Daily electrolytes are an investment in the rumen
Location: Imler, PA
Calf and Heifer Specialist: Alyssa Dietrich
- Feeding Sweet Treat Electrolytes daily to calves
- Jumping from 1.7 to 2 pounds average daily gain
- Creating an efficient rumen
It was a little over a year and a half ago when Singing Brook Dairy decided to make concrete changes to their calf program. Something that Greta Halahan, the farm’s calf manager, along with her father and brother who manage the farm knew was necessary. The 300-cow dairy found that there was too much inconsistency among calf health and performance, which ultimately down the road was affecting their lactating herd’s performance.
“Some calves did well while others did not, and our rate of gain was all over the board,” says Greta. “It’s like the ripple effect, one sickness, extreme stress event, or even just low starter intake can have lasting effects on calves and limit their potential.”
Talking with Greta, it is evident that their calf protocols are centered around one goal, to improve and sustain animal well-being. Achieving this goal starts with having great people on her calf team says Greta. Beyond people, she also focuses on four pillars – colostrum, comfort, nutrition, and daily electrolytes. All things she says Cargill has helped her team hone in on, and most notable for her is the addition of daily Nurture Sweet Treat Electrolyte feedings.
“Once we started feeding Sweet Treat Electrolytes daily, we noticed more consistent manure and an increase in starter intake immediately,” notes Greta. “We finally were able to make that jump from 1.7 to two pounds of average daily gain. And now, our calves are eating five to six pounds of starter before we even lower their milk intake before weaning.”
Greta explains that utilizing Cargill’s Dairy Team and working directly with Alyssa Dietrich, Cargill Calf and Heifer Specialist, to implement systematic changes is key to improving animal productivity on their farm. Alyssa shares too that Greta had the idea initially to offer free-choice electrolytes daily to calves who were most prone to dehydration in their water buckets.
“With this idea we started by using the electrolyte product they had on hand, which was a therapeutic electrolyte ideally used when calves are sick and/or scouring. Since we were offering it free choice some calves did not always drink it right away and the product did not stay in solution long enough for those calves to benefit,” says Alyssa. “So, I recommended we test out Sweet Treat because it is designed for this exact use. It doesn’t separate out quickly after mixing, is less expensive than their therapeutic electrolyte, and has additional palatability that attracts calves to drink it free choice.”
Singing Brook’s current protocol is to start feeding Sweet Treat daily to calves after they stop receiving colostrum at 3-days-old and up until day 21. Calves are bucket fed milk and then approximately two hours after given Sweet Treat in their buckets. For the newest calves, employees will encourage them to get up and drink. While progress has been speedy in the calves, Greta is finding daily electrolytes to be more than a short-term investment.
“If you really think about it, what we are trying to do is create a really efficient rumen. Raising calves that gain two pounds per day is achieving that, and eventually translating feed to weight turns into translating feed to milk. It's really that simple. So why wouldn't you invest in that rumen?” Greta shares.
All in all, Singing Brook Dairy says the implementation of proactive hydration is one key to growing healthy calves that perform in the long term. Noting focusing on a wholistic approach that also involves high quality and quantity of colostrum, comfort, and nutrition – “This takes a team effort between us, our employees, and Cargill.”