Calf health, growth, and productivity rely heavily on nutrition and management practices.

Every heifer calf born on a dairy farm represents an opportunity to maintain or increase herd size, to improve the herd genetically, or to improve economic returns to the farm. The objectives of raising the newborn calf to weaning age are optimizing growth and minimizing health problems.

Calf Feeding and Management

When we think of effects of the environment on calves, cold stress is often the more common concern, especially in temperate climates. However, soaring summer temperatures, hot sun, and high humidity can cause heat stress in calves and heifers just as in the milking herd. Reduced feed intake and increased maintenance energy needs coupled with lowered immunity can lead to poor growth, higher susceptibility to disease, and in extreme cases death. Strategies for reducing the impact of heat stress are explored in this article.

In recent years feeding strategies have been proposed that greatly increase the amount of milk or milk replacer fed to calves compared to conventional practices. Numerous studies have documented the effects of these programs on calf growth during the preweaning period. More recently, studies have evaluated the long-term relationship between milk intake in dairy calves with modern genetics and milk production later in life. This review focuses on the effects of increased milk or milk replacer feeding on milk production.

Instructions for using the Calf Milk Pasteurization Evaluator spreadsheet, interpreting the spreadsheet output, estimating waste milk supply and demand, and considerations of waste milk supply.

Microsoft Excel, 322.5 kB

Excel spreadsheet that calculates the cost of owning and operating a calf milk pasteurizer as well as costs to feed milk replacer or whole, saleable milk. The spreadsheet also provides a comparison of the nutrients provided by milk replacer, waste milk, and whole milk. All nutrient values can be edited to compare a variety of feeding programs. The cost of each feed is expressed on a crude protein basis for comparison of cost-to-value. Additionally, the spreadsheet offers tables that compare the costs of alternatives to feeding pasteurized milk when the supply of waste milk is not adequate to feed all calves. The final components of the spreadsheet are two simple calculators that estimate the supply of and demand for waste milk and calculate the amount of powder to add to waste milk to increase solids or volume. **This spreadsheet was updated in 2014 to correct an error in the calculation of energy costs.

A review of important considerations of implementing an on-farm pasteurization system and discussion of available research findings related to feeding pasteurized non-saleable milk to calves. Topics include quality of waste milk, precautions for feeding raw milk, heat pasteurization systems, and UV light treatment.

Topics include whey protein price history, alternative proteins for milk replacer, comparing the costs of whole milk and milk replacer, and considerations for feeding waste milk.

Microsoft Excel, 42.3 kB

Simple spreadsheet to evaluate the cost of feeding whole milk compared to feeding milk replacer. The spreadsheet calculates the cost per pound of dry matter fed and also provides a comparison of the amount of nutrients provided by each feed.

Topics include rumen development review, effects on growth and health, impact on feed and labor costs, recommendations for weaning criteria, strategies for successful weaning, and feed and growth from weaning to 6 months.

Topics include causes of scouring, when to treat with electrolytes, treatment strategies and calculating fluid needs, and recommendations for electrolyte composition.

A summary of selected nutrients in commercial electrolyte products designed for oral rehydration of scouring calves. The comparison provided here assumes that products are mixed with water according the manufacturer's directions.

The objectives of raising the newborn calf to weaning age are optimizing growth and minimizing health problems. This publication will help you meet those goals and gain a better understanding of the calf’s digestive system, immune system, and nutrient needs, as well as the feed options available to meet those needs.

Colostrum Resources

Hydrometers and refractometers can be used on the farm to estimate colostrum IgG, separate high quality colostrum from low quality colostrum, and improve your ability to provide calves with enough IgG to attain successful passive transfer of immunity. This publication describes the use of the Colostrometer and the Brix refractometer in managing colostrum.

Microsoft Excel, 68.0 kB

The relationship between immunoglobulins (Ig) and the specific gravity of colostrum is affected by the temperature of the colostrum. This spreadsheet allows users to adjust Ig values from a colostrometer, providing the Ig value that would be expected if colostrum was tested at 68°F. Users may enter up to three colostrum temperatures and generate a table or a graph for converting colostrometer readings. Compared to testing at room temperature, warm colostrum underestimates colostrum IgG and cold colostrum overestimates IgG.

This report is a summary of Penn State research into the composition of modern-day colostrum. Topics include nutrient composition, immunoglobulin content, and bacterial contamination, as well as discussion of colostrum from heifers compared to cows and the effects of colostrum volume.

PDF, 129.7 kB

Penn State research investigated colostrum composition on modern dairy farms. This article, used by permission from the October 25, 2010, issue of Hoard’s Dairyman, summarizes the data from that project. Some samples demonstrated very high quality colostrum, but the range between samples was extremely large. Copyright 2010 by W.D. Hoard & Sons Company, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Colostrum supplement and replacer products can be valuable tools to increase calf immunity when colostrum supplies are limited or disease eradication is desired. This publication describes the composition and effectiveness of colostrum supplements and replacer products.

PDF, 1.1 MB

Research has shown that heat-treatment of colostrum not only reduces the amount of bacteria in the feed, but also increases the absorption of IgG by calves. Learn more about pasteurizing colostrum from this article, used by permission from the September 10, 2010, issue of Hoard’s Dairyman. Copyright 2010 by W.D. Hoard & Sons Company, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Providing calves with adequate colostrum is an essential part of getting them started on the right foot. We can measure how well the colostrum program is working by estimating the amount of IgG in calves' blood during the first week of their life. This article discusses two methods used in monitoring IgG - serum total protein and %Brix.

This publication describes the use of the Penn State Colostrum Calculator spreadsheet, which is designed to allow investigation of factors related to IgG absorption. Topics include apparent efficiency of absorption, using AEA for comparisons, factors affecting IgG absorption, and determining how much colostrum to feed.

Microsoft Excel, 73.0 kB

The Colostrum Calculator spreadsheet is designed to allow investigation into factors affecting IgG absorption from colostrum by automating the calculation of serum IgG, apparent efficiency of absorption, and how much IgG or colostrum must be fed to reach a target level of IgG in the calf.

Pasteurisierung Pasteurisierte Sperrmilch einen hohen Nährwert für Milchviehkälber. Allerdings muss der Prozess korrekt Ablaufen, da sonst die Keime nicht ausreichend reduziert werden. Prof. Jud Heinrich berichtet, worauf zu achten ist.

El sistema inmune de la ternera al nacimiento es inmaduro e incapaz de producir suficientes inmunoglobulinas para combatir infecciones. Adicionado a ello, la estructura de la placenta bovina previene la transferencia de Ig séricas de la madre al feto antes del nacimiento. Consecuentemente, la ternera nace sin inmunidad humoral (anticuerpos) adecuada y depende casi totalmente de la transferencia pasiva de inmunoglobulinas maternas presentes en el calostro.

Learn how to use optical and digital Brix refractometers to determine how much IgG colostrum contains.

Demonstration of using a colostrometer to estimate IgG content in colostrum.

Rumen Development

This video explains the unique developmental process of the rumen as it occurs in today's calves and shows how feeding management and nutrition can influence its development. The video details the anatomical changes in the four stomach compartments of the ruminant from birth through the adult animal. It demonstrates practical applications of feeding management and calf feeding systems that can help the dairy producer achieve healthy and well-grown replacement animals. DVD Format. English and Spanish versions are available.

Although all the compartments of a ruminant stomach are present at birth, for the first part of their lives calves rely on the abomasum to digest milk or milk replacer. As calves begin to eat dry feeds, particularly starter grain, the rumen begins to supply nutrients produced by fermentation. At weaning calves must rely entirely on dry feeds, and the rumen becomes the most important part of the digestive system. This series of photos illustrates the process of rumen development.

Calf Rumen Images

The calf fed grain in addition to hay and milk has a larger stomach, and greater rumen development. Note the healthy, dark coloration and visible rumen papillae.

The rumen of the calf fed milk only is considerably smaller than the calf fed milk and grain.

Developing a healthy rumen is important to ease the transition from a pre-ruminant to a ruminant animal.

The esophageal groove is formed by muscular folds of the reticulum, which you can easily see in these photos.

Both of these calves exhibit dark coloration of the rumen and reticulum, but if you examine the rumen it is apparent that the calf fed hay has much less papillae development.

Both of these rumens are very large, but when it comes to rumen development size isn't everything!

The importance of grain in developing the rumen should be obvious from the follwoing two photos.

The pictures below show the omasum of a calf at 6 weeks of age.

CalfTrack Calf Management System

CalfTrack is a comprehensive program to train employees that are responsible for calf care.

About CalfTrack

Getting calves off to a good start is the first step in producing healthy, well grown replacement animals that are ready to enter the milking herd at 22 to 24 months of age. To meet this goal employees must provide consistent, quality care for calves, particularly during the preweaning period.

Consistency is achieved by following standardized procedures, and training is essential to teach every employee the same procedures. A good training program helps employees understand how to do their job and why it is important.

The CalfTrack calf management training system includes standard operating procedures (SOPs) for many calf care tasks and a health scoring system, available in both English and Spanish.

The SOPs are presented as Chore Plans, step-by-step instructions with many photos and illustrations to clearly explain each concept. These SOPs can be used to train new employees or as a reference for experienced personnel. The health scoring system not only teaches employees how to observe animals and consistently evaluate calf health, it also provides a recorded health history.

Topics covered by CalfTrack include: calving assistance, colostrum feeding, use of an esophageal feeder, mixing and feeding milk replacer, evaluating calf environments, normal appearance and behavior, and routine health treatments.

The CalfTrack system is designed to help employees master daily calf-raising chores with confidence, independence, and a sense of accomplishment, while raising healthy dairy calves that can become productive and profitable herd replacements. It was specifically designed for farms that have multiple employees taking care of calves.

The CalfTrack program was developed under the leadership of Dr. Jud Heinrichs of Penn State’s Animal Science Department in partnership with Elanco Animal Health and Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products.

The Chore Plans and Calf Health Scoring System are available free of charge in pdf format. The pdf files contain bookmarks to make them easier to navigate; use the bookmarks for one-click access to any page in the document.

PDF, 1.9 MB

Step-by-step instructions for calf care tasks with many photos and illustrations to clearly explain each concept. Topics covered include: calving assistance, colostrum feeding, use of an esophageal feeder, mixing and feeding milk replacer, evaluating calf environments, normal appearance and behavior, and routine health treatments. English language version.

PDF, 2.6 MB

Instrucciones paso a paso para las tareas sobre el cuidado de los terneros con varias fotos e ilustraciones para explicar claramente cada concepto.

PDF, 400.6 kB

A calf health scoring system that teaches employees how to observe animals and consistently evaluate calf health and provides a recorded health history. English language version.

PDF, 360.5 kB

Un sistema de evaluación de la salud de terneros que enseña a los empleados a observar los animales, evaluar consistentemente su salud y proporcionar un historial de salud.