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Rosy-Lane Holsteins: Where calf health is a priority

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 17 May 2016
Rosylane-LLC Barn

While others breed for bigger cows and push for 2 pounds of average daily gain (ADG) for pre-weaned calves, Rosy-Lane Holsteins is sticking by what they believe in – healthy, productive cows regardless of how quickly they get there.

Given that the dairy, owned by Lloyd and Daphne Holterman, Tim Strobel and Jordan Matthews, had a rolling herd average of 31,600 pounds last year, this 925-cow dairy in Watertown, Wisconsin, must be doing something right.

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“We’ve been breeding for Productive Life since 1998,” Lloyd says. “I don’t care if they [calves] gain 2 pounds a day or if they gain 1.6 or 1.4; I want them healthy – healthy lungs and healthy stomachs. I think that the whole industry has gone kind of silly over this gain stuff. If I pick up a magazine, I can feel like a failure, but on the other hand, we’re breeding our animals smaller.

Rosylane-LLC Delta 10090 is currentlty fhe fourth highest Holstein in the breed fro genomic net merit

“We weigh every calf at birth and every calf at weaning and we have done so since 2000. Our average heifer calf is born at 85 pounds because we’ve bred for smaller calves and we’ve bred for calving ease and we’ve bred for a smaller frame size on our cows. We don’t want the 60-inch cow, we want the 56-inch cow.”

He later commented, “We can breed health traits into these animals. You just have to look for a different subset of bulls. You aren’t going to get it from breeding for TPI because we call that tall, pretty and infertile. Think about it. You breed for high TPI… and you’re going to pull calves. We want trouble-free calvings.”

Because of this, the dairy only assists with one out of every 50 calvings, making everything less stressful for everyone, including the calf.

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Within 30 minutes of birth, employees dip the calf’s navel and feed it 1 gallon of colostrum. Shortly afterwards they re-dip the navel and take it down to the calf barn. If necessary, they place the calf under a heat lamp to finish drying and get warmed up before being placed in an individual calf pen in the calf barn which holds 130 head.

We can breed health traits into these animalsCalves receive a second feeding of colostrum or colostrum replacer, depending on what’s available, eight to 12 hours later. Dehorning paste is also applied at this time.

Daphne said the paste seems to be the most effective at this point and least stressful for the calf since it isn’t moving around too much yet and the horn buds are not attached.

At three days old, the farm sells most of its bull calves. The farm keeps a few of the bull calves and raises them as studs. Over the past seven years, they’ve sold nearly 100 bulls for A.I. service.

For the first week, calves get 2 quarts of 28:15 milk replacer twice a day as well as a free-choice, 22 percent, textured starter beginning on day four. On day eight, their milk replacer allotment is increased to 3 quarts per feeding and continue to get that until one week before weaning, which happens no sooner than day 50. One week prior to weaning, they only receive 1.5 quarts per feeding.

Until last fall, calves stayed on bottles the entire eight weeks. However, feeding and cleaning all of the bottles took several hours so they switched to buckets. After some trial and error, they decided to bucket-train the calves on day 10 since that seemed to be when the calves took to it the quickest and with the least amount of training.

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Now two employees can feed every calf in 20 minutes and spend about the same amount of time on utensil clean-up. Calves typically weigh between 170 and 230 pounds at weaning with a 1.6 pound ADG.

We want trouble free calvesBetween birth and day 55, calves get respiratory, salmonella, Johne’s, blackleg and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) vaccines. The vaccines are spread out over that time so as not to overload the calf’s system.

Prior to vaccinating for Johne’s, Lloyd said they were shipping at least 25 cows a year because of the disease. Unable to get the herd below 5 percent positive, they started vaccinating for the disease about 15 years ago.

Doing so has made shipping across state lines a little more complicated since the animals test positive the first time and have to be quarantined and tested again to confirm that the animal did not test positive because she is infected, but because she was vaccinated.

In addition, it has cut them out of a few markets like China and Canada, which require the animal to test negative the first time. Lloyd feels that it’s worth the trade-off for them because they no longer have any infected animals.

But vaccines are just one critical step to raising a healthy calf, which is why Daphne makes sure they follow strict cleaning protocols to minimize calves’ exposure to diseases that they can’t vaccinate for. For Daphne, sanitation can be summed up in three words: clean, clean, clean.

To make that happen, the farm uses separate stainless steel feeding buckets for water and milk. They do use plastic ones for grain, which Daphne isn’t thrilled with, but she says that is what they had so that is what they’re using for now. Every bucket is cleaned with a disinfectant three to four times per week just before feeding.

Bottles and nipples are scrubbed with hot water and disinfectant between each use and they throw out any broken or worn-out nipples.

Pens are disinfected between calves. To do this, they first clean out all of the bedding and scrape any manure or other debris off the sides of the calf pen. After rinsing it with water, they spray the pen with an alkaline foaming detergent and let it sit for 10-15 minutes while they lightly scrub to get everything cleaned off the walls.

After rinsing, they spray it with an acid foaming detergent and rinse it again. Once they’ve let that dry for 10-12 hours they spray it with a disinfectant again before getting it ready for the next calf.

Daphne has their vet do random ATP tests regularly. To do the test he swabs various surfaces that the calves come into contact with and runs the swabs under a luminometer to check the bacteria levels on that surface.

These regular checks, which are done in real time, help Daphne and her team know how well they are following protocols and if those protocols are working. However, she said the calf care team members understand that taking five minutes to disinfect now will save them hours down the road because they won’t be treating nearly as many sick calves. Their death loss ranges from 2 to 5 percent throughout the year.

At the end of the day, Daphne says raising healthy, lively calves is their priority.

“We don’t have a lot of high rates of gain,” Daphne says. “But we’re not so much interested just in the rates of gain or in their performance as we are in if they’re happy and they’re healthy and they’ve got lots of fluffy fur and they’re bouncing, they’re going to grow into a really nice cow.”  PD

To see more photos of Rosy-Lane Holsteins, view the slideshow below:

Jenna Hurty
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PHOTO 1: Rosy-Lane Holsteins calf barn. Photo by Jenna Hurty.

PHOTO 2: Rosylane-LLC Delta 10090 is currently the fourth-highest Holstein in the breed for genomic net merit, with a score of 983. The dairy is excited to see what her future holds. Photo courtesy of Rosy-Lane Holsteins.

PHOTO 3 & 4: “We can breed health traits into these animals. You just have to look for a different subset of bulls. You aren’t going to get it from breeding for TPI because we call that tall, pretty and infertile. Think about it. You breed for high TPI … and you’re going to pull calves. We want trouble-free calvings.” Photos by Jenna Hurty.

SLIDESHOW PHOTOS: Photos by Jenna Hurty.

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