We rely on cow data to make decisions every day. But what about data on calves and heifers? Too often we only detect underperforming animals once they enter the milking chain. Why does a cow fall behind her peers? Without data to inform us, we guess the reason.
Using herd management software to record data on calves and heifers – right from birth – can help uncover animal performance issues at all life stages, identify trends and suggest management changes.
Start recording early
Having key calf and heifer data points at your fingertips early in a calf’s life helps address performance issues. For example, suppose you had successful passive transfer, low prevalence of calf disease, and weaning weights were on target. You have now narrowed the troubleshooting window to post-weaning and pre-breeding. Once you discover the source of the problem, you can adapt your calf management protocols to avoid similar scenarios in the future.
Track key events
If you’re not logging data on your calves now, start by tracking these three critical data points:
Calf diseases: Diarrhea and pneumonia are the most common illnesses faced by calves. Tracking these events can help assess contributing factors, such as management, environment, or nutrition. Having data helps you step back to assess the full impact. How long has the problem been going on? What do you see as a result – small calves or loss of life? It can also help reveal how much time, resources, and money you spend treating an animal. Over the long term, you can use this data to measure impact on key management areas like milk production and reproduction.
Total serum proteins: Performing a serum total protein test is like a calf management report card – it assesses the passive transfer of immunoglobulins in calves. If you are having a problem with your pre-weaned calves, this helps narrow down possible contributors. For example, if you have passive transfer failure and test colostrum quality using a Brix refractometer, this rules out colostrum quality as an issue. Is colostrum feeding delayed? Are you feeding enough? Does colostrum or feeding equipment have high bacterial counts? Could the mother or calf be experiencing heat or cold stress? Arming yourself with serum total protein data helps illuminate colostrum management issues.
Mass: Recording birth, weaning, breeding and calving weight measurements helps you ensure you are meeting your growth goals. Birth weight data is used to confirm that calves have reached their desired weaning weight. Weight data also helps you manage your breeding program. Heifers must weigh 55% of their adult weight at breeding and 85% of their adult weight at calving.
Consistent review of birth and weaning weights helps you intervene before a weaning weight problem becomes a rearing weight problem. Managing this data helps catch animals that have strayed from the target and allows you to make management changes. A good example is changing the age at first service of heifers before they calve too small and fail to meet production targets due to outdated protocols.
Organize events well
Defining disease events and training employees on how to recognize them is essential for correct identification, treatment and record keeping. First, establish how you will define the event. In the case of diarrhoea, is it manure flowing? Does milk come out? Or does it have a temperature?
Make sure your treatment protocols are detailed in your herd management software. Is this a diarrhea event requiring electrolyte therapy or alternative therapy? Pre-defining these treatment plans based on calf symptoms helps ensure employees provide the right treatment and record it.
Proper configuration of protocols also prevents fuzzy data. For example, take a calf with a diarrhea event that receives three electrolyte treatments – it is important that the calf is recorded once as having a diarrhea event with treatment tasks. You don’t want to register it as having three course events. Entering it as a single event makes a big difference in how data is pulled into reports.
Follow the path to success
The configuration of your herd management software can make or break the data recording process. When set up correctly, it can pay dividends in troubleshooting cow performance issues. Consider these tips for success:
- Set up Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to know what to look for when reviewing data. Define your herd’s KPIs before you start the data entry process – see the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards for help.
- Get your team on the same page. Determine your threshold for common calf and heifer diseases. Specify how you will record each event and treatment protocols.
- Ensure that calf data is entered regularly. Implement a process to double-check the consistency of data entry.
- Consider using your herd management software’s mobile app for convenient recording on the go.
- Use your software’s customer support when questions arise.
- Involve your calf management team, veterinarian, nutritionist and other trusted advisors in the data review process for support and accountability.
Take the guesswork out of it – stay ahead of management challenges by proactively logging calf and heifer data into your herd management software. Contact your software’s customer support team to ensure that you are entering data correctly and configuring protocols.