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Yosemite Dairy: Bringing the calves home

PD Editorial Intern Amanda Meneses Published on 29 August 2013

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This article was #11 of the Top 25 most well-read articles on www.progressivedairy.com in 2013. It was published in the Sept. 1, 2013 print issue. Click here for the full list of the Top 25.

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In December 2011, Brett Barlass of Yosemite Dairy in California decided to begin raising the calves on the dairy rather than having them custom-raised. He detailed the challenges of dealing with CAFO regulations, hiring additional employees and setting up protocols.

The article drew attention and an online comment from custom calf-raiser Dr. Don Gardner. Scroll down or to read the comment.

ARTICLE :

Yosemite calf facilities

A presentation at the 2011 California State Jersey Convention influenced California dairyman Brett Barlass to consider moving the calves back to Yosemite Jersey Dairy, a 2,300-head registered Jersey herd in Hilmar, California.

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Todd Heuer of Golden State Feeds gave a presentation at the convention about recent research from Cornell University regarding the efficiency of an accelerated calf-feeding program.

This research has shown the first 90 days are the most efficient time for calf growth and that calves fed with an accelerated growth program can produce up to 1,000 pounds more milk during their first lactation alone.

The accelerated feeding program increases the solids content and protein-to-fat ratio for the calves.

The protein-to-energy ratio is important because if calves do not have enough protein and are being fed excess energy, dairymen just get a fat calf, not optimal muscle and bone growth. This program doubles the calf’s weight in less than 50 days, Heuer says.

“In California, 15 to 20 percent of the dairymen who did have their calves at commercial calf ranches are taking them back,” according to Heuer.

View a photo slideshow of calf facilities at Yosemite Dairy. Story continues below photo slideshow.

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Yosemite Jersey Dairy first moved their calves to a commercial calf ranch in 2002 to comply with the Confined Animal Feeding air quality Operations (CAFO) regulations. Barlass, manager of Yosemite Dairy, says in order to maintain the herd size, at the time, the calves had to be moved off-site.

The idea of moving his calves back to the dairy intrigued Barlass, so he decided to look further into it. Barlass researched the program, consulted with his former Cornell professors, as well as the dairy’s nutritionist and on-staff veterinarian. After much consideration, he decided it was the right path for the success of Yosemite Dairy.

The first challenge was the permitting process, as the existing dairy permit needed modification to accommodate the calves. Barlass worked with the dairy’s environmental consultant, the regional water board and the air pollution control district.

Both regulatory entities had to approve that the dairy was in compliance with all current rules and regulations, with the addition of the calf-raising operation.

During the five-month approval process, Barlass was engaged in designing the layout of the facility, acquiring needed feeding equipment and outlining standard operating procedures.

Employees were hired in November of 2011, and by December 2011, Barlass and his team began raising all calves born at the dairy.

Barlass emphasizes the importance of a collective team when handling calves. It was crucial to find a group of individuals who worked well together, Barlass says, to make certain calves were receiving optimal treatment.

A complete set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) was written to guarantee all employees were doing the exact same routine every day with the calves.

Within the first year of operation, the SOPs were constantly being updated, with input from employees, to make handling calves more efficient. Barlass notes, “It took up to a year until we were finally satisfied with the SOPs.”

“An effective SOP ensures good communication to each of the employees, allowing things to run much smoother,” Barlass says.

Yosemite Jersey Dairy has realized many benefits from moving the calves back on-site. An accelerated growth program maximizes the most efficient time of growth in a dairy calf’s life.

It also ensures a healthier calf, which gives her a better opportunity to remain healthy throughout her lifespan.

Tagged calves

By moving the calves on-site, Barlass and his employees can track everything that happens to the calf including average daily gain, vaccinations and health events.

“Our commercial calf ranch did a good job with mortality, but there was no incentive to grow a strong, healthy calf,” Barlass says.

Calf ranches are more concerned with cost per head per day rather than cost per pound gained.

By housing calves on the dairy, a dairyman can ensure that calves are being fed optimally for their future.

Each of the Yosemite Jersey Dairy calves is tagged with an RFID tag and is closely monitored each time they are treated. In addition, employees take individual weights and heights of each calf on her day of birth, at 60 days, 90 days and at 6 months to track calves’ growth patterns.

By tracking the growth of the calves, Barlass can also be better informed on each calf’s well-being when making culling decisions.

Culling decisions are made on a daily basis, Barlass says. He notes they have so few animals that are put down or sold as poor doers that they only average three to four a month.

“I do rely on my team of employees to make suggestions,” Barlass says. “I have a lot of trust in our veterinarian and listen to any suggestions she has, as well.”

Culling decisions are made off weight gains, general appearance, time treated and lung ultrasound results. Yosemite Dairy was able to end their first year of raising calves at exactly 5 percent mortality rate. Barlass says they are already well below that this year.

Barlass credits the success of raising calves on-site to a strong SOP program and a group of collaborative employees.

“Bringing the calves back home has been a big investment for our dairy, but we look forward to great outcomes from investing in our youth.” PD

Photos courtesy of Ron Kuber.

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Amanda Meneses
Editorial Intern
Progressive Dairyman

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