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Stotz Dairy: Cleanliness is key for healthy calves

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 25 November 2015
bucket-trained calf

“Treat every cow like she is your only cow. It is more important for us to do what is right for the calf than what is easy for the people.” —Stotz Dairy motto

When Jen Millican, calf manager at Stotz Dairy in Buckeye, Arizona, had her second daughter, farm employees started taking bets on whether or not she’d be back to work caring for her four-legged babies within a week of having her own baby. Those who bet against her sorely underestimated Millican, as she returned to work within six days of giving birth.

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But that’s how Millican is. When she calls the dairy’s 7,816 calves and heifers her babies, she isn’t kidding. If it’s 4 o’clock in the morning and there’s a calf bawling, she’s out of bed running to go save it.

calf barns

Calves are a high priority at Stotz Dairy, and Millican takes this seriously. Right after birth, the calf’s navel is dipped, and it’s fed 2 quarts of colostrum within 30 minutes of birth. Calves also receive high-quality colostrum for the second feeding and low-quality colostrum at their third colostrum feeding. Millican says their thought with this is “if we have the colostrum, we should use it. The cow is producing colostrum by the third feeding; why not try to mimic nature?”

Calves receive the second and third colostrum feedings once they are in the calf pens, which is usually within a few hours of birth. Their navel is dipped again at this time. The calves stay in the individual pens in the calf barns for the first eight weeks. After that, they move to dry lot pens where they’re housed in groups of 25.

calf barn alley

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Cleanliness is a major emphasis in their calf program. The calf pens are elevated slightly to allow the calves’ waste to fall through the grated flooring and into the flush lanes where the manure can be washed away. All of their calf barns are hosed out daily. The calves stay cleaner this way, and employees are better able to visually manage scours. The calves’ buckets are also rinsed out daily to keep them fresh and clean.

As soon as the calf graduates to the group pen, the individual pen is cleaned out with a pressure washer and left in the sun. Millican says she thinks the sun is the best disinfectant tool they have, so she likes to use it as much as possible. However, for good measure, the pen is also sprayed with a disinfectant just before they put a new calf in it.

water bucket dumping

Currently, their mortality rate is less than 1 percent, which is a major drop from the 5 percent mortality rate they had three years ago when Millican started as calf manager. Leaving the calves in the pens an extra week was her first change. That alone dropped the mortality rate since they were weaning calves and moving them to group pens at the same time. Since that change, her father, who is the managing partner of the dairy, is pretty open to whatever changes she wants to make as long as she has a good reason and can show results.

Looking back, Millican is glad her father convinced her and her husband to return to her family’s dairy. Of course, that was after he called her weekly to tell her she was “ruining his life” by not living next to him. Once she had their oldest daughter, Alice, he called Millican daily to tell her she was ruining his life by depriving him of his only grandchild. At that point, they moved back to the dairy, where Millican is able to take her daughters to work with her every day and teach them about their family business.  PD

PHOTO 1: Calves are bucket-trained with their first milk feeding at 2 days old. After that, they have constant access to water. At 3 days old, they also have access to starter.

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PHOTO 2: Each of their calf barns holds 160 calves. The calves stay in the barn until they are 8 weeks old.

PHOTO 3: The calf barns are all sprayed down at least once per day. This helps to keep the pens and the calves clean and healthy.

PHOTO 4: The water buckets in the calf barn are linked together so employees can dump eight of them at once rather than dumping them individually. Automatic waterers then fill them back up to ensure the calves never run out of water. Photos by Jenna Hurty.

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