Carissa Buttjer, Herdsperson
Carissa Buttjer, Herdsperson
    Iowa State University Extension’s “Boots in the Barn” series targeted at dairy women completed its three-session run Feb. 5 with three women sharing techniques they use for successful herd management.
    The session, also sponsored by a Professional Dairy Producers Foundation grant, featured Carrisa Buttjer, assistant herdsman for Schanbacher Acres near Atkins, Iowa, along with Minnie Ward, owner of Fallen Oaks Custom Calves in St. Charles Minnesota, and Aaron Titterington, who works full time on her family’s dairy near Spencer, Iowa.
    Titterington’s family operation, Jones Dairy, milks 1,100 Jerseys in a double-12 parallel parlor and is implanting beef embryos into 40% to 50% of their milking herd. She highlighted the farm’s calf management protocols during the virtual presentation.
    Titterington said the dairy averages three new calves daily, each of which spends its first hours in a warm room where it is weighed, identified, vaccinated, dehorned, fed and has its naval dipped. A calf’s first meal at Jones Dairy is a colostrum replacer. Most calves are fed with Genesis®, a 150 gram replacer that comes with a disposable tube feeder to which water is added.
    “We’re kind of grandfathered in on the colostrum replacer, in that 20 years ago we started having pressure from Johne’s, so we went to the replacer and became addicted to the convenience,” Titterington said. “I understand that colostrum is definitely better, but this, for us, is the simplest way to make sure that it’s done promptly, correctly, and we can limit steps and potential for error.”
    If a calf is born during milking in the hospital parlor, it may receive its mother’s colostrum instead. Each calf’s second feeding is with its mother’s colostrum.
    Dixie cups with strong iodine are used for dipping navels at birth and again at the second feeding. Vaccinations for newborns include Inforce 3® intranasally, Ultrabac® C and D subcutaneously.
    Titterington shared a video that is required viewing for everyone on the farm who dehorns. It recommends refrigerating the paste, clipping hair around horn buds and then roughing the horn bud with the scissors before applying paste.   
    For bottle-fed calves, Jones Dairy mixes pasteurized hospital cow milk half and half with a 25-25 milk replacer.
    “We try to be a little over the top when it comes to cleaning our calf utensils,” Titterington said. “We run about 100 bottles, so we have a bottle washer.”
    Bottles go through warm, soapy water with dish soap in it and then through two cycles of acid and detergent.
    Calves are in individual pens until about three weeks of age, then are in pairs or in a group of about 18 and receive bottles in headlocks. After weaning, they are in groups until 5 to 7 months of age, when they move to a larger barn until two or three months before calving.
    The second presenter, Buttjer, has been at Schanbacher Acres, owned by J., Barb, Allan and Joyce Schanbacher, for 12 years. One of her responsibilities at the 280-cow dairy is blood sampling for pregnancy checks. Pregnancy can be determined based on the amount of a pregnancy-specific protein in a blood sample drawn from the tail.
    The Schanbacher cows and heifers wear heat detection collars, with cows receiving them at roughly 20 days in milk. Breeding begins when the monitors show heat after about 70 days in milk. If natural heat is not shown, the cow is added to a timed artificial insemination schedule.
    Blood samples are taken at 35 days after breeding. Positive results are sampled again at 60 days.
    “If that comes back pregnant, we say she is verified pregnant and then we take the collar off and use it on another cow,” Buttjer said.
    Open cows are placed on the timed A.I. schedule.
    Breeding age heifers eat in headlocks, allowing breeding and blood samples to be taken more easily on Monday mornings. Collars are also used on the heifers.
    Heifers are sampled at 45 days.
    Blood sampling and collar transfers on the milking herd are done on Tuesdays, in combination with timed A.I. and vaccinations, using a management rail after milking.
    Buttjer said supplies and shipping of blood samples adds up to about $3.22 per sample. She said she takes about 15 blood samples a week.
    Buttjer said the dairy likes their decision to use blood sampling because it saves time spent with a veterinarian who comes from 1.5 hours away.
    “We don’t need to sort or move the cows, or reclean the parlor or the management rail, which is what we used to have to do when we would use the vet for preg checking,” Buttjer said. “It only requires one person. And it’s a little more economical for us.”
    The third “Boots in the Barn” presenter, Minnie Ward, works with her husband and daughter, Hanna, and has been raising calves at their farm Fallen Oaks for 14 years. They use hutches, super condos and a transition barn to raise calves that arrive once a week at 2 to 7 days old and remain until 4 months old.
    Ward said observation is the key to successful calf raising, using the four senses of eyes, smell, ears and touch. She looks for bright and responsive eyes, a smooth and shiny hair coat, nose color and aggressiveness.
    “I tend to do my evaluations at feeding time,” Ward said. “That is when the calves are probably the most aggressive and you can actually interact and see if they are going to give you a sign. I always tell producers, ‘They tell us a story every day and it is our job to pick up on what they’re telling us.’”
    Calves are housed two per hutch upon arrival. Ward gives each an overall health score including total protein, body score and weight. They are vaccinated at arrival and again at weaning, and in cold weather are covered with calf jackets – sometimes two in extreme temperatures.
    Ward also said she is aggressive with fluids when needed, keeping milk for nutrition even when electrolytes are given for scours.  
    One of Ward’s tricks of the trade is giving 5 Hour Energy when a calf is lethargic or slow to respond. When antibiotic treatment is necessary, she follows up with 5 Hour Energy and a Sci Mic bolus to replenish their system. She said she believes the protocol gives those calves a chance to rebound quicker and get back on full feed.
    With calves usually pail trained when arriving, Ward works to achieve 13% solids most of the year in the 24/20 milk replacer diet the farm uses. Ward uses a refractometer for measurement. She said the use of a milk taxi for mixing, dosing of different amounts and delivery works well for them.
    “This has been a saving grace for the consistency factor, because it’s not just me who feeds calves here – it is also my husband and daughter,” she said. “With the Milk Taxi we are able to keep the temperature consistent, the volume we’re feeding consistent, and it is very user friendly.”
    During weaning, calves are moved to pens of six to eight head and drop to once-a-day feeding and free-choice water and all the starter they can consume. They transition to groups of about 20-30 head in the barn. The starter ration is a 20% texturized mix along with sorghum Sudan grass baleage. Most are eating at least 5 pounds of grain a day when weaned.
    Ward stressed that having the correct people with the same passion as their leader is critical to care of young calves.
    She is planning to add a cross-ventilated barn with auto feeders for 100 calves on milk this spring to replace hutches.
    An archived version of the webinar can be viewed at