Electrolyte program hydrates calf success at Overman Dairy
By Ralph Gill
“It’s better to prevent than to treat.”
That’s the mentality of dairymen brothers Mark and Chuck Overman in Fort Recovery, Ohio. This proactive approach has helped improve calf growth rates, address calf illness and decrease labor needed at Overman Dairy.
“We’ve found that it’s a lot more economical to keep the herd healthy than to battle against a problem,” says Mark Overman, who oversees the calf-raising program of the 350-cow operation.
This producer mindset was fully realized in the mid-2000s after a scours peak.
“We used to treat scours case by case but, when you’re feeding upwards of 20 calves at once, the time it takes to treat sick calves can add up,” he says, explaining that scoured calves also lagged behind their peers in growth and performance.
Realizing the cost of scours, Overman called in his calf specialist, Emily Siegrist from Mercer Landmark, to create a prevention program. The two discussed the economic benefits of feeding calves to their full potential with research-proven products and mapped a calf management strategy that Overman continues to implement today.
Under this strategy, newborn calves are provided 4 quarts of maternal colostrum and provided vaccinations at birth. Calves are then moved to the dairy’s calf facility where they are individually housed and individually fed twice daily until weaning at eight weeks.
After weaning, the pens are sanitized and allowed a resting period to prevent bacteria spread from older calves to newborns that enter the facility.
“Giving calves a fresh, clean start is definitely important, but the change that has made the most difference for us is feeding electrolytes,” Overman says. “Emily thought our calves were not receiving enough fluid and recommended we feed calves the electrolytes. We gave it a shot and saw changes right away.”
Today, each calf is first fed 2.5 quarts of calf milk replacer in the morning and in late afternoon. After each feeding of milk replacer, Overman feeds each calf 2 quarts of electrolytes.
“We now feed electrolytes to each calf, twice a day every day from day three through weaning,” Overman says. Siegrist cautions however that before any dairy implements this program, a complete calf water test should be run to assure the calf water is not high in sodium. Electrolyte is a high sodium solution and if the water is already high in sodium adding electrolytes could make the problem worse.
“We give this extra fluid to our young calves all year,” he adds. “The extra fluid helps maintain hydration during cold spells as well as high temperatures. We’ve had some tough winters and some really hot summer days; in both cases, the electrolytes have helped keep the calves hydrated.”
In addition to lower treatment costs and less labor time, the prevention-before-treatment management program has also helped Overman Dairy to wean heavier calves.
“The calves eat grain earlier and the transition at weaning is smoother,” he says. “We wean the calves when they are eating a high level of starter. Since we added electrolytes to the program, the calves are eating the grain a lot sooner.”
When it comes to the future, Overman is continually evaluating additional ways to provide the best care and comfort to his young calves, so they transition into the heifer facility – and the milking parlor – sooner.
“We’re always working with our calf specialist to make our program even better,” he says. “The outside perspective of having her on farm once every couple of weeks helps us to identify problems before they cause issues and add new strategies into our calf-raising program.”