INVESTING in computerised, automatic calf feeders brings greater control and consistency to rearing wee calves.
These machines also reduce the labour required, but to be effective good hygiene and sound overall management are vital.
According to Una Hickey, Volac National Sales Manager, the technology available in automatic feeders is improving all the time. But, as ever, the key to good husbandry and getting the most out of these innovative machines is attention to detail.
“Rearing calves on an automatic feeder can definitely make calf milk feeding easier and more time-efficient, but is never an alternative to spending time with stock. It is essential that feeders are well maintained and that you still observe calves regularly for early signs of problems.
“When you make the big step forward from manual to automatic feeding you will still be spending a similar amount of time with your calves.
“But you will not be spending this time lugging seemingly endless buckets of milk around the yard! Plus your automatic feeder smooths out the many potential variables in the rearing process. Not least inconsistent mixing rates and milk feeding temperatures.
“Farmers buying a new automatic feeder typically install them in an existing building rather than into new calf housing.
“So make sure you have the right number of feed stations for the number of calves you want to feed. Even if the building has been used for rearing calves before make sure ventilation and drainage are up to the mark.
“Ideally, pen floors need to slope from the back to a drain at the front. A one-in-20 fall is ideal to give your calves a clean, dry environment.”
Una points out that most automatic calf feeding machines do two hot washes a day, which means about 10 litres of water are used. Remember that when sorting out drainage in the rearing unit.
Volac recommends that
calves are moved onto an automatic feeder when they are one week of age, by which stage they should take easily to the feeder and cope well with the move.
“As with all calf feeding systems, ensure calves are fed sufficient high-quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth,” urges Una.
“This means giving them three litres within two hours of birth, followed by another similar sized feed within six to 12 hours from birth. After this they should be introduced to a good quality milk replacer before moving onto the automatic feeder at seven days of age.
“Initially the calf should be able to access a total of six litres of performance-formulated milk powder ‘little and often’ – for example, three two litre feeds during a 24-hour period.
“You can programme the feeding curve on the machine, which makes life a lot easier. Well maintained automatic machines supplied by Forster Technik and Urban always mix calf milk replacer accurately with water and make sure the milk is always delivered to the calf at the correct temperature.
“Heifer calves that you want to calve down at 23-25 months old need to be gaining 0.7-0.8kg per day, which means you must be feeding a minimum of 750-900g per day of good quality milk formula, such as Volac’s Lifeguard range, to hit this target.
“This will continue until the calf has been on the feeder for 35 days and then weaning should begin,” Una says.
“Computerised systems linked to EIDs can collect individual calf data on milk intakes and drink speeds. If you have weigh cells, which are available when installing feeding stations, you can record weight every time the calf feeds – making life easier because you will not be handling calves separately to weigh them.
“Volac advises gradually reducing the amount of milk offered to calves over a three-week period between days 35 and 56. This encourages starter meal intake, helps rumen development and improves the ability of the calf to digest nutrients post weaning.
“During that three-week weaning period between days 35 and 56 milk replacer is fed at less than or equal to 750g milk solids per day to ensure calves eat enough starter meal to allow for sufficient rumen development.
“Calves fed more milk over the first five weeks of life will be bigger and more vigorous. These calves will subsequently eat more starter when milk is gradually reduced from day 35 to 56. What’s more, calves fed more milk, coupled with good starter intakes, are more likely to achieve their early growth targets and lifetime milk production potential,” Una added.
n To discuss rearing better calves with less labour Freephone 0800 8652 2522, browse www.feedforgrowth.com or contact Volac NI business manager Alistair Sampson on 07860 626442, email email@example.com
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