Goal Setting

Goal Setting

It is the start of a new year and many of us are busy setting goals! As we take time to contemplate what we want to accomplish this year, let’s not forget about our calves! Setting goals provides guidance and direction; facilitates planning, and motivates employees, allowing control and evaluation of performance. I encourage you to take time to define some goals of where you want to take your calf program this coming year! 

You may not know where to start, and that’s ok. Take a look at your records from the past year and see if you are measuring up to the DCHA Gold Standards.  Pick one area where your farm has the ability to improve. Once you have decided what area you would like to work on, write down your goal! Be specific in what you choose, for example the goal to “grow larger calves” is broad and indirect. Instead a more specific goal would be, “re-evaluate milk feeding program, identify and implement changes to enhance nutrition and calf growth”.

Once you have written down your goal, create an action plan, and a timeline for when you want specific steps to be completed. Act and then re-evaluate and assess your progress!

An accumulation of simple wins will result in big changes on your farm! To help you with the goal setting process, we have created a free goal-setting worksheet! Click here to download!

Keep reading for goal examples derived from the DCHA Gold Standards!


Calf Processing

Maternity Pen

  1. Clean, well bedded, passes the wet knee test (kneel, if your knees come up wet, the calf will too).
  2. Promptly remove calf after birth.

Navel Disinfection

  1. Thoroughly dip the navel with a 7% tincture of iodine or 1:1 chlorohexidine/70% alcohol solution within 30 min of birth.


  1. Measure and record birth weight and height
  2. Continue to weigh and measure at weaning, breeding and freshening to determine success of health and nutrition programs.
  3. Double birth weight by 56 days of age.
  4. Height increase 4-5 inches by 56 days of age.



Colostrum Collection

  1. Work with your veterinarian to establish a vaccination protocol to enhance colostrum quality for both cows and heifers.
  2. Collect first milking colostrum within 4 hours of birth. Use strict hygiene of cows, and equipment to prevent contaminating colostrum.

Colostrum Delivery

  1. Hand feed each calf 10% of body weight in the first 2 hours of life. (Ex.: 4 qts. for a 90-pound calf)
  2. When possible continue to feed second- and third- milking. pasteurized transition milk for the next 3-4 feedings.

Colostrum Management

  1. Colostrum should be clean and fed or cooled and stored within 30 minutes of collecting.
  2. Feed refrigerated colostrum within 24 hours.
  3. Extra colostrum can be frozen and stored for up to one year in a frost-free freezer.
  4. Test colostrum for quality using a Brix refractometer or a lab test.
  5. Pasteurize colostrum at 140°F (60°C) for 60 minutes.
  6. Measure bacteria count monthly or when there is increased disease.
  7. In the event of insufficient high-quality colostrum, feed a colostrum REPLACER to deliver 300 IgG to the calf in the first feeding.

Type of Testing


Bacteria Count

SPC (CFU/ml)

Coliforms (CFU/ml)


≥ 22%





≥ 50 g/L






Serum IgG (g/L)

Total Protein (g/dL)

Brix %

% Calves


≥ 25.0

> 6.2

> 9.4

> 40%





~ 30%





~ 20%


< 10.0

< 5.1


< 10%



Nutrition and Water


  1. Provide adequate water space.
  2. To ensure quality and safety utilize water stability tests every 6 months.

Target levels:

  • Total Dissolved Solids (TDS): <1.000 ppm
  • Sodium level if used to reconstitute milk replacer: 100 ppm
  • Standard Plate Count (SPC): <1,000 CFU/ml
  • pH range: 6-8.5


  1. Begin offering clean water and starter to calves at day one. Refresh and replenish daily.
  2. Deliver fresh water within 20 minutes after feeding milk or milk replacer.
  3. Space out feedings. Calves fed 3x should have 6 hours between feedings.  Calves fed 2x should have at least 8 hours between feedings.
  4. Starter grain should contain at least 20% protein and be proportionate to the milk being fed.
  5. Weaning process can begin when calves consume 2-3 lbs. (0.9-1.4 kg) of starter for 3 consecutive days.


  1. Consult with your nutritionist to construct diets to achieve ideal growth.
  2. Adjust diets as needed to allow for change in weather.
  3. Ensure cattle have adequate water space.


Health and Identification

Incidence of Disease

  1. Pneumonia <10% pre-weaning.
  2. Scours <15% pre-weaning.
  3. ≤3% death loss 25 hours-60 days.
  4. Work with veterinarian to establish treatment protocols
  5. Consider incorporating nutraceutical products
    with proven research results. These alternatives can be used with or without antibiotics to target disease-causing pathogens, improve digestive health, and enhance immune response.
  6. Document all cases of clinical disease.
    1. Date
    2. Disease
    3. Treatment
    4. Who gave the treatment
    5. Withholding period for meat/milk

Vaccinations and Parasite Control

  1. Collaborate with your veterinarian to establish a protocol for vaccinations and parasite control.


  1. Work with your veterinarian to establish a method of dehorning that will minimize pain.


  1. Define protocols to tag calves with RFID tags as soon as practical after birth.
  2. OR tattoo calves within the first month of life.

BVDV Screening

  1. Within one week of birth, ear notch or blood PCR test all calves for persistently infected (PI) carries of Bovine Diarrhea Virus (BVDV).
  2. Positive animals should be euthanized or quarantined, continue quarantine until a second test verifies the calf is a carrier.


Employee Training


  1. Establish an employee education and training program.
  2. Provide employees with current protocols that clearly describe how they are to perform their jobs.
  3. Educate employees on the basic knowledge needed to understand the importance of following established protocols.
  4. Train new employees upon hiring and provide continuing education 1-2 times per year thereafter.


  1. Routinely monitor protocol compliance and provide feedback to employees.
  2. Use positive reinforcement to encourage employees to perform their jobs well.
  3. Employees that do not follow protocol should be held accountable for their actions. Establish a warning system to communicate areas needing improvement to employees.
  4. Facilitate an environment that will encourage employees to succeed.


Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.

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