Dairy Vet’: Heifer Growers Need a Systematic Approach

4/20/2013 7:00 AM

Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade

Special Sections Editor

LANCASTER, Pa. — When it comes to “common sense” calf raising, Dr. Sam Barringer of Merck Animal Health says it’s not very different from running a military operation.

Barringer spoke April 4 at the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Conference at the Lancaster County Convention Center.

“This is not a complex business. It has a lot of moving parts, but it does not have to be complicated,” he said of calf raising.

The thought of treating calf raising as a military operation might sound odd, but for this veterinarian and lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force, it makes sense.

Barringer was the first veterinarian to serve as a command surgeon for the NATO training mission in Afghanistan. He has also served several tours in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His areas of expertise are counterterrorism and prevention of bio/agro-terrorism.

The most important thing is to have systems in place, he said. Having clear directions on what and how to do things will ensure that, “if the bullets are flying, things will go well.

“Calf-raisers need to develop systems and processes that fit their farms. The systems have to be ones that employees and managers can easily follow,” he said.

It’s important to have a champion for the system to keep everyone on task, he said. If the system breaks, he said, “you need to monitor the process, not the outcome” to figure out what is happening.

He wove examples from working with farms and his combat mission helping to test medical systems in Afghanistan to illustrate what elements are needed in a successful system.

Calves like consistency, he said, reminding the audience that in nature they are the “bottom of the food chain” and simple stresses can have large impacts.

For building a management system, he encouraged farm managers to take employees to visit other farms for training. He said employees will gain more by interacting and viewing what is happening on different farms. He said adults don’t learn by PowerPoint. “You have to see it,” he said.

Barringer said, “Colostrum is important, but we can manage without it.” He stressed that he was not discounting its value. But his background is with western U.S. calf ranches, and many calves would not have received colostrum before arriving on the farm. Those calves have gone onto thrive and become productive cows, he said.

“In spite of the importance of colostrum, we have figured out how to do without it,” he said.

Colostrum management is not easy. He called it an orally administered blood transfusion, and said if colostrum management is not correct it could cause more harm than good.

Heifer growers also need to keep up with their vaccination protocols. He said it is important to use vaccinations that are tailored for calves and they should be administered properly.

He said free choice water should be provided to calves from birth because it will enhance grain intake in the coming weeks.

If there is one thing heifer growers need to do better, it’s data management. He said when he is advising farms, the one thing he does not have enough of is data. Records should include age, source and process verifications.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t interpret it,” he said.

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