Time to Plan for Corn Silage Harvest

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Now is the time to start thinking about and planning for corn silage harvest. Preparations taken now and close attention to details like moisture content can mean higher-quality silage when you peel back the plastic months from now.

One of the most important factors influencing corn silage quality is moisture content at time of harvest. Ideally, corn silage should be harvested at the moisture content appropriate for the type of silo used. Recommended moisture contents are 65-70 percent for horizontal silos, 63-68 percent for conventional tower silos, 55-60 percent for limited-oxygen silos and 65 percent for silo bags, writes Jud Heinrichs, professor of dairy science and Gregory W. Roth, Ph.D., professor of agronomy, both with Penn State.

Crop dry matter yields are maximized near 65 percent moisture (Table 3) and losses during feeding, storage and harvesting are minimized. Delaying harvest can reduce both the fiber and starch digestibility as the stover gets more lignified and the overmature kernels become harder and less digestible if left unbroken after ensiling.

Table 3. Corn silage yield and quality as influenced by growth stage.

Corn Silage

Silage moisture at harvest is not difficult to determine and should be monitored, if possible, to prevent harvesting of the crop outside of the desired moisture range. A commercial forage moisture tester or a microwave oven can be used to determine the moisture content fairly rapidly. If silage moisture is above ideal levels, then harvest should be delayed if possible.

Corn that is ensiled extremely wet will ferment poorly and lose nutrients by seepage, which also has potential to damage the silo and if not contained, contaminate local water supplies. Silage that is too dry may result in poorly packed material, causing more mold and spoilage due to air trapped in the silage. In dry, overmature corn silage, the stover portion of the plant is less digestible and contains lower amounts of sugars and vitamin A.

Moisture content cannot be determined accurately using the kernel milkline, because of variations due to weather and hybrids. Moisture content should be measured rather than estimated.

One strategy for timing corn silage harvest is to chop a sample at the full dent stage, just as the milkline appears, and determine the moisture content. Then estimate the harvest date by using a typical drydown rate of 0.50 to 0.75 percentage units per day.

Harvest considerations should also focus on obtaining the correct particle size distribution and the need to process the crop. Processing silage refers to putting the chopped material between two rollers that are installed in the harvester to crush the harvested material as it passes through. Kernel processing units are becoming more popular on corn silage harvesters in Pennsylvania. Kernel processing has the advantage of crushing cob slices and kernels and can increase the starch availability by about 10 percent in the silage. The current data shows no clear nutritional advantage to processing silage unless it is overly mature with hard kernels. In some cases, this has resulted in increased milk production compared to unprocessed silage. A good general recommendation for the theoretical length of cut for processed silage is 3/4 inch with a 1-2 mm roller clearance.

Kennel Processing

Figure 1. The Penn State Particle Size Separator can be used to monitor silage particle size.

Corn DistributionFor unprocessed silage, an average theoretical length of cut should range from 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch. Particle size of corn silage should be monitored during harvesting because it can change as crop moisture content varies. The Penn State Particle Size Separator can be used to estimate the particle size distributions for harvested corn silage.

Table 4. General recommendations for corn silage particle size distributions on the three sieves and bottom pan in the Penn State Particle Size Separator.

Once harvesting has begun, fill the silo as rapidly as possible and continue until it is filled. Continue to evaluate processed corn throughout the harvest season. Kernels should be broken into multiple pieces and cobs should be broken into thumbnail-sized pieces or less. As the crop matures after half milkline, it may be desirable to have more kernel breakage so that much of the grain is in the bottom pan of the particle size separator.

The most desirable method of packing bunker silos is the progressive wedge method, where silage is continually packed on a 30-40 percent grade. This minimizes the surface area exposed to the air that can result in DM and forage quality losses. If this is not possible, the silos should be packed by spreading relatively thin layers of silage (6 inches deep) and packing it well. If packed well, the density of the silage should be about 14 pounds of dry matter per cubic foot.

Bunker Silos

Figure 2. Technique for ensiling forage in bunker silos.

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Benefit from creep feed

Dan Herold, Ph.D., Manager, Beef Nutrition And Technical Services, Hubbard Feeds

The benefits of creep feeding can reach well beyond weaning weight. ( Hubbard Feeds )

Cow-calf producers often simply view creep feeding as a way to increase calf weaning weights beyond what can be produced with mother’s milk and available forage. However, the benefits of creep feeding can reach well beyond weaning weight and are summarized below:

Pre-weaning

  • Additional protein, vitamins and trace minerals enhance immunity and performance.
  • Higher energy intake at an early age can increase marbling and carcass quality grade.
  • In early weaning programs, young calves are prepared to start on feed more quickly.
  • When fence-line weaning, feeders serve as a nutrition base station to nourish calves.
  • Coccidiosis control can be provided in creep feed to promote health and weight gain.

Post-weaning

  • There is a more immediate transition to bunk feeding with less weaning shrink.
  • Early feed intake reduces weaning stress and improves health and weight gain.
  • Better nutrient status supports the immune system and vaccine response.
  • Heavier calf-feds can be first to market in spring and summer, saving feed and yardage costs.
  • Setting the stage for success

A successful creep feeding program requires an understanding of factors affecting feed intake. Feed quality and quantity determine energy intake of young calves and is based on the nutritional theory that calves will select the most nutritious and easily digestible diet available. The ration choice for nursing calves follows this order of preference: milk > fresh, young grass > creep feed, or mid-bloom grass > mature grass.

When milk production and grass quality decline late in the season, intake will shift from forage to creep feed. Moderate-energy creep is now the most nutritious option to fill the calves’ hunger gap and fuel their increasing energy needs for growth. Creep feeding late-season requires more attention and management than was required in early to mid-summer. Calves’ appetites are growing at a time when their base ration of milk and grass are quickly disappearing.

A rapid increase in creep feed intake can catch cow/calf producers by surprise. In a typical 100-day feeding program, creep feed consumption averages 4.5 pounds per day. This is based on a range beginning at 0.5 pounds per day in early July and ending at 8 to 12 pounds in late October. It may require over a month for the feeder to empty early in the summer, and just days to empty it later in the fall. Consider that 50 calves eating 10 pounds of creep feed per day will consume 1 ton of feed in just four days. A sudden increase in intake is a good indication that the pasture is nearly spent and it is time to wean calves.

Creep is intended to supplement milk and grass, rather than to serve as a complete feed. It is natural for hungry calves to increase creep consumption when faced with declining milk and forage supplies. However, the sudden increase in energy intake can trigger an undesirable response from rumen bacteria. Rumen “bugs” that are accustomed to slowly fermented grass will break down creep feed at a faster rate. For calves, the shift from slowly digested forage fiber to an abundance of readily available energy in the rumen usually yields the same outcome: enhanced fermentation rate, increased ruminal acid and gas production, and potential digestive upset. This sequence of events is why it is strongly recommended to wean at the appropriate time and never run out of creep feed. This rule applies especially at the end of the grazing season, when intakes are highest. The risk of overeating is at its peak when the feeder is refilled, and hungry calves return to make up for lost meals.

As calves become more dependent on creep to meet the demands for maintenance and growth, more attention needs to be given to maintaining feeders:

  • Gates should be adjusted to encourage calves to work a little harder to obtain creep. Inserting the handles of a standard set of pliers between the feed gate and bottom of the feeder can serve to gauge the correct distance.
  • Keeping the opening to just a few inches will keep feed flowing while reducing accumulation of fines and spoiled feed. Excess feed accumulating in the trough absorbs saliva as calves nuzzle and sort feed to locate larger particles. The result is soft pellets that break down into fines, which can build up quickly. This accumulation encourages more sorting, as calves don’t like fines, and the cycle continues until the feeder is cleaned and fresh feed is available.
  • Feeder troughs should be checked and cleaned out routinely and at greater frequency as the season progresses.

As previously noted, creep feed can provide several benefits by supporting weaning weight, calf health, ease of weaning and, ultimately, quality and value of the finished product. However, the objective of the program should be to achieve a balanced intake, with creep feed serving to supplement milk and grass rather than replace it. When properly used, creep can take pressure off both the cow and forage resource pre-weaning and help calves transition through post-weaning stress. When creep feed intake rapidly ramps up late-season, it is a clear signal that it is time to wean. Digestive upsets are the result of failing to recognize this transition. Use proper management to prevent sudden swings in energy consumption.

Using creep feed as a strategy to extend the grazing season past the point of optimum intake is an unnecessary risk to calf health and producer profit. Creep feeding coupled with good management will yield the most benefits both pre- and post-weaning.

To bloom or not to bloom?

By Kassidy Buse

A common recommendation of agronomists is to let one alfalfa cutting reach bloom each year.

Ev Thomas, retired agronomist from the Miner Research Institute in Chazy, N.Y., says otherwise in The William H Miner Agricultural Research Institute Farm Report.

“For many years, I’ve said that in managing alfalfa for dairy cows, you should never see an alfalfa blossom, from seeding to plowdown,” says Thomas.

Thomas also notes there’s room for difference of opinion due to no research supporting either opinion.

But, if one cutting is to bloom, which cutting should it be?

The first cut of alfalfa-grass typically contains the most grass. Grass, even the late-maturing species, is close to heading when alfalfa is in the late bud stage.

The second cut is exposed to long, hot June days that result in highly lignified, fine stems. A Miner Institute trial found that the stem quality of bud-stage second-cut alfalfa was no better than full-bloom first-cut alfalfa.

The third cut can be influenced by prior harvest management. If it was a late second cutting, the third cut was growing during midsummer heat. This cut would also have highly lignified stems.

The fourth cut often takes a long time to bloom, if it makes it there. A killing frost might arrive first.

For any cutting, the more grass in the stand, the lower the forage quality if alfalfa is left to bloom.

“The objective of letting alfalfa bloom is to improve root reserves, and therefore extend stand life,” says Thomas. “We need to balance the impact of delayed harvest on plant health with the economics of feeding alfalfa of lower quality that is needed by today’s high-producing dairy cows,” Thomas adds.

How alfalfa and alfalfa-grass is managed depends on if the goal in mind is long stand life or high milk production potential.

Digital Dermatitis Isn’t Just a Dairy Herd Problem

Digital Dermatitis Isn’t Just a Dairy Herd Problem

Acute active digital dermatitis lesions can cause pain and lameness in cattle, which leads to declines in animal welfare and food production.
( Arturo Gomez Rivas, University of Wisconsin )

Digital dermatitis (DD), also known as hairy heel warts, was discovered in 1974 in Italy. The disease first popped up in US dairy herds in the 1980’s, and spread rapidly during the 1990’s as herds expanded. The co-mingling of multiple dairy herds into one barn or facility made a perfect scenario for DD to infect millions of cattle.

Digital dermatitis is an incurable disease. Once cattle are infected with DD, they have it for life. Digital dermatitis cannot be cured, only managed. Treponemes, a spiral-shaped bacteria, cause DD. Treponemes that cause DD enter the body of an animal through a break in the skin on the foot. Treponemes hate oxygen and thrive in pen environments with poor hygiene, wet floor surfaces, and overcrowding. When cattle are subjected to standing in mud or manure for prolonged amounts of time, softening of the skin occurs and allows treponemes to penetrate the skin.

Digital dermatitis lesions mainly occur on the back feet. Lesions can spread between the toes and sometimes appear on the front of the foot. Lesions are recognized by two different appearances. One type of lesion, hyperkeratotic, appears as a raised callous. Proliferative lesions appear to have long fibrous hairs. Active DD lesions may appear initially as a raw, red, oval ulcer on the back of the heel just above or at the coronary band. There are six stages of DD. Named after one of the researchers who discovered DD, (Mortellaro), “M” stages are categorized as M0 (no lesion, healthy foot), M1 beginning of a lesion, M2 active, M3 healing, M4 nonactive healed lesion, and M4.1 nonactive healed lesion with an active M2 on top of a healed lesion.

Beef herds are not immune to DD. While DD is present in beef cow/calf herds, feedlot cattle are especially susceptible. The key to controlling DD is to prevent outbreaks and spread of the disease. Once you find it, you are too late, your herd is infected. Cattle who are co-mingled with other groups of cattle, transition cattle, and animals under stress are at highest risk of contracting the disease. Untreated DD can cause lameness resulting in decreased rate of gain in feedlot animals, and reduced fertility and milk production in replacement cows. In addition, losses incurred through treatment costs, increased labor, and potential animal mortality are economically detrimental to the overall enterprise.

Digital dermatitis causing treponemes are spread through manure and mud. Keeping pens clean and dry as possible is a good start to prevent the spread of disease. Prompt treatment of active M2 lesions will reduce the spread of DD to other cattle and reduce the chance of the infected animal’s development of lameness. Treatment requires the lifting of the foot, cleaning of the lesion, and applying topical oxytetracyclin. Dr. Dörte Döpfer from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine recommends <2g of oxytetracyclin per treatment. M4 lesions are a reservoir for future outbreaks. Treponemes lie deep within the skin and can become active at any point. Running cattle through a footbath two to three times per week should keep the lesion in the chronic nonactive M4 stage. Depending on preference, a premix, formalin, or copper sulfate solution will serve as an antibacterial and hoof hardening solution. All footbath solutions have pros and cons, you can read more about footbath options at: https://fyi.uwex.edu/dairy/resources/animal-well-being-herd-health/

Early detection and treatment are important factors to controlling DD in the beef herd. Walking pens to detect DD is the first step of control. Utilizing an integrated management strategy of footbath use, hoof care, and footbath use will help control the spread of the disease. Not every animal exhibits the same symptoms and reacts the same to treatment, so utilizing a consistent control strategy is important. It is still unclear how much DD economically impacts the beef industry, but one thing is for certain, DD is here to stay.

Hay Cost Calculator

Hay season is around the corner and many producers are likely greasing the wheels, sharpening blades, checking belt tension, and settling in for a long hay season. However, it may be wise to do some calculating and revisit some management decisions to determine hay needs and to see if there is a way to reduce hay needs. This could be important considering the tremendous cost of feeding cattle 365 days per year and knowing hay tends to be one of the most expensive feeds available.

In order to achieve the task of determining how much hay is needed and what the potential cost will be, Mr. Kevin Ferguson, Ms. Rebekah Norman, and Ms. Tammy McKinley developed an Excel based “Hay Calculator” to help with the calculations. That file can be found at https://ag.tennessee.edu/arec/Pages/decisionaidtools.aspx. The tool takes into account storage losses, feeding losses, bale size and weight, cattle weight, consumption, number of days fed, and hay price to determine hay needs and total cost. The calculator can also assist with hay quality analysis.

Based on several pieces of research, the method of storing and feeding hay significantly increase costs. Average storage losses for hay stored six months or longer range from 5 percent for hay in a barn to 30 percent for hay stored outside and uncovered. Hay stacked and covered with a tarp on a rock pad or pallets results in 12 and 14 percent loss respectively. Additional storage methods include a plastic sleeve and net wrap which result in average losses of 19 and 23 percent respectively.

Similar to storage, the method of feeding hay can influence hay loss. Feeding losses from feeding hay in a cone ring range from 2 to 5 percent while feeding hay in a conventional ring results in 4 to 7 percent hay loss. The use of a hay trailer generally results in 10 to 13 percent hay feeding losses while the use of a cradle will result in 15 to 20 percent losses. Unrolling hay on the ground has the most variability with losses ranging from 5 percent to 45 percent. Hay feeding losses are likely more a function of how much hay is fed at a time as opposed to the method. For instance, feeding a week’s worth of hay in a cone ring will result in more feeding loss than feeding one day of hay in a cone ring.

For illustration purposes, consider a producer with 30 cows averaging 1,200 pounds and feeding 2.5 percent of the cows body weight for 150 days. This would result in each cow needing 30 pounds of hay each day on a dry matter basis. Assuming 11 percent moisture would result in the herd needing 76 tons of hay or 152, 1,000 pound bales. If the bales cost $35 per bale then the total cost to the herd would be $5,320. However, storage and feeding loss have not been considered.

Now consider two management options with this herd: storing hay in a barn and feeding in a cone ring or storing net wrapped hay outside and feeding in a conventional ring. The first system of storing hay in a barn and feeding in a cone ring results in a total loss of 6.4 tons of hay or 13 bales of hay for an additional hay cost of $451 for the herd. The second system of storing net wrapped hay outside and feeding in a conventional hay ring results in a total loss of 21.6 tons of hay resulting in the need of 43 additional bales of hay and adding $1,513 to herd hay cost.

This basic illustration demonstrates changes in feed costs from differing hay storage and feeding management. Producers should consider methods of reducing hay storage and feeding losses to reduce total costs. Producers should also consider grazing management practices that reduce hay needs which have a potential of reducing feed costs.

Spring Manure Applications

Carefully Approach Spring Manure Applications

Appropriate timing is an important part of efficient manure application.

At this time of year you may be looking at a full manure storage and desire to get an early jump on application for the coming growing season. Patience can pay off in the form of manure nutrient conservation. After all, the goal of manure application is to place valuable nutrients on the soil where they are needed and to keep them there. A large part of this equation is timing. The closer the nutrient is applied to actual crop need the better.

The goal of manure application is to place valuable nutrients on the soil where they are needed and to keep them there.

Application of nutrients during times of snow-cover, frozen soil, or saturated conditions increases risk of nutrient loss. Once a nutrient passes the field edge it is lost to the environment – and lost from crop uptake. A fraction of both nitrogen and phosphorus in manure will be present in soluble forms. If the liquid solution of manure can infiltrate the soil then soluble nutrients will infiltrate with the liquid to a location that is safe from overland runoff. The ammonium nitrogen fraction will also be safe from volatilization after it is beneath the soil surface. Frozen, snow-covered, and saturated soil conditions hinder infiltration. Spring rain events can carry both the soluble and solid portions of manure from the field.

If you must apply manure before conditions are ideal, you should go to fields specifically listed in your nutrient or manure management plan to receive manure during the current season. Some things that limit risk of manure nutrient loss include fields with shallow slopes, fields with a perennial crop such as hay, fields with a cover crop, fields with lots of crop residue, and fields that are more distant to water. You should prioritize the order of manure application according to risk and go to the least risky fields first.

Because infiltration can be limited at this time of year, extreme runoff events can occur. For instance, snow melt or rain on frozen or snow-covered ground can cause runoff to occur from lands that rarely lose water. For this reason, it is wise to skip subtle swales in these fields where water can gather and flow. Nutrients placed here certainly won’t stick around. These shallow depressions can be covered with manure later in the spring when risk is lower. Pay attention to the weather forecast, and avoid situations where you expect upcoming weather may undo the nutrient placement work you have done.

What Makes a Cow Fertile?

Why do cows fail to get pregnant when you do everything right? Having a healthy cycling cow in heat, bred by an experienced technician is not enough to ensure a viable pregnancy. There are two crucial things that must occur prior to breeding for any real chance of producing an embryo that will survive to term.

High Progesterone

The first essential item for a lasting pregnancy is high progesterone. Not the progesterone needed to sustain the pregnancy once it has been created, but progesterone prior to fertilization. Numerous studies eshow for the developing oocyte to be able to fertilize and make an embryo that will survive to term, it must grow under high progesterone during its last days prior to ovulation.

The second critical factor to producing a viable pregnancy is to ovulate a follicle that is not too old and degenerate or too young and immature. To make an embryo that is the strongest and survives the best, we must breed a fresh, competent oocyte (the unfertilized egg, which is released from the follicle), and this is often a problem for lactating dairy cows. There are a high percentage of natural heats that ovulate aged dominant follicles. These cows often appear as strong heats, have great mucous and uterine tone, but the oocyte is aged. Most of these aged oocytes will fertilize, but they make small weak embryos that do not survive well.

Both follicle competency and adequate progesterone during its development are essential for maximizing fertility. It is the reason some dairies are attaining conception rates exceeding 60% using first-service synchronization programs such as the G6G or the Double Ovsynch. Interestingly, when you look at the last three injections in these two popular programs, it’s still the original Ovsynch program that finishes them.

Enhance Survival

The only difference in these programs is the shots that precede the Ovsynch. Those are meant to synchronize cows at around days five to eight of their cycle. At this time most lactating cows have a next follicular wave large enough to ovulate, and the first GnRH injection of the Ovsynch is meant to get rid of older, less fertile follicles/oocytes.

Starting cows around days five to eight of their cycle results in higher ovulation rates. By removing the dominant follicle and its hormones, we start a new follicular wave that will ovulate a fresh oocyte, making an embryo that has the best chance of surviving. Another benefit of starting cows in Ovsynch at that time is most cows will have an active corpus luteum (CL) producing enough progesterone to grow a fertile follicle/oocyte.

These first service programs attain amazing conception rates, but what about the cows that do not conceive? How do we resynchronize them if we fail to observe a standing heat or our conception rates are too low with natural heats?

In subsequent articles I will discuss the challenge in managing these cows reproductively and some strategies to apply to achieve higher conception rates.

Don’t Fall Behind with Coccidiosis

Among the “biggies” of pathogens that cause scours in both pre- and post-weaned calves is coccidia, a parasitic protozoa that sets up shop in the intestinal tract of cattle. Eggs are produced internally and pass into the environment via shedding in manure.

Shedding of coccidia “eggs” or oocysts by infected calves and heifers usually peaks about 3 weeks after initial exposure. In one study the peak numbers of oocysts shed per day by untreated infected calves was 50,000,000 on day 21! Older, immune animals continue to contaminate their environment at a much lower — but consistent — rate. These facts tell us that from the moment a calf is born, she is very likely to get some of these oocysts in her mouth.

Don’t fall behind – reduce exposure of newborn and older calves

Once a newborn calf stands up, she is in a perfect situation to begin getting coccidia eggs in her mouth. Licking the dam’s hair coat, searching for a teat to suck, and licking on anything in her environment, unfortunately, all are generous sources of coccidia eggs. Moving her to a cleaner space does work to cut exposure.

Among older calves, we should think about ways to reduce their shedding rates (that is, the rate that she passes coccidia eggs in her feces):

  • Create clean, well-bedded resting space for calves.
  • Optimize ventilation in the barn and calf or heifer pens.
  • Provide adequate feed space per animal.
  • Minimize weight and age variation between animals in the group.
  • Avoid feeding on the ground unless it is at a bunk.
  • Provide 12″ of linear water space per 10 animals.
  • Treat infected animals.
  • Maximize time between successive occupants of the same pen.

Managing infections – building immunity

On nearly all dairies, all animals will eventually be exposed to coccidia. Through natural exposure, they will build immunity that suppresses infection. If the exposure of young calves can be managed to maintain a low level of infection, they can build immunity without excessive damage to their gut and loss of normal growth.

So, what can we do if natural exposure rates are uncontrolled (and likely to be high)? Use one of the feed additives that act to control coccidia activity in the calf after exposure. The four additives approved for use in the United States include:

  • Deccox®-M [decoquinate] – available in milk replacer, or powder, mixed with milk to make suspension
  • Bovatec® [lasalocid] – available in milk replacer, liquid additive to mix with milk
  • Rumensin® [monensin] – added to dry feeds like calf starter grain
  • Corid® [amprolium] – liquid can be added to milk or milk replacer, or dry crumble

When used as prescribed, all of these additives limit the population of coccidia in the gut. Their effectiveness is shown in studies in which the shedding rates have been reduced about 96 to 98 percent.

Preclinical use of the additives is recommended. Damage in the gut due to uncontrolled growth of coccidia will occur as early as 5 days after coccidia exposure. Thus, don’t wait until clinical symptoms are present to begin using the additive that you and your veterinarian believe is best for your situation.

What You Can’t Do With a VFD

For some time now, livestock producers and veterinarians have been gaining an understanding of the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules. These rules went into effect on January 1, 2017, and as the year progressed, livestock producers have been confronting what those rule changes mean for their own operations. Before January 1, feed-grade antibiotics such as chlortetracycline (CTC) for their animals could be purchased and used by livestock producers without any input from a veterinarian. Now, in order to use those medications, a VFD form from a veterinarian must be obtained.

Understanding the New Rules

As all parties have quickly discovered, the VFD process is more than just having a vet’s signature on a scrap of paper. Because there is no allowance for using feed-grade medications in an “off-label” manner, veterinarians completing the VFD’s have had to pay exquisite attention to every detail on the label, including the dose, duration of feeding, reasons (disease treatment vs. control) for feeding, and the diseases the medication could be used for.

For many cattle producers, the fall of 2017 has been the first time they’ve encountered this new way of doing business. Issues with pneumonia post-weaning, or following arrival of feeder cattle have always been challenges. In past years, uses of CTC in cattle feed have been subject to very little oversight, and some of those uses, although well-intended, were off-label. With the onset of the new rules, producers are having to square their previous treatment methods with what a VFD can – or can’t – allow them to do.

  • Refills
    A VFD can’t provide for refills, like a prescription one might get from a family doctor. This means a producer can’t use the same VFD form to come back and get another quantity of medicine if it’s determined to be needed later on.
  • Expiration Dates
    All VFD’s have expiration dates, and that’s a point of confusion as well. A VFD actually expires when the treatment is done (or the expiration date is reached – whatever comes first). Even though a VFD might not expire until February (authorizing a treatment any time until then), if a 5-day treatment is finished in November, the VFD is finished too.
  • Repeat Treatments
    A VFD can’t contain a statement authorizing a “retreatment as needed” or “repeat treatment in xx days.” An animal can’t show up on a VFD form more than once. If another round of treatment is necessary, a veterinarian will have to issue another VFD for the second treatment. That means that some groups of cattle might need 2 or 3 separate VFD’s written for them.
  • Animals Covered
    A VFD can’t be written for more animals than the veterinarian expects you’ll have on the farm. The veterinarian is responsible for indicating the number and location of the animals to be treated. This might get a little tricky for producers who buy several groups of feeder calves over time. Veterinarians might decide to only write the VFD for what is currently on the farm, or they could write it for the number eventually expected, if they are confident that number will be eventually procured.
  • Pneumonia 
    A VFD can’t be written to treat or control pneumonia when there isn’t any pneumonia in the cattle. In the past, it was not uncommon for treatment doses of CTC to be fed to cattle to “get ahead of” an outbreak, or to “clean up” the calves’ respiratory tract in anticipation of problems. When treatment doses are authorized by a VFD, this implies that active pneumonia is present in the group. It doesn’t mean producers have to wait until each and every calf is sick – but clearly, CTC labels don’t allow for using treatment doses in a group of completely healthy calves. This is the veterinarian’s call. If their clinical judgement tells them there’s pneumonia present in the group, they can write the VFD.

In Summary

It’s understandable that some livestock producers are feeling pinched by what a VFD can’t do. However, these new rules can do one very valuable thing: giving livestock producers an opportunity to interact with the one local professional who can best guide them through health-related decisions about their animals – their veterinarian. Since the VFD’s implementation, many of these interactions have resulted in more effective and efficient use of these tools and consideration of disease prevention methods that preclude the need for antibiotics. These conversations are definitely a positive by-product of these new regulations.

Tips for Calf Feeding

During a recent Calf and Heifer VIP event hosted by Purina at the company’s Animal Nutrition Center in Gray Summit, Mo., calf experts offered advice on calf feeding:

  • It takes 85% less time for a calf to get 2 quarts of milk from a bucket compared to straight off the cow. It is 35% quicker on a nipple bottle versus off the cow
  • Feeding through a bottle with a nipple will help slow down the passage rate and increase salvia. Having saliva adds more enzymes that promote protein and fat digestion
  • Slowing down milk intake helps move digestion from the small intestine into the abomasum where nutrients will more readily be picked up
  • The hole in a nipple should not be too large in diameter. If it is too large it defeats the purpose of feeding with a nipple. This might require replacing nipples regularly when holes become too wide
  • If the nipple leaks milk when you turn it upside down, get a new nipple
  • “Full bucket syndrome” tends to happen with calves when there is more grain in the bucket than needed. For instance, a newborn or week-old calf isn’t going to eat much feed so there should be none to very little grain available starting out
  • A starter bucket that is shallow might be a better fit for younger calves to reduce feed waste or overfeeding. It also helps encourage calves to eat because they aren’t sticking their heads down where they can’t see
  • “Empty bucket syndrome” is another problem seen on dairies for older calves. Not having enough feed regularly to calves throughout the day can lead to calves eating too fast when they are fed causing digestive upsets or bloat
  • Use bright colored water buckets to help feeders see what is at the bottom of the bucket. Dark or black colored buckets are harder to see at the bottom if dirt or debris is present
  • Put a physical divider like plywood or plastic between the water and feed buckets
  • A trial from Purina showed that separating the feed and water with a divider increased average daily gain by 0.3 lb.