Calves at M & M Feedlot in Parma, Idaho, appear calm in a group pen, despite having just been moved from individual hutches. All 12 of the bull calves in the group pen appeared calm and comfortable, despite just having been moved from individual hutches the day before. Introduction to group hutches can be a stressful time — essentially, it’s like a five-year-old child experiencing his first day of kindergarten with new classmates, points out calf and heifer raiser Darin Mann, of M & M Feedlot in Parma, Idaho.
To make the animals’ adjustment easier at M & M Feedlot, there are small groups of 12 initially. After two weeks, the animals are moved to a group of 24, then two weeks later to a group of 48, and so on to progressively larger sizes. And, there are no feed changes, initially — the animals receive the same grain pellets that they received in the hutch. (Total mixed rations come a little later.)
The group pens are designed to help animals thrive rather than struggle, Mann says. Therefore, M & M Feedlot is able to avoid one of the common heifer-rearing bottlenecks — performance lag when animals are moved from hutches to group pens.
There are eight common heifer-rearing bottlenecks, points out Gene Boomer, manager of field technical services for Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition. They include:
1. Colostrum harvest and delivery.
“Harvesting and delivering an adequate volume of clean, high-quality colostrum in a timely manner must be the foundation for all successful dairy heifer development programs,” Boomer says.
It’s a priority for the Aardema Group dairies in Idaho.
“We do a really good job as far as colostrum goes,” says Jordan Leak, operations manager for the seven Aardema dairies.
Aardema Calf Ranch Manager Brandon Andersen and his crew use a Brix refractometer to test for solids in the colostrums — they like to see a Brix score of 22 percent or higher. It rarely falls below that level, but if it does they will add colostrum supplement. They feed the calves 4 quarts within the first hour of life, using an esophageal feeder to ensure that the animals get the full gallon. Then, eight to 12 hours later there’s a second feeding — this time, 2 quarts via a bottle.
To monitor calf-feeding success, they draw blood on every third calf during processing in the calf hutches. Ninety-five percent of the calves have a serum protein concentration of 5.5 grams per deciliter or above, which indicates that the calves are off to a good start.