Focusing on your pre-weaned calves, here are some basics to follow for improved calf health and growth during hot weather.
First, it’s important to recognize that your calves tolerate slightly higher daytime temperatures than your cows, with stress beginning when the temperature is over 80o F (26oC).
Encourage Food Intake
Calves born in hot summer months have lower average daily gains versus those born in other seasons (Bateman & Hill, Progressive Dairyman, 2012). Reduced average daily gain means a delay in time to puberty, longer interval to first calving and ultimately delayed return on investment. One way to encourage intake, gain and rumen development in your calves is by making fresh starter feed available. Starter intake is also directly related to water intake.
“Like people, your calves’ appetites are reduced during periods of heat stress.”
Drink Plenty of Water
Fresh, clean and abundant water helps to cool calves and is crucial during periods of heat stress, especially for calves with scours. During ideal temperatures calves that are 1-2 months old consume 0.5 - 2.0 gallons of water per day. That amount increases exponentially with heat and humidity and can reach up to 6 gallons per day in young calves.
Rinsing water buckets daily and frequent refills are also advisable. If your calves habitually spill their water, then wire or cable tie bucket handles to holders.
Supplement as Needed
Like scours, heat stress can lead to dehydration. Pay close attention to each calf’s attitude and ability to suckle. Oral electrolyte solutions, like NuLife® Oral Electrolytes, can help replenish fluids. The amount to use depends on the level of dehydration and the ambient temperature. For example, a 100-pound calf that only has a weak suckle may be 5% dehydrated. At normal outdoor temperatures, this calf would require 2.5 quarts of electrolyte solution per day. However, if the outdoor temperature is over 100oF (38oC), the amount should be doubled to 5 quarts per day in addition to normal feedings of milk or replacer (Bentley, Iowa State University Extension).
Provide Air Movement
Air movement promotes cooling; in fact, calves in a curtain sidewall barn showed a 23% increase in average daily gain when cooled with fans (Hill et al, Journal of Dairy Science, 2011).
Air movement also helps your calves by reducing the bacterial load and reducing noxious gases like ammonia in the air.
Recommendations for airflow are over six times higher in hot summer weather than in winter. Your local extension specialist or veterinarian may be able to help you determine if airflow in your calf facility is adequate for summer heat.
For calf hutches, a simple way to improve air flow is to raise the rear of the hutch (can be supported with a cement block). For maximum airflow in hutches place them 4 feet apart with 10 feet between rows.
Block out Direct Sun
No matter the type of housing, your calf needs to be able to get out of direct sunlight. A shade cloth above hutches can reduce the temperature inside the hutch by 3-4 degrees, and therefore reduce body temperature. Calves housed in barns need the ability to move out of sunlight coming through sidewalls or windows. Calves in group housing will “bunch” to move away from direct sunlight or flies, thereby limiting their individual air flow.
Keep Bedding Dry & Combat Flies
Expending energy to swat flies adds to the detriment of heat stress, so use fly control products. Also, fly eggs need moisture to hatch; therefore, use of dry inorganic bedding helps limit flies in the calf rearing area. Having four or more inches of gravel below the bedded surface of hutches or pens helps to drain the fluids away too.
“Expending energy to swat at flies adds to the detriment of heat stress.”
Keep the area under feed and water buckets clean and dry to reduce hatching of maggots. Finally, trimming weeds around calf housing improves ventilation and reduces moisture in the soil.
In summary, you can reduce heat stress in calves to improve their health and your farm’s profitability by following these simple steps in summer months:
› Provide fresh starter daily
› Offer large amounts of clean water
› Provide electrolyte therapy to dehydrated calves as needed
› Produce adequate air flow
› Furnish shade
› Supply dry bedding
› Undertake fly control measures
On this #MemberMonday, discover what drives genetic and reproduction success at Plymouth Dairy Farms, Inc., near LeMars, Iowa. The operation recently earned the Platinum award for the Heifer category of the GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards.
Plymouth Dairy is not a newcomer to the Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards. In fact, the dairy earned the Platinum award for the >2,000 cows category last year (and a gold rating the year before). That’s some all-round good management!
The dairy, owned by the Feuerholm family, was founded in 1999 with the first cows milked in August 2000. Over the years, it has expanded to about 3,500 head. The growth, expansion and strong reproduction program are the result of teamwork, with Plymouth Dairy and GENEX committed to a strong and lasting relationship.
Key members of the team at the Plymouth Dairy heifer facility include (L to R) Paige Browning, Andy Nelsen and Chris McGuire.
The dairy's breeding-age heifers are raised offsite, at a nearby facility in Nebraska. A main component of the reproduction success for the heifers is the technician team. They perform professional, high-level heat detection and breeding service day after day.
Another driver of success is the nutrition and health of the animals. Heifers that are in a positive energy balance are the engine that run the show. Paired with quality genetics from GENEX sires that emphasize health and fertility, it is no wonder the dairy earned the award!
“It’s that simple,” explains Chris McGuire of Plymouth Dairy. “Success is due to quality heifers, good nutrition and technicians with a drive to do well.”
What does the award-winning reproduction program look like? Heifers are eligible to breed at 385 days or 12.5 months of age. If a heifer has strong heat expression, then GenChoice™ sexed semen is used on the first two heats. With this strategy, close to 75% of services are to sexed semen. The other 25% is to conventional dairy semen.
If a heifer does not show a heat by 405 days or 13.25 months of age, she is checked by a vet and either receives progesterone or an Eazi-Breed™ CIDR®. A heifer gets four services before a culling decision is made. Combine the excellent genetic and reproduction results along with a knowledgeable and motivated team and an overall focus on employee safety and satisfaction, and you have Plymouth Dairy.
The team at Omro Dairy, near Omro, Wisconsin, is always striving to improve. That determined go-getter attitude helped the team earn platinum recognition in the GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards contest.
GENEX representatives Carlos Marin (far left) and Kim Egan (far right) presented the Omro Dairy team of Victor Montoya, Carlos Zelada, Jorge Montoya and John Vosters with their platinum recognition plaque in the 2,000+ cow category.
Omro Dairy joined the Milk Source family of farms in 1999. In recent years, changes and transformations have taken place on the farm. First, it was transformed from a Holstein herd to a complete Jersey herd.
In early 2017, they also transitioned from a Pre-Synch program with a 50 day voluntary waiting period and “cherry picking” to a Double Ovsynch program with a 60-day voluntary waiting period for first service.
The team at Omro has made the transition from conventional semen to entirely sexed or beef semen as well.
Altogether, the team is achieving over 83% of the herd pregnant by 150 days in milk, keeping the Jersey herd under 165 days in milk on average. There are very few fresh cow illnesses or culls, which is also an important factor in outstanding reproduction. Once confirmed pregnant, only 6% have an abort event. Heat detection is a key component of the reproductive program after first service, with about half of the cows becoming pregnant to standing heat breedings after first service.
Calm and quiet cattle handling is important to this team, and it is evident in the demeanor of the Jerseys as they play with their tongues and lounge in their sand beds. There is not a seasonal difference in conception either. With curtain sidewalls, fans and sprinklers, cows are kept comfortable year-round.
The breeding team at Omro Dairy certainly takes pride in their work. Every six to eight weeks, GENEX staff utilize the A.I. AccuCheck program to ensure no protocol drift in heat detection, semen handling or insemination technique. Proper functioning and cleanliness of equipment is also inspected.
While other things on the dairy may change, the breeding team remains consistent (with only one new team member), and every member of the team helps provide encouragement and training for the ultimate success of the program.
Congratulations to Omro Dairy and thank you for being a GENEX member!
Cooperative member Maple Ridge Dairy of Stratford, Wisconsin, is a platinum winner of the Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards. The key to their success is … the power of consistency.
Consistent protocols, consistent care and a consistent team leads to consistent success. For Maple Ridge Dairy, that success, for example, came in 2018 when herdsperson Jami Schultze was named the grand prize winner of the Boehringer Ingelheim Producers for Progress recognition program. The program recognizes dairy producers for their commitment to animal well-being, consumers and the industry through the judicious use of antibiotics.
Jami’s statement following the award announcement demonstrates the level of consistent care the dairy provides: “We treat cows as individuals and believe that every cow deserves a diagnosis. Our veterinarian regularly reviews our mastitis cases and protocols to make sure we’re up to date and giving the best treatment. When we do treat, we make sure to do it responsibly by using the proper antibiotic, dose and duration.”
The dairy’s success also comes in the form of back-to-back Platinum recognition for the GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards. The same level of consistency and attention to detail that is applied to antibiotic use is applied in the reproduction program.
“We stick to the protocols,” notes Jami. “Compliance is very important to us. We try to get as close to 100% compliance as possible.”
That means compliance to their synchronization protocol – a Presynch/Ovsynch program with an added prostaglandin shot. It also means consistency by the GENEX team that walks and chalks in six breeding pens daily.
More important than the award is the reproduction numbers achieved and their impact on farm profitability. For 2018, the dairy averaged a 36% pregnancy rate on cows with 86% pregnant by 150 days in milk. For much of the year, those numbers were achieved while breeding the top 25% of first lactation cows with one service of GenChoice™ sexed semen and breeding the bottom half of cows to beef semen.
Towards the end of the year, the breeding strategy was adjusted so the top 65% of first lactation cows receive one service of sexed semen and then roughly the bottom 70% of cows are bred to beef semen. Cows are ranked by Ideal Commercial Cow™ (ICC$™) index parent average through the Sort‑GateSM program.
The dairy has been consistent in genetic selection on the sire side too. For years, they’ve focused on creating an efficient cow – not too tall and not too short. They’ve also targeted traits such as components, Daughter Pregnancy Rate and Somatic Cell Score. Sire Conception Rate is considered as well.
Back to consistency, it’s taken good cow care and attention to detail to achieve an average somatic cell count of 98,000 and strong energy-corrected milk values. It’s taken the same effort to develop an excellent transition cow program where cows are in a negative energy balance for as little time as possible.
Owner Brian Forrest comments, “It’s not our facilities or technologies that make us successful; it is the people and their dedication to compliance.” It’s the consistency.
GENEX is declaring 2019 as the Year of the Co-op. Member ownership, member loyalty and cooperative ideals are extremely important to GENEX. They were important decades ago when cattle producers like you came together to form GENEX predecessor cooperatives, and they are important today.
“I will be the first to admit we haven’t always waved the cooperative flag as high or as fast as we could,” shares Terri Dallas, GENEX Vice President of Member Relations, “but that’s changing! This is your GENEX where your membership – and your input – matters!”
Now is the time to share your input by becoming a GENEX delegate. Each year GENEX holds delegate elections. It’s a time when you – progressive, business-minded and loyal GENEX members – are asked to step up your involvement in your cooperative. As an elected delegate, you will serve your membership region and district for one year. During that year, you have two primary duties: you are expected to attend and share input at a fall delegate meeting and at the annual meeting held in Minnesota in March. It’s that easy, yet it’s a vital component of GENEX as a cooperative.
How You can Become a GENEX Delegate
1. Any U.S. dairy or beef cattle producer who purchased $500 of semen or products from GENEX between May 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 and has a signed membership agreement on file with GENEX qualifies as a member.
2. GENEX members will be mailed a letter in June explaining the delegate election process. Enclosed with the letter will be a postcard where the member can nominate himself or herself to be a delegate.
3. Members interested in sharing their input as a delegate should complete the card and mail it back to GENEX. The names of those who nominate themselves will be compiled and ballots created.
4. In early July, the delegate ballots will be sent to all members. Members will vote for delegates who reside in their membership region and district.
5. Members will return their ballots, votes will be counted, and the elected delegates and alternates will be notified.
Have questions about the process or about serving as a delegate, contact Terri Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 888.333.1783.
Remember, your input matters to your co-op, and here's your opportunity to share it!
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