Calf Care School a success!

With five MSU Extension Calf Care Schools conducted and more to go this fall, evaluations show that participants have a better understanding of caring for dairy calves and are more enthusiastic about their jobs.

Five Calf Care Schools were held in Michigan this past spring with a total attendance of more than 150 farmer owners, employees and industry professionals. The classes were led by the Michigan State University Extension dairy team. Instructors included MSU Extension dairy educators and local veterinarians. Each calf-care program consisted of 5.5 hours of education on topics covering pre-birth maternity-pen management to post-weaning health concerns and monitoring performance. Additional topics included calving care, newborn-calf care, colostrum management, feeding milk/milk replacer, dry feed and water, calf-housing management, scours, and weaning and transition.

A special emphasis was placed on colostrum management. Proper colostrum management including timing of milking, quality assessment, timing of feeding, and proper handling and storage are all critical to the newborn calf’s health and her continued good health as she matures into a lactating cow. The brix refractometer was introduced as a new tool to assess colostrum quality. The refractometer measures the amount of light refracted by a sample of colostrum and uses this to estimate the total solids content. Total solids content is highly correlated to IgG concentrations. Recent research at the University of Guelph showed a high correlation when comparing a brix refractometer and the gold standard radial immunodiffusion assay. The advantages of the refractometer, compared to the use of a colostrometer are it can be used “cow-side”, it does not require that colostrum be a specific temperature, and only a few drops of colostrum are needed for the evaluation.

Local veterinarians covered topics on care at calving and health concerns. This local contact will help to reinforce skills learned during the program, as these veterinarians continue to work with those that attended the Calf Care Schools. 

Actual changes in management and effects of these changes on mortality and calf illness will be measured in a follow-up survey to participants. Evaluations were conducted at the end of each session to determine skill level change, intended changes in practices, and to assess current calf health measures. Individuals ranked their knowledge of each topic area before and after the presentations on a 5-point scale. 

  • The average gain in knowledge on the individual sessions was 1.1 points on the scale. 
  • Participants had the greatest gain in knowledge in colostrum management, with a 1.6 point increase. 
  • Attendees also reported an increase in “understanding of their job” (change = 0.8) and in their “enthusiasm for their job” (change = 0.6).  
  • On a scale of 1-5 with 1 being Disagree and 5 being Agree, participants said that the program’s “Content was progressive and current” (Avg. = 4.5) and that the “Content will be useful in my job” (Avg. = 4.7).  
  • 63% of survey respondents listed management changes that they intended to make.  
  • 33% of the listed management changes related to colostrum management.  
  • 16% related to improving records on the farm.

Two more Calf Care Schools are being planned in the northern Lower Peninsula and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the fall of 2011, and additional schools may be held in 2012.

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