Opportunities to focus on young dairy calves allows SROC to continue to contribute to the Minnesota dairy industry. Research has been built upon the original commercial partnership developed with three dairies representing 1,700 dairy cows and allied industries. This allows a sufficient number of calves to be raised to accommodate applied pre- and post weaning studies developed by the partner team (up to 400 calves/year) and also have calves available to conduct studies with other University or allied industry collaborators. A close working relationship has developed between the University of Minnesota and management at each of the three dairies which has helped to maintain the quality of heifers raised at SROC. A unique aspect of the project tracks every calf that enters and leaves SROC then follow them back to the dairies for first lactation production data. This data set will be used for a comprehensive analysis to understand the relationship between calf growth and health from 2 to 5 days old up to 6 months on first lactation performance. Currently, the calf and heifer facility in Waseca raises more than 1,000 dairy heifer calves annually for the three commercial dairy operations which now represent over 2,000 cows.

Complete pre- and post-weaning nutrition and management options for commercial dairy heifer calves have been implemented over the past 10 years. The three dairy clients use the growth and health data of their heifers to help them make culling management decisions and improve economic efficiencies. The applied research program strategies studied at SROC have given dairy producers and allied industry options they can fit into their specific on-farm or marketing needs. 

Goals for calf performance in the nursery have been attained by both conventional, moderate intensive or intensive programs. Optimum calf starter intake compliments changes in liquid feeding programs to ensure calves meet their goals. Good quality calves and health management have been important keys to success. Post weaning programs have maintained calf performance which has exceeded initial expectations. The dairy producers who have supported this effort have helped to improve the programs for their heifer calves which is a critical phase for growing dairy heifers. Detailed records for each calf that arrives at SROC has helped both the dairy managers and SROC management. The unique partnership between the University of Minnesota, the commercial dairy producers and allied industry collaborators has allowed many options to be considered for calf raising operations. 

Examples of nursery calf projects conducted SROC include:

  • Alternative protein sources to partially replace milk proteins in calf milk replacers. Objective: To evaluate the health and performance of calves fed milk replacers with differing milk replacer protein sources.
  • Comparison of feeding calves milk replacers or pasteurized waste milk. Objective: To evaluate the health and performance of calves fed two kinds of milk replacer versus pasteurized waste milk with or without a milk replacer supplement.
  • Effect of feeding calves with waste milk on antibiotic resistance patterns and abundance of antibiotic resistance genes from nasal and fecal bacteria. Objective: Using calves assigned to Goal 2, the objectives of this study were 1) to determine whether there is an increase in antibiotic resistance patterns of E. coli from fecal samples and P. multicoda from nasal samples isolated from dairy calves fed milk with antibiotic residues and calves fed milk replacer (MR) without antibiotics; 2) to quantify by qPCR the most common resistance genes of β-lactams, sulfonamidas, phenicols and fluoroquinolones from fecal and nasal samples from calves; 3) to determine whether the abundances of resistance genes are highest in calves fed milk with antibiotic residues than in calves that received milk replacer (MR) without antibiotics; 4) to evaluate if the antibiotic pressure of waste milk can alter respiratory and digestive flora of preweaned calves by pyrosequencing.
  • Performance of calves pre- and post-weaning when fed texturized calf starters with differing protein levels in the first two months of life. Objective: To evaluate dry matter intake, health, and performance of calves fed starters with differing protein levels.
  • Automatic calf feeder operation at SROC. The system was established in 2011 in a renovated indoor calf barn. Groups of calves are assigned to the room every 8 to 10 weeks depending on calf flow and space. The calves are fed different milk replacers and common calf starters. Three to five groups of 46 calves a year have been raised during each of the past three years. Calves remain in the auto feeder for 56 days.