My daughter is obsessed with Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. In this story, Horton the elephant defends the people of Whoville who live on a tiny speck of dust on a small clover. The other jungle animals, led by the big and young kangaroos, cannot hear the Whos and decide Horton must be crazy talking to a dust speck and do their best to separate Horton from his small friends. They tie him up and threaten to throw the dust speck into Beezle-Nut oil if he doesn’t stop this nonsense. In a panic, Horton tells Whoville’s mayor to have everyone make as much noise as possible so the other animals can hear them. The terrified mayor quickly obliges and soon everyone is making as much noise as possible. Still the kangaroos claim to not hear a thing. Just when all seems lost, the mayor finds one very small Who named Jo-Jo silently bouncing a yo-yo. He grabs the lad and tells him that he must help save his town. That tiny Who yells out “yopp” and that one small yopp is enough to make their voices heard. The kangaroos realize that there are persons on that small speck of dust and vow to help Horton keep them from harm.
So why does this matter? To quote the story, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” But Dr. Seuss takes it a little further than that. Not only is the town of Whoville located on a small speck of dust, but it is saved by the smallest Who of all. Why? Because small things matter. And small things add up. On its own, Jo-Jo’s yopp would have been insignificant, but when layered on top of the yelling and banging the other Whos were doing, it pushed the sound loud enough for the kangaroos to hear their voices.
This is true on dairies as well. When one thinks about what makes a high-production cow, things like the cow ration, parlor management or genetics might be at the top of the list. And they are important, but there are small, key moments early in the calf’s life that can greatly enhance or limit the animal’s potential. In his article, “The first 60 days set the course for later lactation” on page 43, Matt Dodd points out how key small moments in a calf’s life can make a 267-pound milk production difference in her first lactation. Those details include things like a clean and dry environment or high-quality colostrum shortly after birth. In the grand scheme of things, they seem small, but they reduce or eliminate a calf’s chances of contracting BRD in the first two months of life, a period of time that is less than 10% of a heifer’s life prior to lactation and miniscule in relation to her entire life. And if one really wants to look at small things that matter, colostrum is only one, hopefully two meals in the thousands she will have over the course of her lifetime, and yet it can significantly alter her future.
Similarly, scours might seem like no big deal. After all, it’s pretty common for calves to contract it early in life. However, as Sarah Eck points out in her article “The short-term and long-term cost of scours” on page 41, scours is no small challenge. In fact, a 21% scours rate on a 1,000-calf operation could cost the business anywhere from $1,680 to $5,670 a year.
Small things with big impacts aren’t limited to calves, however. As Eduardo Ribeiro discusses in his article “Managing the transition period for maximum success” on page 54, small changes in the transition period add up to major changes in the parlor. For example, maintaining a proper BCS during dry-off reduces the cow’s chances of having a retained placenta, metritis and digestion issues. Including organic trace minerals in the ration also showed reductions in lameness, non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA) concentration and incidence of multiple metabolic health problems, according to research.
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