed, Paulson said, “If you get down on your knees and get wet knees, it’s time to bulk up the bedding,” he said. “Plenty of bedding will also solve respiratory problems.”

DDGS for dairy?

Dr. Jill Anderson, an assistant professor of dairy science at South Dakota State University, cautioned that feeding dairy cows is different from feeding beef cattle.

Her research showed the benefits of feeding wet or dry distillers grain to dairy cows.

Each grain product did equally well as 10 to 20 percent of the cows’ diet. The daily weight gain was nearly identical for cows eating dry, or wet, distillers grain over the 10 weeks she tracked them, from age four months to 26 weeks. Anderson noted that, for cows, the extra cholesterol in distillers grain is key to reproductive health.

Calf care

Speaker Russ Daly, a veterinarian with South Dakota State University Extension, focused on calf health, including respiratory issues, scours and how to raise a healthy calf.

He said digestive problems kill 1.4 percent of calves.

Daly noted that a calf’s immune system dips way down at birth, even with colostrum from its mother’s milk. But, the calves’ cells are able to absorb colostrum for only 24 hours after birth.

Calves’ air quality and bedding are also key. Stale air and wet bedding carry bacteria to the calves.

In addition, Daly said, new calves should be kept separate from the older ones, which carry more pathogens, and should not use auto-feeders for that reason.

Daly also warned that some oral medications can nearly kill off the good bacteria in a calf.

And, it turns out, the quality of the ventilation in their housing is key to their good health.

Air quality

University of Minnesota professor and Extension Service engineer Kevin Janni detailed why correct ventilation is critical to success.

He showed that even powerful fans moving air around a barn don’t mean every animal is getting fresh air.

He focused on the positive pressure tube system that, with proper calculations for all the variables and the right design and installation, can ensure each animal continually receives fresh air at a uniform temperature, with no draft.

Animals that cannot escape a draft and barns that are recycling foul air can cause illnesses. An engineer is needed to measure, calculate and design the tube ventilation system, although it’s fairly low-tech itself.

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