Participants on the recent pre-Empire Farm Days “Drive Yourself Dairy Tour” not only enjoyed the tour of the new calf housing facilities at Synergy Genetics LLC, in Wyoming, NY, but were also exposed to a different way of doing business, and the efforts needed to ensure that calves have the healthiest start in life. Synergy Genetics LLC raises calves for Synergy LLC’s (the affiliate dairy farm located across the street) replacement herd, and provides recipient gestational services for national and international clients.
“The premise behind Synergy Genetics LLC’s business model is to provide recipient gestational services for clients both domestically and abroad for their fresh and frozen bovine embryos,” Kitty Noble Rudgers, who coordinates the Synergy Genetics LLC transfer and live calf program, said. “Often clients owning embryos from all different bovine breeds are in need of surrogate animals to gestate and calve out their valuable calves, and Synergy Genetics LLC aims to do just this with its affiliate farms.”
The client embryo calves are born into the Synergy Genetics program via their surrogate cows. These calves are then raised anywhere from three hours to six months, depending on client needs, in the calf barns.
Calves are initially fed four quarts of pasteurized colostrum at birth, with a second feeding of two quarts of colostrum replacer. Colostrum is pasteurized in separate equipment from the whole milk, to prevent the colostrum — due to its viscosity — from accumulating on the heat exchanger plates in the milk pasteurizing equipment.
Whole milk destined to be fed to the calves is pasteurized at 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. The entire process of heating, pasteurization and cooling takes about 45 minutes for each batch of 110 gallons of milk. Calves are fed whole milk from the Jersey herd at the affiliate farm.
Feeding is three times per day, at 6:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., giving them “enough time to digest, take a nap, eat some grain,” Victoria Logel, Calf Manager, said.
After switching the hose on the pasteurization equipment, the cooled milk can then be directly transferred into bottles for feeding. After a hose change again, the bottle fill table can then be used to wash and sanitize the bottles seamlessly. The automated bottle washing system has allowed the farm to save labor and begin feeding calves on a thrice per day schedule. Bottle wash and fill areas adjoin the calf barns, to decrease the time and distance between filling and feeding. This is not only labor-saving, but provides less opportunity for contamination to occur. The system was designed by Cidec LLC, and representative Scott Myers was on had to answer questions for the tour crowd.
Nipples are washed in a washing machine, and sanitized with chlorine dioxide. Nipples are replaced in an ongoing fashion, and each nipple is replaced within 30 to 45 days, Logel said. Any damaged nipples are immediately discarded.
Milk consumption increases incrementally from two quarts per feeding for newborns up to four quarts per feeding when calves are weaned at eight weeks of age. Free choice water and Amplicalf 22 percent starter grain are provided as well. Each calf has its own individual water and feed buckets, carefully spaced to prevent cross-contamination.
Biosecure calf housing
All of the calf care protocols in place at Synergy Genetics LLC have been implemented with the goal of preventing calf diseases. One of the facility’s goals is to be completely free from Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR). Calves receive vaccinations orally and via two naval dips, and also receive a multi-mineral shot. Only IBR-free bulls are used for studs.
“Due to the elite nature and value of each calf that comes through our program, calves are treated as individuals within our housing system, focusing on optimal health and growth of each calf during their stay with us, each with their own health care regime and attention paid to them,” Noble Rudgers said.
Two new, pre-engineered fabric covered steel arch buildings, each holding 66 calves in individually housed four foot by eight foot, solid side wall stalls, were recently erected for calf housing. The calf pens have drainage below to remove liquid waste, and are covered with gravel. Driveway fabric and wood shavings then complete the bedding. Straw is used in cold months, as are calf blankets for those two months of age or younger. During the construction process, another area — for future growth — was graded and prepared for a third identical facility.
Dr. Fernando Soberon, Ruminant Technical Specialist with Shur-Gain, encouraged tour participants to prepare any new facilities for future potential growth. “If you’re growing internally, you want to give yourself some space, and get yourself prepared for that final number,” he said.
The calf barn ventilation system was designed by Curt Gooch, Cornell University PRO-DAIRY and Dairy Environmental Systems Program. The Cornell Neutral Ventilation System Design provides optimal ventilation to the calves, preventing respiratory illnesses and promoting calf comfort. The system, Gooch explained, pushes air into the barn, and sucks air out of the barn, and is designed to provide calves with crucial ventilation at their nose zones, and does so in a uniform manner throughout the facility.
The mechanically ventilated system is designed with five zones, each of which is utilized during given temperature ranges, to provide “certain air exchange rates we’re trying to target,” Gooch said. “The difference in air exchange is 10 volumes of air per minute between cold and hot.”
The hot zone is for summer conditions, while the mild zone is for more moderate days. The transition zone is geared to those spring or fall days with large temperature fluctuations. The cold zone is for normal cold temperatures, and the extreme cold zone is for the harshest winter temperatures. The settings are all automated.
The ventilation system consists of positive pressure air tubes running above the calf pens on either side of the barn, with fans at both ends; side walls with air inlets on several levels; and an air exhaust system located below the concrete center alley floor to draw air out of the barn. All systems act together depending on the zone. Manually operated curtains are also incorporated into the ventilation plan.
Properly calibrated ventilation prevents the fabric roofing — which transmits more energy than other types of roofing — from causing interior warming. Without proper ventilation, increases in manure gases and increased air moisture would occur.
Optimal calf care
In another example of how far they go to keep the calves healthy, Noble Rudgers explained that upon transport from the farm, trailers must be pressure-washed and sanitized before they are allowed to remove a calf from the premises.
“It’s overkill for a lot of people,” she said of the extremes to which Synergy Genetics LLC goes to prevent any calf health concerns. “While we manage calves differently than other farms, we are one of very few independently owned recipient programs in the United States to do this for a variety of clients, for a variety of bovine breeds, at a very competitive rate. These calves range from calves raised for the genomic markets — with varying pedigrees and health traits — to calves raised for the ‘show’ market.”