WITH 350 dairy cows due to calve, County Kerry milk producers Rolanda Rice and Seamus Cantillon bought a Volac computerised feeder three years ago, a wise move that transformed calf rearing, livestock performance and family life for this husband and wife team running their pedigree Holstein Friesian herd split 60/40 between spring and autumn calving.
All calves are reared on the farm with replacement dairy heifers calving down at 22-24 months and beef animals finished off grass at under 30 months. AI is used for all replacements and they also run Angus and Hereford stock bulls.
Rolanda graduated from University College Dublin with a degree in agricultural science, specialising in animal science, and Seamus was Dairygold ruminant sales manager for nine years.
With three children – Roland, five, Kate, three, and Padraic, one – they have a busy lifestyle. Michael Rowan, their full-time employee, plays a key role in lessening the workload.
“Until 2017 all calves were bucket reared. Aside from the huge workload, we were not at all happy with performance. Calves were on milk for 12 weeks or more and concentrate intake was much lower than it should have been,” explained Rolanda.
“There was an alarming inconsistency in performance between calves and we were not achieving target weights at weaning. Weaning was stressful and calves didn’t continue to thrive after they were weaned.
“Our calf rearing system was not cost-efficient and we had to make major changes.”
Rolanda and Seamus looked to automatic feeding and, after researching the range of machines available, purchased a Volac Urban Calf Mom able to feed up to 120 calves at four stations. The feeder was installed in autumn 2017 and they have not looked back since.
Calf performance has dramatically improved. Heifer calves born in autumn 2017 weighed 95kg when they were weaned off the feeder. They hit critical weight targets much earlier and calved down well within the target of 22-24 months. Beef cattle are killing out at higher weights at 24-30 months.
Every calf is fed three litres of quality colostrum within three hours of birth and for the following three feeds. They are then fed whole milk and are put on the feeder at 10 days of age.
As well as the big labour-saving advantages, calves are easily trained and take to the feeder within 24 hours.
Rolanda and Seamus are particularly impressed with the facility to quickly identify any off-colour calf not drinking its full allocation. This lets them intervene and treat much quicker.
They also highlight the step weaning process whereby the volume of milk replacer is reduced in the weeks leading up to weaning. This encourages increased concentrate consumption and ensures smooth weaning and no setback in thrive.
“We are extremely happy with the feeder. We spend less time calf feeding, have better quality stock, less stress and more time to spend with the children,” affirmed Rolanda.
Last September, Rolanda and Seamus purchased a second computerised feeder, a Volac Urban Alma Pro, which they installed in a separate shed.
The Urban Alma Pro represents the latest advances in computer feeding technology. It features the most up to date touch screen technology with full control and alarm functions. It can be operated through an iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows smartphone as well as via a laptop or desktop computer.
It enables users to have full access to calf drinking behaviour and calf health, even when not in the shed. A free Calfapp and CalfCloud, which enables tracking from mobile devices, are available. It also features the option of a retractable fully automatic teat cleaning process that is carried out after each calf drinks, a key step forward in hygiene.
The Urban Alma Pro can feed up to 120 calves at four feed stations. Rolanda and Seamus have so far installed two stations, which can handle up to 60 calves.
Rolanda and Seamus feed Heiferlac and Triple A Golden Maverick, two Volac high quality milk replacers. Heiferlac is designed specifically for top quality replacement heifer calves.
The very high levels of Volac’s unique concentrated dairy protein, lactose and a specially selected blend of oils in Heiferlac help deliver rapid frame growth in the early weeks of the calf’s life, thus giving the heifer the platform to achieve critical target weight, size and development for mating at 15 months and calving at 24 months.
Heiferlac is designed to deliver a growth rate of 0.9kg/day when mixed at 150g/litre and fed at six litres/day in conjunction with ad-lib concentrate, straw and water in optimum conditions.
Triple A Golden Maverick used on the Kerry farm when rearing beef calves can deliver a growth rate of 0.75kg/day up to weaning.