Paul & Melanie Chittenden—Alan (dairy mgr), Nathan (heifer mgr), Brian (farm mgr)
101 Running Creek Rd -- Schodack Landing, NY 12078 [near Albany, SE New York]
Interview with Melanie—she feeds calves with son Nathan. As they milk 360 cows, they are dealing with large numbers of calves born year around. Herd is expanding to 600 cows, from natural increase – ie, successful breeding program and competent calf/heifer rearing program.
Calving is in a pack barn addition on W side of a free stall barn set up for dry cows and close-up bred heifers. Cows receive usual vaccinations in head locks of dry cow barn. In specific case of J-5 [mastitis] vaccine, only give one shot dry, second shot after calving—to avoid experience they were having with aborted calves (born early, backwards and not surviving).
They experience calf sizes from 40 pounds to 70 pounds. The selection trend in the herd has been in favor of a larger, stronger Jersey, thus the increasing calf sizes. Melanie noted range of size has to be factored into calf care—the little ones need concentrated nutrition, the big ones do better with an extra mid-day feeding to keep them growing.
Colostrum from momma is given at birth, with a target volume of two-three quarts depending on size at birth. In the past year they started adding a package of an immunoglobulin product , “Alta-Gold” [ footnote 1] to insure the level of antibodies received by the calf is adequate to the need. They use a “colostrometer” to check density of colostrum, as one maternal line had been discovered that seems to be routinely deficient—those calves receive stored colostrums.
Melanie notes the significance of the wide range of bf% and pr% tests modern Jerseys produce can have an effect on the “value” of momma’s milk—a cow testing 6%bf is going to have 50% more digestible fat in her milk than a cow testing 4%. She strongly recommends, in the case of feeding whole milk, that Holstein and/or lower test Jersey momma’s milk be supplemented with the addition of a high fat milk replacer to insure the calf is getting “Jersey” nutrient density.
Calf pens are individual 4 x 8 inside a cold high roofline pole barn that is directly E side of the dry cow/calving barn, solid dividers so calves cannot kiss each other. In extreme cold weather “Woolover” calf jackets are used (prefers “Woolover” type jacket due to ability to wick moisture away from calf’s hide). Special needs calves may get a heat lamp for a bit. [footnote 2]
These pens get shavings for bedding, to absorb urine. In cold weather, straw is added on top. Melanie believes the straw should be used year round, as young calves (not receiving hay) may want to chew on something with fiber, the straw would be safe, but the shavings are not.
They were losing calves when feeding conventional milk replacers (Cargill was mentioned). So currently use “Renaissance 22/20 milk replacer” medicated with Oxytetracycline and Neomycin (medication is used due to prior pneumonia experiences). There is no vegetable-based protein (ie, soy powder) in this replacer—it is all milk. There is also a yeast ingredient to stimulate the early rumen development. She mentioned they have also had good luck with IBA’s “Winter Care” milk replacer, the “Renaissance” is a regional (PA) brand they obtain at favorable prices.
50 degrees F is seen as the benchmark temp for supplemental mid-day feeding, in which they use an electrolyte product with microflora, diluted in warm water. Only one quart is given at the mid-day feeding, but two quarts is normal for the am and pm milk feedings. The idea is to avoid loss of body heat that will lead to other problems. As calves get bigger, say a month old, the mid-day electrolytes are replaced with a third milk feeding. [footnote 2]
She does not force a newborn to eat her full feed each feeding. She says that if they got a full load of colostrum day one, then take their full bottle day two am, by next feeding, they may not be hungry enough to eat a full bottle. Feed them to appetite, then stop—next feeding they will be hungrier. Force feeding just seems to lead to scours, and then you fight a battle you might lose. If calf is normal, they will be up to full intake within a week.
Calf starter is provided from birth in a “Braden” feeding bottle. Melanie believes this feeder has these advantages: (1) Jersey calves like to suck something—the Braden feeder uses nipple shaped ends that attract the calf; (2) Sucking the Braden nipple releases grain into the calf’s mouth, thus they will be introduced to grain without hand-forcing; (3) The design minimizes grain loss, as the calf cannot contaminate the grain in the feeder [as happens with buckets they can climb in, slobber over, or back up to]. The grain stays dry and thus fresher.
Fresh water is offered the calves while still on milk, as they need to learn to drink it prior to weaning. Hay is first introduced after weaning. [footnote 3]
It seemed to be Melanie’s opinion (she grew up with Guernseys, married into Jerseys) that we lose more Jersey calves from damp environments and inadequate nutrition, than we ever lose from missing a vaccination. The Jersey calf is born without fat reserves in her body, which makes her different from a Holstein or Brown Swiss calf—thus from day one and until weaned, high fat, high protein, high digestibility milk is the feed of choice. [footnote 4]
She saw the use of pasteurized whole milk as fully equivalent to using a premium milk replacer, but she cautioned we recognize that “whole milk” from high production Holsteins might only be 3.3% butterfat and 2.8% protein – thus starts out at almost half the expectation of Jersey genes that momma is going to feed her baby 6.0% butterfat and 4.0% protein milk. Thus, in a whole milk feeding system, she suggests we buy some good milk replacer, and add half a cup to the milk as fed, and see if you keep calves alive that way. [footnote 5]
She also suggests we avoid “cow grain” going into calves until past weaning, when they are also eating some hay. Calf grain needs to not have fine particles in it that aggravate the calf lungs as a dust inhaled from eating the grain. [footnote 6]
[end of interview] Thank you to Melanie for her willingness to share her experiences.
This interview was conducted at Dutch Hollow Jerseys by Greg Palen on Feb 18, 2009.
[footnote 1] Another successful brand widely available in Michigan is “Colostrix”.
[footnote 2] Jersey calves in outdoor hutches in cold winter also benefit from bedding to trap body heat, due to thinner muscle/fat cover, and in our opinion, the calf jackets are a must when using hutches for similar reasons. I saw bedding packs in all the hutches at Den-Kel Jerseys (Kip and Robin Keller, Byron NY) the day before visiting Dutch Hollow.
In hot summer a Jersey calf in an outdoor hutch that traps sun heat might also benefit from a mid-day feed of electrolytes and water, just to avoid dehydration??
[footnote 3] The feed company prohibition against feeding calves “hay” is based on a blanket assumption that a “dairyman” would only raise “alfalfa”. The rumen needs about four months’ development before it can process alfalfa, thus feeding it earlier tends to scour calves. BUT if you have access to nice soft “grass” hay, a calf can eat that from day one, and it will dramatically improve the growth rate and shorten the weaning period for a Jersey calf, but requires water be available at the same time (chewing on the hay will make them thirsty).
[footnote 4] John P Reber DVM, who both breeds Jerseys and practices as a veterinarian in a large number of Jersey herds around Wooster OH, says that in his experience, when called out to treat a sick Jersey calf, if they still die, the cause is frequently “starvation”. In his experience you can feed a Jersey calf as much as a Holstein calf, after a few days of working them up to it.
[footnote 5] Until the renaissance in Jerseys in the 1980s, Jersey bloodlines were regionalized and the type of Jersey preferred in the deep south and arid west tended to be a smaller, fine bone cow that milked heavier but tested lower (southern milk marketing still avoids paying for solids values—high milk, low test% bulls remain more popular there than in Midwest and Northeast).
My question is—as those cattle never experience winter, do they have a reduced ability to make colostrums with the density of immunoglobulins to get a cold climate calf to live and grow??
[footnote 6] We went through a winter where we were losing calves closely after weaning, and our veterinarian eventually said they were dying of Mycoplasmic Pneumonia. The source of the mycotoxins was the ground corn in our weaning transition grain mix—the fine particles and mold particles would be inhaled by the calf while eating, and they basically foamed up in their lungs. We went back to the calf starter for two more months, and the problem went away.