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Best on farm fix: Peters prevents calf scours with apple cider vinegar

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 09 March 2017
Cpple Cider vinegar to help with scours

1. Describe your farm.

PETERS: My parents, Jeff and Janet Peters, brother (Cole) and I own and operate a dairy farm in northwestern Pennsylvania called Spruce Row Farm.

We milk 280 Jerseys, raise all of our replacement stock and grow our own crops. In 2015, the farm incorporated officially, bringing my brother and me into the business and making us the fifth generation on the farm. My older brother and his family live in Florida, and he works for NASA.

Jessica Peters

2. Tell us about your ‘fix.’

PETERS: It’s been such a simple and finite “fix” for us that I truly can’t believe it works. By adding 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to each calf’s milk bottle twice a day (each feeding), we have virtually eliminated scours. We may get a calf or two with some runny manure, but they never miss a feeding, never need to be treated, and it only lasts for a day or two.

3. How did you come up with the idea for it?

PETERS: Our dairy nutritionist actually gave me the tip. He was talking about a producer who lived near him and raised veal calves. He was having issues losing too many animals after buying large groups from livestock auctions.

He said that his losses were more than cut in half after adding the vinegar. After that, I couldn’t seem to get the idea out of my head. I had heard of people taking vinegar every morning and the health benefits of it, so I thought: What do I have to lose?

4. How does it solve a problem or present a solution for your operation?

PETERS: Everyone deals with scours. And our calf program has a been a spot in our operation that has come leaps and bounds in the last 10 years, and yet it still felt like we had leaps and bounds to go. Five to eight years ago, we had a consistent yearly mortality rate of at least 10 percent and, in one quick fix (that took us years to find), it dropped instantly to less than 2 percent when we started leaving calves on the bottle for a month.

Even though we weren’t losing as many calves, 50 percent of them would still scour. Knowing that preventing the disease is better and cheaper than treating it, we spent years and plenty of money trying to prevent the E. coli overload from every angle.

We addressed the problem in equipment cleanliness, ventilation, vaccination protocols, colostrum management, maternity pen conditions, navel dipping, preventative treatments … we talked to vets, pharmaceutical reps, other farmers and outside consultants, and nothing we tried helped.

Actually, I had become so discouraged with it that by the beginning of 2016, I had resigned myself from learning how to better treat scours and had completely given up on preventing it. Then, on Oct. 10, 2016, we started adding the vinegar, and I’m a little annoyed we didn’t start sooner. It’s been night and day.

5. How does your fix work?

PETERS: I’m not sure I’m fully qualified to answer this question, but I did do my research. Most of the articles and studies I found were about beef farmers feeding apple cider vinegar, but they all swore by it. When I dug a little deeper into the science of it, the health benefits were various, but I think the reason it works so well for us has to do with its effects against E. coli.

The organic acids in apple cider vinegar have been proven to be very effective in killing different strands of E. coli and other bacteria. All of our previous testing had shown us that E. coli poisoning was our main problem. I also believe it has benefits in helping regulate their stomach pH to make it a less desirable environment for the bad bacteria to grow – so the calves may still be ingesting the bacteria, and it’s in their system, but we’re creating an environment in which it can’t thrive or multiply. So it stays at levels that the young calf’s immune system can fight without becoming suppressed.

6. If someone wanted to try doing this, what steps would they need to take?

PETERS: All of my research stated the same thing: Do not start feeding the vinegar until day four. I’m assuming it has something to do with not wanting to mess with the good bacteria being added via the colostrum. They called for 1 ounce a day (1 tablespoon is 0.5 ounce) and because we feed twice a day, 1 tablespoon per feeding was an obvious solution.

We chose to feed it for a month because that’s how it fits into our program. For the first month, our calves are fed a bottle of milk replacer twice a day, then they’re switched to a milk bucket until they’re weaned at 6 to 8 weeks. Because we rarely have issues with calves over a month old scouring, we chose to stop the vinegar after a month. Some friends who feed whole milk have tried it and say that it will curdle the milk a bit, but most say that the calves will still drink it.

Anyone who raises Jerseys knows how hard scours can hit them. It seemed like once every other month we’d have a calf that would need to be tubed, IV’ed and treated for a week; then it would take them another two weeks to fully recover. Since we’ve started feeding the apple cider, we haven’t treated any calves, and the few that have shown runny manure got electrolytes for two days and were over it.

The calves themselves have been healthier, stronger, bigger and happier. They’re eating more grain sooner, which means they’re weaning younger. As dairy farmers, we all know that what works for one farm may not work for the other, but it’s such a simple, cheap, harmless fix that I think if you’re having issues, it’s at least worth a try.

Thanks to the apple cider vinegar, we aren’t using any pharmaceutical preventative drugs on our calves at all. It has saved us money, time, worry and made our animals healthier – and for us that’s a total win-win.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Peters says it was pretty easy to try this fix. “We bought a gallon of apple cider vinegar, borrowed a tablespoon from the house and bought a little squeeze bottle to pour it out of,” she explains.

PHOTO 2: Jessica Peters from Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania has found a simple solution to the scour issues on her dairy: apple cider vinegar. Photos provided by Jessica Peters.

Peggy Coffeen
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