Product & Industry News

Calves, milk and bacteria: How clean is your kitchen?

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman

Colostrum, milk and milk replacers are all excellent sources of nutrients for calves, but also for bacteria.

Jenn Bentley of Iowa State University Extension says when that abundance of nutrients is combined with moisture, you have the key elements for bacterial proliferation, which can be detrimental to your calves’ health.

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Mycoplasma and Auto Feeders

Calf Feeding

In my opinion auto feeders have gotten a bad rap over the past years. Illnesses that happen when using an auto feeder suggest that it is a feeder issue when this is the farthest from the truth.  It has nothing to do with the feeder, the feeder does what it is asked to do, the feeder heats milk up, feeds the milk based off of the parameters we put into the calf feeder, it cleans itself twice daily and it works 24/7.   However, management practices have everything to  do with success (i.e.) colostrum management, nutrition, ventilation, sanitation & vaccination plans.  

So the most difficult pathogen out there today in the calf world I believe is Mycoplasma. (M. bovis) is highly contagious and can be spread by respiratory coughing, nasal discharge, nose to nose contact, feed, water, bedding material, feeding equipment and workers. The highest incidence of disease is usually in calves that are housed in group pens and are suffering from environmental stress, especially cold-stressed calves.

So how does M bovis act? Mycoplasma has the ability to readily attach to the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract.  This is the reason that pneumonia in dairy calves is usually the most common disease caused by M. bovis.  It can also spread from the lungs through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the joints.  Animals with subclinical infections act as a reservoir for new infections and can shed the organism into the environment for years without developing clinical disease.  This shedding may be constant or intermittent.  Animals that develop clinical signs of disease will shed extremely high numbers of Mycoplasma into the environment.

Newborn calves can easily become infected in the maternity pen through contaminated bedding, poor quality ventilation and cows that are shedding the organism.  M. bovis has been cultured directly from the air in calf barns and is an important source of infection to young calves.  It is extremely important that new cases of Mycoplasma pneumonia be identified and treated as early as possible in calves.  If Mycoplasma is diagnosed, it is important to develop an effective treatment protocol using specific antibiotics that are effective against M. bovs. Consult your Veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatments.  I have had personal experience with M bovis on our operation and auto feeder.  Let me tell you it is not fun. 

What characteristics does Mbovis pronounce itself as, When diagnosing a calf with mycolplasma the first thing that comes to mind is the tilted head, followed by droopy ears, crusty eyes, swollen joints and respiratory events.  You can have one of these or all of these events happening.

My recommendations is to work with your Vet to help you  find a good vaccine.  We went with an autogenous vaccine which helped us tremendously, this vaccine was typed for a specific strain of Mbovis we had,  however you need to make sure you follow the label on these vaccines.  You also need to keep your environment CLEAN, did I say CLEAN.

On the auto feeders, it goes without being said, the exposure of pathogens is greater in a group environment.  However, if you have one of our auto feeders, Calf Star has the HygieneStation.  It’s called that for a good reason.  If you put Chlorine Dioxide in your water source it will kill any pathogen left behind after a calf is finished drinking.  On the HygieneStation itself, there is a 3 second delay after a calf leaves the stall before it sprays the nipple from 3 different directions cleaning the nipple and the tray before another calf enters the stall.  So let’s not throw out the Auto Feeder with the bath water.  Lets consider all the facts first.

Calf Star has seen and experienced reduction in environmental pathogens and treatment rates on farm by using the Chlorine Dioxide through the water source to the H&L100/Calf Expert Auto Feeder & HygieneStation

If you would like further assistance with M bovis and auto feeders, please consider reaching out for added support to one of our Calf Star dealers in your area.

May 2020 Calf Blog

So Why Would We Need to Test pH in our Whole Milk You Ask?

The answer is very simple:

We need to know the quality of  milk that we are feeding our calves.

The easiest way to evaluate milk spoilage seems to be estimating the pH of the milk using pH strips or a pH handheld meter.  The pH of milk will drop initially and then rise, depending on the stage of spoilage, timing, temperature, and the type & number of bacteria present in the milk.

Spoilage can affect not only the color and smell which will also affect consumption at calf side, but can also  affect the nutritional value of the milk. For example:  If a producer is re-pasteurizing milk several times before completely using it all this will affect the quality & nutritional value.   Calf Star suggests, best practice is to only pasteurize the quantity that you will be needing to feed calves.  The unpasteurized milk should be cooled just as you would your saleable milk.

pH is correlated with the percent of total solids.  The lower the pH, the lower the total solids in your milk. Although acidified milk has been fed to calves successfully, feeding spoiled milk may not have the same effect as adding an acid product to the milk.  Normal pH of  milk is about 6.5.

The other aspect to the pH of milk is if you are running water as a flush system through your receiver jar.  This will not only affect total solid levels but the pH of your milk fed. 

Two tools that are valuable pieces of equipment you should have in your calf kitchen are the refractometer and a pH meter. 

Visit our webstore for added calf supplies including our new lineup of Milk Replacers and Immune enhancers.


April 2020 Calf Blog

Winter Feeding Strategy Guidelines

We are still focusing on winter feeding strategies; here are a few guidelines to follow. Dairy heifers account for about 30% of the feed costs on a dairy farm, and the most costly period for raising heifers is during the preweaning period. The animal’s susceptibility to disease is greatest during this period, and the cost per unit of dry matter (DM) consumed is the highest. As we know, the energy requirement for calves housed in unheated facilities increases during the winter months due to cold stress (lower critical temperature for newborn calves of 48°F versus 32°F for older calves), and the cold stress can increase the risk for disease.

Unfortunately, the death rate sometimes increases in the winter, and/or the growth rate plummets unless we provide additional energy to these calves. In addition, we need to realize that small breed calves (e.g., Jersey) have about a 20% larger surface area per unit of body weight than large breed calves (e.g., Holstein).

Different feeding strategies for optimizing the growth of dairy calves during the winter months include: If a milk replacer is being used, it should contain at least 20% fat. The solids content of the liquid from milk replacer can be increased from 12.5% to 15% (from 17 to 20 oz per gallon). Increase the feedings per day from two to three times while holding the amount per feeding the same. Feed more milk per feeding, e.g., increase from 2 to 3 qt two times a day. Use a combination of these strategies so that small breed calves consume at least 1.3 lb of DM (milk replacer is approximately 95% DM; whole milk 13% DM) with 0.3 lb of fat and large breed calves consume 2.0 lb DM (0.5 lb fat) per day.

These strategies should be used while also offering a high-quality calf starter free choice and plenty of water. Water can certainly be a limiting nutrient during the winter months due to freezing. Hypothermia is a major risk for neonatal calves, and housing, feeding, and hydration are key considerations for minimizing hypothermia.

Consider these strategies to reduce the chance of hypothermia: Position hutches used for calves in a well-drained area (slope and gravel are important), and make sure the prevailing wind is not blowing into the front of the hutch. A windbreak upwind from the hutches can help reduce the wind chill on calves. Bed hutches with dry, organic bedding, preferably straw, so the calves can nestle in the bedding for warmth and reduce heat loss by conduction that would occur with inorganic (e.g., sand) bedding. Wet bedding also greatly increases conductive heat loss.

If calf coats are going to be used, check the inventory, and have all of them cleaned for use. Keep an ample supply of electrolytes on hand in the event of scours so the calves can be kept hydrated. 


March 2020 Calf Blog

Acidified Milk And/Or Pasteurized Milk….? 

SO the question for me this month is Acidified milk and or Pasteurized milk?

As group housing or paired housing systems for calves have gained popularity in recent years, interest in acidifying milk systems has also been renewed. This blog describes reasons for acidifying milk or milk replacer and examines research on acidified milk feeding systems and the benefits of both Pasteurized milk & acidified programs.

So the reason behind pasteurizing or acidifying is to reduce bacteria loads or further the growth of bacteria.  If feeding whole milk, if not fed immediately after pasteurizing, you will need to either chill and reheat or add an acidifier for added shelf life.  The reason behind producers pasteurizing is they have known incidents of mycoplasma, leukosis, salmonella and or any other bug that can cause health issues in calves.   If you just use an acidifier and have any of these issues you will not eliminate the bugs from doing damage.  Milk provides a very favorable environment for bacterial growth. Preserving milk in this way allows larger quantities of milk to be provided for ad libitum feeding of calves. Without needing to chill milk before feeding. The initial amount and type of bacteria in milk will have an effect on how long milk can be stored before bacterial populations reach levels that can affect calf health. In addition, each calf’s level of immunity will impact susceptibility to infection.

Using acidified products for both whole milk and or milk replacer, research has been written stating that using a product does not harbor health or growth of the calves. In some models it actually enhances intakes which as we all know calculated into a larger calf at weaning.

Acidification refers to lowering the pH of the milk with the addition of organic acids. Two different types of programs are your best options.

  • Option 1: Formic acid is added to the milk replacer when it is being mixed on-farm, best added when the milk is cool (with careful attention that you aren’t adding more liquid and reducing the percent of solids fed) since it can cause clotting if skim milk powder is a part of the formulation.

This type of acidification program supports ad-libitum milk programs – lowering the pH to 4.2-4.5 can reduce bacterial growth, allowing milk to be left available for calves at all times.

  • Option 2: Organic acids are added to the milk replacer at time of manufacture, (in the replacer when purchased) which lowers the pH (5.5) of the solution once mixed. This program has been associated with less scouring, increased intakes and lower pH in the abomasum (true stomach). The reduction of pH in the abomasum is expected to improve digestion of milk ingredients by facilitating clot formation.

Milk or milk replacer feeding systems need to be cleaned daily and acidification of the liquid feed should not be done just to minimize cleaning.

Don’t forget the cleaning/sanitation component of calf feeding with chlorine dioxide.  Let Calf Star be your calf equipment go to for feeding calves.


“You can’t manage, what you do not measure!”

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure!” Peter Drucker (1909 – 2005)

This wise quote by the management guru Peter Drucker applies to all areas of economic activity, and also to agriculture. But many decisions are still based on human instinct.

This is also true for calf rearing: the goal of a daily increase from 800 – 1,000 g is accepted by many farmers and is often pursued. We are now aware that calves which grow faster due to intensive rearing will produce more milk in the future. This effect is called metabolic programming.[1]

But it is not possible to determine the precise weight of the calves without weighing them regularly. Fewer than 12 % of farms weigh the calves during the milk phase. And only 9 % of farms weigh the calves at least twice[2]. This means that 91 % of farms do not ascertain the daily increase in weight of their calves and thus have no information about their individual performance. How do these farms intend to make important decisions about feed strategies or the selection of animals?

In this article, you will find out more about the different methods of weight recording and their benefits for successful calf rearing.

There are basically three ways of determining the weight of the calves:

  1. Measuring tapes
  2. Mechanical or electronic animal weigh scales
  3. Integrated scales in automatic calf feeders

Calf measuring tapes and barn charts

The easiest and most cost-effective method of recording animal weights is with measuring tapes which measure the animal’s girth. The weight can be simply read off a scale on the measuring tape and recorded on barn charts. It is necessary to bear in mind that the weight is only an estimate. But if calves are repeatedly measured with the measuring tape, the calculated increases are definitely informative.

[1] See also: “Metabolic feeding of calves on automatic feeders” Int. Dairy Topics 15.6. (2016)

[2] Our own research in an international survey of 424 farms (2016)

It is important to take measurements several times during the milk phase (at birth, after 4, 8 and 12 weeks). This is the only way to get a complete image of the development of the calf.

The weights are then entered on barn charts and compared with the targets.

Mechanical or electronic animal weigh scales

Animal weigh scales can record the weight more accurately. Here, too, it is necessary to weigh the calves several times during rearing. As with the measuring tape, the values should be recorded on a barn chart and compared.

Newer electronic animal weigh scales can be equipped with RFID antennae, record the weights and then store them automatically for the relevant calf. The data can often be exported and then further processed.

The data is much more convenient and informative if it is transferred automatically to management software. This makes the actual weighing work much easier for the staff. There are already systems on the market which allow the entry of additional information during weighing. When the birth weight is recorded, information on the calving process, colostrum intake etc. is entered directly into the terminal of the animal weigh scales. Thus, important information is stored, which can later be supplemented in the software by other information from calf feeders or MilkTaxis and holistically analyzed.

Integrated scales in automatic calf feeders

The most comprehensive weight information is provided by animal weigh scales which are integrated directly into the feeder station of calf feeders. At each visit, the weight of the calves is recorded and extensive data records are created which provide information about the development of the calves on a daily basis.

As calves which are suffering from diarrhoea instantly lose weight, even though they are still drinking really well, it is possible to identify these calves more quickly via the alarm list by weight than via the alarm list relating to milk consumption. Severe cases of diarrhoea can often be avoided by an early treatment, reducing the use of medicine.

The second important reason for equipping a calf feeder with weigh scales is the possibility of weaning the calves on the basis of their individual weight development. By this method, calves which consume concentrate and forage at an early stage are weaned more quickly. This saves the cost of milk replacers or whole milk and promotes the subsequent development of the calves into ruminants.

Furthermore, the animal weigh scales, in combination with management programs and analysis software, provide very detailed information about the future performance of the calves in their evaluation. Various investigations on the subject of “metabolic programming” show that calves with a high feed intake and an above average growth later also have a higher milk output during lactation. Thus, Soberon et al. have found out that 85 – 111 kg more milk is produced later during lactation for every 100 g of increased daily weight gain as a calf.[1] So if the calves grow by 1000 g instead of 600 g per day, 450 g more milk can be expected in their first lactation.

Thus, in addition to the genetic value of the calf, the information on the animal weight provides additional important information with regard to the following question: which heifers will remain on the farm to be reared and which animals will be sold? Particularly in times when a conservation of resources and environmental constraints often raise the question of whether all animals should be reared, these additional selection parameters are becoming increasingly important.

It is also important to find out when the calves have grown. In the graph below, you can see the feeding and weight trajectories of two calves. Both calves were unremarkable with regard to their consumption and almost always consumed their full quantity. But it is clear that the first calf weighs just 75 kg at the end of the rearing, whilst the second calf ends the milk phase with a weight of approx. 90 kg. The first calf gained almost no weight in the period up to 20 days, whilst the second calf constantly grew at a rate of approx. 900 g / day.

[1]   Fernando Soberon, Cornell University, June 2012;

The first 3 – 4 weeks in the life of a calf are decisive for the metabolic programming and the early udder development. Thus, the second calf should clearly be preferred over the first calf in the selection for the future dairy herd.

These points show that the quote from Peter Drucker is more topical than ever. It is rarely good to make management decisions based on human instinct. Choosing options based on little information is no better. In calf rearing, a lot of information must be gathered to set the right course on the farm. “Calves are the future of the farm!” says every second publication on the subject. Let us finally begin to act accordingly!

February 2020 Calf Blog

Nipples? Bottles? Buckets? or Nipple Buckets?

Which do you choose?

During discussions of raising calves, a common question often arises – what’s the best method for feeding calves? Is it nipples, bottles, buckets, or nipple buckets? Well, the answer is quite simple. The best method of feeding milk is the one that works best for you.

Many producers can make any one of these methods work well. Published research suggests that calves do best when fed from buckets, then nipple bottles, and tend to have the most trouble when feeding from nipple pails. It is generally assumed that higher success with buckets and lower success with nipple pails are due to the difficulty in keeping nipples clean. Milk or milk replacers that are not removed from nipples can lead to a build up of bacteria, leading to disease and death of calves.

However, there are some characteristics and features about each method of feeding liquid.   One reason people use bottles is, Full is Full, no measuring needed.

Nipple bottles are the most “natural” of the three methods. Nipples most closely resemble the cow’s teats. This method of feeding liquid is easiest – nearly all calves quickly learn to drink from a nipple bottle (of course, there’s always the occasional “stupid” calf). You can raise the bottle to a sufficient height to allow the calf to attain a natural position – head and neck raised slightly. The main disadvantage of nipple bottles is their size. The vast majority of nipple bottles hold only 2 quarts. So, if you want to feed more than 1 gallon of liquid per day, you’ll need to feed in more than two feedings. There is however now more sizes available and different nipples that help in ease of feeding.

Nipples are the most difficult part of nipple bottles to keep clean.  Often, the small hole in the nipple used to equalize pressure in the bottle can become plugged, forcing the calf to suckle extremely hard to obtain its milk.  These holes should be checked and cleaned out often.

Buckets are easy to use – after you teach the calf to drink from the bucket. Buckets can hold more liquid than bottles, are easy to clean, and can be easily stored or used for other purposes when not feeding calves. However, teaching a calf to drink from a bucket can be frustrating – for you and for the calf. Drinking from a bucket is unnatural – calves prefer to drink “up”, not “down”. And teaching a reluctant calf to drink “down” can be a real test in patience! In my experience, the best way to teach calves to drink from a bucket is to place two fingers (previously moistened with milk) in the calf’s mouth. Let the calf start sucking on your fingers. Using the other hand, slowly lower the calf’s head into the liquid. As soon as the calf’s mouth reaches the surface of the liquid, I’ll open my two fingers slightly to allow liquid to pass between the fingers and into the calf’s mouth. After the calf has consumed some of the liquid, I’ll slowly remove my fingers from its mouth. Usually, it takes at least two attempts (and often many more!) before the calf figures out what’s happening. Often, it’ll “come up for air” and not be able to find the liquid again. You’ll have to repeat the process. Most calves will learn in a few minutes. Other calves may take several days of effort. It’s important to remember that they’re babies and you’re trying to teach them something quite unnatural. Be patient!

Nipple buckets are a cross between bottles and buckets. They have the advantages of bottles with the capacity of buckets. The most common problem with nipple buckets is improper sanitation. It’s very important to keep the nipples clean. This must be done after each feeding, which is not done on too many farms. If the nipples are not cleaned, bacteria may build up inside, exposing the calf to disease causing pathogens. You can do a good job with nipple buckets, but remember, keep it clean!

Most research suggests that there is little biological advantage to any of these feeding methods. The most important thing to consider is sanitation. Clean bottles, buckets and nipples with hot water and a strong disinfectant. We generally use, an antibacterial soap . After cleaning, let the bottles, buckets, (upside down) and nipples dry before the next use. Keep ’em clean and keep ’em healthy

My one liner is bacteria doesn’t like dry environments .

Calf Star handles feeding equipment for any feeding style and also offer Chlorine Dioxide for  your sanitation purposes.  

Let Calf Star be your go to for your calf feeding needs.

Happy February.


January 2020 Calf Blog

January 2020! A New Year, a New Blog Season…

The last few months we have focused on Colostrum and the impact it has on your newborn calf.

Lets talk about the “Liquid Gold” Colostrum and take home ideas for strengthening colostrum management.

  1. Keep good records on colostrum feeding – timing, quantity, quality, periodic checks on bacteria counts. Remember the freezing / thawing process.
  2. Goals: first feeding of 4 quarts of high quality, clean colostrum within first 4 hours of life (large breeds).
  3. Adapt farm protocols to allow colostrum collection as soon as the dam is standing post calving [highest quality colostrum available].
  4. Adapt farm protocols to permit feeding of colostrum within 30 minutes after it is collected (assumes adequate volume and quality). What’s your back up plan?
  5. Adapt farm protocols to permit collection of second and subsequent milking’s (often-called transition milk) and prompt feeding to newborn calves.

Happy New Year…..

Also, if you have questions regarding your calf program or well being of your animals,  please reach out and I will address it in a future blog.


December Calf Blog 2019

Colostrum Freezing and Thawing Process

So the last 2 blogs have been written around Colostrum, the liquid gold!

So, I would like to continue with the topic of Colostrum and discuss the freezing and thawing process.

As you know, colostrum is an excellent source of nutrition and immune proteins that transport protection to the calf.  Because colostrum is so important to the newborn calf, producers need to have options if the cow doesn’t have enough colostrum or the quality isn’t met.  Storing colostrum is one of those options of maintaining a “Colostrum Bank”.

Refrigerating Colostrum: Colostrum can be refrigerated for 1 week before the IgG concentration quality decreases.  Often times you may need to make sure your refrigerator is at the correct temperature.  Set a thermometer in the refrigerator to make sure it holds a temperature of 33-35 F.  Colostrum needs to be chilled as soon as possible to reduce the chance of bacteria growth.  IgG protein molecules will degrade significantly by bacteria growth.  This will reduce the chance for the newborn calf to absorb the IgG’s provided through clean colostrum.

How about freezing: Colostrum can be frozen for up to a year.  Frost Free is not desirable as the freezer goes through freeze-thaw cycles which can change the storage life of good quality colostrum.

Freeze colostrum in 1 gallon or 2 qt. freezer bags (colostrum bags are desired) lay bags flat in the freezer and maintain a temperature of -5F.

Now let’s focus on the thawing process: Our main goal is to thaw the colostrum slowly without destroying the immune protein IgG’s.  The best method is to warm the colostrum to 120F, massaging the bag periodically will help with thawing a bit faster.

The First Nurse Colostrum Pasteurizer/Warmer can help with thawing your colostrum faster.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season!


November Calf Blog

Minimizing Bacteria Replication

So last month I focused on Colostrum and the importance of IgG’s.  I am going to go a step further and discuss the bacteria load and the importance of minimizing the bacteria replication.

The importance of early feeding of colostrum to the young calf is critical to protecting the gut of the calf as well as providing immune protection.  But, there is another reason to feed colostrum early.  Delayed colostrum feeding when the colostrum has been milked from the cow means that the bacteria and other pathogens in colostrum will be allowed to grow.  Referencing the growth of bacteria research from University of California, Davis showed that when colostrum was left at room temperature for any period of time the growth of bacteria was overwhelming.  Within 6 hours, the number of bacteria in the colostrum well exceeded 10 million per milliliter.  Our goal is under 10,000.  This amount of bacteria fed to the calf will untimely affect the health of the calf significantly or even cause death.  This is where the importance of IgG’s and either feeding the colostrum ASAP or chilling/freezing the colostrum comes into play.  All of the steps within the first 2-4 hours after birth are very critical.  I always tell producers; You only get this chance ONCE and then it’s gone.  SO do it well.

Colostrum and other milk products are excellent growth media for bacteria.  Unless the cow calves with mastitis or another infection, there should be little contamination of colostrum.  Be sure to minimize contamination of milk from the cow by using clean milking equipment, collection equipment, and feeding equipment.  If your colostrum is sitting more than one hour consider pasteurizing your colostrum milk.  When pasteurizing colostrum, the steps before and after are just as critical as the proper feeding of the calf.

Check out our user friendly, easy to use: First Nurse Colostrum Pasteurizer/Warmer to help with your colostrum pasteurizing needs.