Information is key to addressing dairy calf challenges

Liz Binversie, BoviSync

Calves are the future of the herd. It’s well proven that early life events can affect the calf through adulthood. When challenges arise, we need to act fast. Prolonged challenges impact not only the calf but also employee morale and wellbeing.

When evaluating problems in calf programs, we typically find that it’s simple things that aren’t being implemented or are being implemented incorrectly. Often, it leads to interventions like training and process improvement. In this evaluation, it’s best to start at the beginning and work your way up (i.e., calving area to older calves).

This article will focus on information collected during the calving event and the first few days of life and will supply a few examples of problems or opportunities found by analyzing the information.

What information should I collect?

Some examples of calving information that can be recorded include time, the technician who assisted or processed the calf, number of calves (single, twin, triplet, etc.), dystocia score, assisted calving (Y/N), calf sex, calf status (live birth, stillborn, died in 24 hours, or if the calf will be sold immediately), ear tag, and any special notes.

It’s also a great idea to record events from farm protocols at the time they’re completed. Some examples include:

  • colostrum feeding (amount, quality (Igg or BRIX score), source (fresh, frozen, or powder), and time)
  • weight
  • treatments (i.e., nasal vaccine)
  • navel dipping
  • dehorning or disbudding
  • pen movements (i.e., from calving pen > warming box or calving pen > calf barn)
  • serum total protein or serum IGG scores to test for transfer of passive immunity. 

“It’s well proven that early life events can affect the calf through adulthood. When challenges arise, we need to act fast. “

Solving problems and creating opportunities

Here are some scenarios that farms have faced and how the data presented an opportunity for improvement:

Scenario #1: Severe Diarrhea

One-third of the calves were experiencing severe diarrhea on days 1-5 (indicative of an environmental pathogen, such as E coli).

The calves experiencing diarrhea were born at night. The calves born at night had a longer time from the calving pen to the calf barn. This was shown by looking at calf birth time compared to the time recorded of movement to the calf barn. The farm’s vet got involved, took bedding samples at different times of the day to examine bacterial counts, and collected fecal samples of the calves. 

Resolution: The calving pen was cleaned more often, and extra labor was implemented to process calves at night.


Scenario #2: Failure of passive transfer

About one-quarter of the calves had unacceptable passive transfer scores, according to serum total protein results.

  • This farm did not have night-shift maternity workers.
  • Calves born at night were processed at 6:00 am, meaning that there could have been up to an 8-hour delay in first colostrum feeding.

Resolution: The farm had to weigh their options for a full-time maternity employee at night or assigning the responsibility to other employees (i.e., milkers or cow pushers).


Scenario #3: Increasing assisted calvings

The herd manager was able to trace the increase to one technician. Upon seeing him work, he noticed that the technician was pulling calves, even when considered unnecessary. Upon discussing the situation with him, the herd manager learned that the technician learned the aggressive, early intervention from his last farm job.

Resolution: The herd manager was able to improve training procedures for the maternity crew.


Scenario #4: A sudden increase in pneumonia in 1-week-old calves.

The calves with the pneumonia were primarily fed colostrum by a new employee. The procedure on this farm is to feed 1 gallon of colostrum to all calves within 30 minutes of birth. When the calf manager saw the technician working, she could see she was struggling to place the tube correctly. The tube was being placed in the trachea instead of the esophagus.

Resolution: The calf manager asked her herd veterinarian to come and re-train the calf crew on this procedure.

Calf health challenges addressed with BoviSync are the result of uncovering the data that lies within all of the activity on the farm. Careful observation and adherence to best practices are paramount for success. Using the right tools makes the best results more attainable.

BoviSync as the solution

The BoviSync mobile app makes it easy to record the calving event! The app walks the user through prompts to record the information shared above. After this step, the app automatically saves the event with the technician who assisted with the calving and the timestamp where the event occurred (down to the second).

Within the calving event, farms can create ‘chores’ that automatically get assigned to the calf. This makes recording information remarkably simple and fast for the technician.

For analyzing records, the Bovi-Insights reporting system supplies a simple and intuitive tool to help you solve problems and find opportunities within your herd and management areas. Here are two example reports, Birth Report and Birth Cohort Scorecard, to help you get started. You will need a BoviSync account to access and view the reports. To create an account, start here.