Staying on the cutting edge of calf care

Kayla Jentz Published on 24 November 2014

In 2006, Amy Shiplett came back to her parents’ farm in Chilton, Wisconsin, with the intent of feeding calves and assisting with field work, but her role evolved quickly when her father was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.

Amy took on more responsibilities and needed to learn very quickly how to fill her father’s shoes while still focusing on calf management.

Amy Shiplett

Shiplett’s dad passed away in 2009, and today, Shiplett and her mother, Gertie Bonlander, own and operate Bon-Home Livestock, where they raise 1,000 heifers from wet calves through springing heifers.

They raise for seven clients and receive calves at a variety of stages, some 2 days to 2 weeks old, some post-weaning at 4 to 5 months old and some pre-breeding age. Regardless of arrival age, all heifers go back to their owners at approximately two months pre-fresh.

Wet calves are raised in individual hutches, while weaned calves are in super-hutches. Calves then transition to three-sided, open-front, naturally ventilated barns. Everything is currently bedded with straw, but future plans include transitioning to sand-bedded freestalls in the breeding age and bred-heifer barns to save time and labor. They own 680 acres of land and rent another 150 acres used to grow feed for the heifers they raise.

Since the passing of her father, Shiplett’s role has evolved to include financial planning and day-to-day management including crop planning, heifer health and transportation, and business development.

Bonlander is in charge of paying bills and does administration work on the farm, and Amy’s husband, Brent, is a full-time mechanic for the operation. In addition, four full-time and three part-time employees help with day-to-day operations such as feeding calves, bedding and cleaning pens, mixing rations, moving heifers and field work.

It started with an Internet search
When Shiplett came back to the farm in 2006, she was looking for any and all opportunities to learn, and that’s when she first heard about the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA).

“On an Internet search, I came across DCHA and used their information for a lot of decision-making on the farm,” Shiplett says.

Some of the information she gathered helped her overhaul the farm’s calf feeding program and management. Shiplett transitioned the farm from feeding with 5-gallon buckets to using an automated mixing/feeding wagon.

Since 2009, they’ve also doubled the size of their operation by building three heifer barns and putting a roof over the head of their outdoor pregnant heifer yard. And all of this has been done while keeping their death loss at less than 0.5 percent, something Bon-Home Livestock takes great pride in.

Shiplett credits the low death loss to the herds the heifers originate from, and her team of employees, but also gives credit to DCHA. “We use the DCHA Gold Standards to help when making decisions on our farm and always ask how changes might impact health and well-being of the animals before we modify employee tasks, protocols, buildings, equipment or environment,” she says. “If we cannot meet a Gold Standard, we continue to strive and brainstorm on ways to make things better.”

When making treatment decisions, Shiplett says they use Dr. Sheila McGuirk’s calf screening protocol to evaluate animals and decide which animals need further attention, therapy or treatments.

“We prefer to keep animals feeling good and on-feed if at all possible to aid them in recovery,” Shiplett says.

Some prevention tools in use at Bon-Home Livestock are the use of prebiotic liquid boost in their milk replacer, animal plasma as part of the milk replacer protein source, coccidiostat for heifers, electrolytes during periods of stress in calves and feed additives in times of weather, feed or group changes.

Starting calves off right
In addition to outstanding prevention and treatment protocols, Bon-Home Livestock also implements strict newborn calf care requirements and protocols.

All of their source farms have requirements that need to be met prior to Bon-Home accepting a calf at their facility. Each wet calf must receive a gallon of high-quality colostrum, have its navel dipped and be vaccinated for respiratory disease prior to arrival.

Shiplett adds that many farms go above and beyond these minimum protocols. Weaned calves have the same requirements but must also be vaccinated with a five-way vaccine, test negative for BVD-P.I. and be dehorned prior to arrival.

Once they arrive at Bon-Home Livestock, calves are fed five pints of a 24-to-18 milk replacer two times per day. In the winter, fat is added to supplement calves’ energy needs. They feed an 18 percent texturized starter to wet calves starting the day they arrive on the farm, and each calf receives three feedings of warm water daily between milk feedings.

Weaned calves receive an 18 percent texturized starter until 10 days after they are moved into a group pen (at approximately 10 weeks old). Then they are transitioned to a 16 percent complete pellet until 16 weeks old, when they switch to the young heifer TMR. Each transition includes decreasing the amount of the current feed and slow increases of the new feed over the course of 10 days.

There are four TMR rations as heifers grow – young heifer, transition heifer, breeding heifer and bred heifer. Many different feed sources are utilized depending on source, supply and cost, but the base TMR ration is made up of haylage, silage, ryelage and grass hay.

Reaping the member benefits
After that initial Internet search, a local animal health representative nominated Shiplett for a DCHA leadership opportunity. She was chosen to be part of the leadership team and has been involved ever since.

Shiplett has attended all of the organization’s conferences since 2010 and says she finds new and exciting information each year. She also enjoys the networking experiences the organization provides.

“Networking helps me keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry,” she says. “DCHA is made up of a great group of calf raisers and industry representatives from all over the U.S. They help me better understand the industry and what new ideas are coming along.”

When asked how the organization benefits her home farm, Shiplett says, “DCHA helps our operation stay fresh and up-to-date with new technologies and ideas, many of which are presented at conference.”

Shiplett is currently serving as second vice president on the board of directors and has previously served as secretary/treasurer. Her favorite aspects of being a board member have been meeting many great people and being able to travel to many parts of the country for conferences.

Looking ahead
When asked what she is most looking forward to with DCHA in 2015, Shiplett says she’s most excited about the upcoming annual conference to be held March 30 – April 1 in Madison, Wisconsin.

“The topics at DCHA Conference are always fresh and cutting-edge,” she says. “The sessions really help me keep my business at the top of its game.”

This year’s conference will feature a variety of exciting educational sessions, a one-of-a-kind field trip to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, producer roundtables, entertainment, farm tours, workshops and more.

As for her own future, Shiplett looks forward to continuing to spread the good word about agriculture and teaching her own children the many life lessons that can be learned on the farm. Additionally, she has recently been elected for a position on her local Farm Service Agency committee and hopes to continue doing what she can to assist local organizations. PD

For more information on DCHA or the 2015 Annual Conference, visit the website.

Kayla Jentz is a media relations executive with Filament Marketing.

PHOTO:Photo of Amy Shiplett courtesy of Dairy Calf and Heifer Association.

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