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5 things I can't do without: Jennifer Ackerman

Karen Lee Published on 07 October 2009
Jennifer Ackerman is the calf manager at Norm E-Lane Farms in Chili, Wisconsin.

Owned by the Meissner family, this 2,000-cow dairy has 130 calves on milk. Jennifer just started working at this dairy, but she brought with her years of calf-raising experience and the knowledge that prevention is needed for healthy calves.

“Properly feeding, bedding and cleaning equipment is an excellent way to prevent disease from occurring at all,” she says. “The key to raising healthy dairy replacements is to implement proactive methods rather than rely on reactive methods.”

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She shares her essential tools for successful calf raising.

1. Vita Plus Calf’s 1st Choice milk replacer
This 20-20 all-milk milk replacer is what Jennifer recommends feeding to get calves the nutrients they require. By feeding medicated replacer it gives calves a better edge to prevent diseases, she says.

2. Custom-made pasteurizer
If you’d rather utilize waste milk from the dairy, which is the practice at Norm E-Lane Farms, a pasteurizer is an essential tool.

“A pasteurizer makes a big difference,” she says. “When it goes out, you see it right away in the calves.” Jennifer recommends a custom-made unit that fits your dairy and your situation.

3. Dry bedding
In the cold or winter months, Jennifer says straw bedding is best for young and older animals, especially those calves housed in hutches or open-faced barns. In the warmer months not as much bedding is necessary. The key here is to keep them dry without overheating the animal.

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Straw may be used, but it is a major breeding ground for flies, she mentions. Alternatives include wood shavings and sand. Jennifer prefers wood shavings for hutches because it is easier to keep the calf clean and to re-bed. Sand is best used for older animals in groups. She replaces bedding for hutches as needed.

“Depending on the weather, this could be once a week or every day,” she says. During nicer weather, she estimates it is probably once to twice a week.

More bedding is added to the hutch when it appears to be low or wet or both. She removes the bedding when the calf is moved from the hutch.

4. Soap and water
Not partial to any particular brands, Jennifer uses the soap that is available on the farm. She has even used generic dish soap for washing buckets. For the feeding equipment, such as the milk tank for feeding calves, the two bulk tanks used for storing both fresh cow milk and pasteurized milk and the pasteurizer, she uses strong chemicals similar to those used for a regular milking system.

At Norm E-Lane Farms, she uses detergent and acid. The pasteurizer is washed after every use and the storage tank is washed once it is emptied, about every other day. The tank used for feeding is washed when each feeding is complete. Each calf keeps its own milk bucket, and those are washed when visibly dirty or after each calf is weaned.

5. Pen and paper
A pen and small pad of paper is something Jennifer carries with her constantly.

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“It’s the best way to keep track of records at different feedings,” she says.

At any given feeding she’ll jot down the date, whether it’s a.m. or p.m. and any observations she has made. She’ll record a calf’s temperature, if they are slow to eat or if they don’t come up for grain. Afterwards, she’ll go back through her notes and enter them on the computer in the spreadsheet she created to track calves over time. PD

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