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Washington State University Dairy News

December 2017 WSU Dairy Newsletter

Amber’s Top Ten Tips: Considerations for Bucket Feeding Pre-weaned Calves

Is it better to offer milk/milk replacer in buckets or bottles for preweaned calves? This is a common debate within the dairy industry. Feeding milk in bottles allows calves to exhibit suckling behavior, which minimizes the occurrences of non-nutritive sucking behavior. Buckets are easier to clean and sanitize, which minimizes calf exposure to potentially harmful pathogens. We understand the obvious advantages and disadvantages of both feeding systems; however, we often overlook an important aspect, labor. Drinking out of buckets is not intuitive for calves so additional labor is needed to train them. How long does it take to train calves to drink from buckets? Well, that is exactly what researchers at Washington State University wanted to determine. Cameron Mandel, Amber Adams Progar, Bill Sischo, and Dale Moore recently published a study in the Journal of Dairy Science that monitored 1,235 bucket-fed calves. Below I will highlight some important results from this study. Please consider these results if your dairy uses, or is contemplating switching to a bucket feeding system:

  1. Use of a bucket vs. bottle feeding

    According to the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System, dairies in the United States fed milk or milk replacer to 59% of preweaned heifer dairy calves using buckets, with 38% more calves in the East than the West fed with buckets. In comparison, a study concluded that about 92% of dairy farms in Quebec fed heifers with buckets.

  2. Heifer vs. bull

    After 3 days of age, heifer calves were 1.5 times less likely to require assistance compared with bull calves.

  3. Twins

    Twins had almost twice the odds of requiring assistance after 3 days of age than singletons.

  4. Calf position at birth

    A calf born facing forward was less likely to require assistance with drinking after 3 days of age, when compared to a calf born backwards. Sixteen percent more of the calves born backwards needed assistance drinking than calves born forwards.

  5. Dam

    About 4% more calves born to heifers tended to require assistance longer than calves born to cows.

  6. Calving score

    The level of difficulty during calving (calving score) did not appear to affect the amount of time a calf required for training. Calving score was assigned as a 1 (normal delivery), 2 (some assistance), or 3 (difficult birth).

  7. Average training requirement

    The average time required for training was 3.4 days. After 3 days of age, almost 60% of calves consumed the entire morning milk allotment without assistance.

  8. Time of year

    Calves were enrolled onto the study between the beginning of May and the end of July. A calf born after June 8th was 2-5 times less likely to need assistance after 3 days of age than calves born during the first week of the study.

  9. Calf behavior – depressed vs. alert

    Depressed (slow to respond to the environment) calves were four times more likely to be assisted than alert calves.

  10. Calf behavior – sternal vs. standing

    Alert, sternal (lying down) calves were 2.4 times more likely to require assistance than alert, standing calves.

Article citation: Mandel, C., A. Adams-Progar, W. M. Sischo, and D. A. Moore. 2017. Short communication: Predictors of time to dairy calf bucket training. Journal of Dairy Science 100:9769-9774.

Calf sticks head through enclosure gate next to feeding bucket.
How long does it take to train a dairy calf to drink milk from a bucket?

Cooperative University Dairy Students Annual Industry Review (January 25 – 26, 2018) & Dairy Club Banquet (January 25, 2018)

The Cooperative University Dairy Students are busy working on projects and preparing for the annual CUDS Review. Recently, CUDS recruited new members, and starting in January 2018, there will be 12 new members. CUDS has recently installed an inline sampler so they measure their components. Currently, the CUDS herd is producing an average of 82.5bs/head/day with 47,000 SCC, 3.38% milk protein, and 4.36% butterfat.

Every year a panel of invited reviewers consisting of industry professionals from Washington, travel to Pullman to hear presentations from CUDS members. Each student in CUDS develops goals and projects for their chair position (nutrition, herd health, finances, etc.) and works towards accomplishing these throughout the year. The annual CUDS Review will be held January 25-26, 2018 this year.

On Thursday night, January 25, the WSU’s Dairy Club will be hosting a banquet as a way to fundraise for the club. Social hour begins at 6:00 and dinner begins at 6:30. A note from the club’s event chair:

“WSU Dairy Club is a student-led organization that encourages its members to participate in leadership and community outreach projects. The club is centered on educating the community, as well as providing educational opportunities for our members to learn more about the dairy industry. A few of our main events of the year include various guest speakers, Dairy Olympics, American Dairy Science Association regional and national meetings, and Cougar Youth Weekend.

We invite you and your colleagues to join us for good food and good fun. Tickets are available for $15 at the door or $10 if you RSVP in advance. Drink tickets for alcoholic beverages can be purchased for an additional $5. Please RVSP by emailing Chris Mandella (”

Grateful for Dairy Manure Derived Struvite in Our Stockings this Holiday Season

The mobile cone unit moved from Snohomish County to Whatcom County this month to continue to remove phosphorus from manure in the form of Struvite. The mobile nutrient removal technology also stirred some interest while sitting outside the Yakima Convention Center at the annual dairy meeting a few weeks ago (pictures below).

We are planning field days on the eastern and western sides of the state to get an up close look at the nutrient removal system. Stay tuned for announcement of those dates. Also, if you are interested in being a collaborator farm by having this technology demonstrated at your farm, please fill out this WSU short info form, or email / call Liz Whitefield (, 253-445-4562).

Happiest of holidays to you and your loved ones this season from the WSU Livestock Nutrient Management Program.

Western Washington and Oregon Pasture Management Calendar Debuts

A new Extension publication, “The Western Oregon and Washington Pasture Calendar (PMW699),” was created to provide pasture managers and their advisors with a scientific basis for pasture management decisions and the timing of critical actions. A team of Extension educators and NRCS staff recently conducted a series of train-the-trainer workshops throughout western Oregon and Washington to teach fellow professionals and livestock managers how to use this new educational tool. Publication of the Calendar and support for the workshop series were provided by a western regional USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant.

Pasture Calendar Contents

The Pasture Calendar starts with the basics: grass terminology, factors controlling perennial forage growth, and plant growth cycles. Maps of Forage Management Zones are included (Fig. 1).

Color-coded map of western Washington counties.
Figure 1. Map Western Washington of Forage Management Zones.

The western Oregon and Washington calendars are divided into 24 management periods consisting of the first and second half of each month (Fig. 2). For each management zone or resource area, a color-coded table indicates what typically happens with grasses during a certain period. These plant growth periods include:

  • Semi-dormancy
  • Steady regrowth
  • Declining regrowth
  • Very slow growth
  • Increasing growth
  • Rapid growth—cool soils
  • Rapid growth—warming soils
  • Slowing growth
  • Steady growth
  • Slow growth
  • Dormancy
Chart of periods for forage growth.
Figure 2. Western Washington Pasture Calendar with descriptions of grass growth periods.

The Pasture Calendar includes extensive appendices and references. Appendices are:

  • How Pasture Plants Grow
  • Pasture Clipping
  • Sacrifice Areas
  • Buffer Strips
  • Irrigation
  • Laminitis
  • The Nitrogen Cycle
  • Nitrates in Forages
  • Nutrient Excesses/Deficiencies
  • Alternative Forage Crops
  • Endophyte Toxins in Forage

Calendar Highlights

The Pasture Calendar emphasizes and explains critical pasture management practices, such as:

  • Performing soil tests and addressing fertility issues
  • Selecting a forage species and variety well suited to local growing conditions
  • Leaving at least three inches of grass stubble at all times
  • Rotating pastures to let them rest and regrow to grazing height (> eight inches) before regrazing
  • Grazing or mowing grasses to keep them in vegetative phase and vigorous
  • Monitoring livestock body condition
  • Establishing sacrifice areas for livestock confinement during critical periods.

Fall Is All!

The vital importance of fall pasture management is stressed throughout the Pasture Calendar. In early fall (typically September), grass plants generate new roots to replace the ones shed during the “summer slump.” It takes energy for plants to generate these roots, and roots in turn are needed for plants to obtain water and nutrients from soil. Most importantly, next season’s growing points are being established—overgrazing during this period will cause delayed and reduced pasture growth the following spring.

Protect the Lower 3”

Grasses store their sugar for regrowth in the lowest three inches of above-ground growth, not in their roots as previously believed. This means anytime pasture grasses or grass hayfields are grazed or mowed to less than three inches tall, the plants lose their energy reserves and regrowth will be delayed by up to six weeks (Fig. 3). If this mismanagement occurs month after month, plant vigor is affected and desirable pasture plants die; bare soil and weed incursions result. Expensive pasture renovation is then needed but will be pointless unless pasture management practices are changed.

Man raises sample of grass from an overgrazed pasture.
Figure 3. Dr. Steve Fransen demonstrating root health of simulated healthy fall pasture grass (lower hand) vs. simulated overgrazed pasture (upper hand).

Sacrifice Areas Save Plants

Anytime livestock have the potential to graze pastures below three inches, they should be removed from pastures, confined to a sacrifice area, and fed stored forage such as hay or haylage. The need for a sacrifice area could arise during muddy winter months, the pasture summer slump, or if there is not enough pasture for the livestock under management. Conservation District funding may be available to help develop sacrifice areas, which also help protect soil and water quality.

Where to Get the Pasture Calendar

This 50-page, full color publication will soon be available for free downloading at (search for PNW699).