“Consistency, consistency, consistency,” said the animated Lane Sollenberger to those attending the First International Conference of Calf and Heifer held in Baoding, Hebei, China.
“Calves crave consistency. It is the most important thing I learned about raising calves, and I first learned this concept from Dr. Sheila McGuirk from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine,” he said in sharing the finer points of the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association’s Gold Standards.
“We feed calves three times a day,” said the general manager of Dream Farms in Newburg, Pa. “Those feeding times are not exactly 8 hours apart, but they are consistent each day.”
Those Gold Standards published by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association were the result of considerable deliberation, review of research, and accepted practices. There are two main sections to the Gold Standards — Performance and Production.
Keep health in mind
Farms should have a two-part biosecurity plan that involves access to the farm and within-farm strategies.
“Have an animal quarantine policy,” he said when talking about within-farm strategies. “That includes a sick animal policy and quarantine strategy.” When speaking to the importance of this standard, Sollenberger asked, “Do you want to get all the other animals sick?
“Also, each day we start feeding the youngest calves first,” said Sollenberger to the Chinese audience about his additional approaches to biosecurity and herd health. “Never feed the older animals first, because you don’t want to spread disease from older livestock to younger ones.”
Set a minimum age
“At Dream Farms, we set a minimum age for first breeding. Our largest client asks that we breed no sooner than 345 days of age,” said Sollenberger. “That farm also set a maximum age of first breeding of 395 days,” said the grower, who raises calves and heifers for 16 dairy farm clients. “With that age requirement in mind, we start breeding Holstein heifers at 800 pounds.”
Sollenberger does not use stature as a guidepost because it’s highly variable and depends upon breed, genetics, and herd goals. Also, stature is very dependent on nutrition, especially protein.
As for body condition, Dreams Farms tracks that closely, too.
“Body condition scoring is important, but it is also pretty subjective,” said Sollenberger. “To achieve consistency, we have the same two people body condition score all the time.”
When commenting on a presentation given on genetics by a different speaker earlier in the morning, Sollenberger added, “When looking at 8,000 heifers raised on our farm, I know that genetics matter.” He further discussed differences in reproduction, health, and growth.