Reducing your workload while optimising calf performance

JFC ODONOVAN RI Farm
ON FARM: Norman O’Donovan on his farm at Skibbereen, Co. Cork.

NORMAN and Aoibhin O’Donovan run a 430 cow spring calving dairy herd in Skibbereen Co. Cork.

“We are milking on a 300 acre milking platform. Calving runs from the last few days in January for 11 to 12 weeks, so it’s a very busy time on the farm at the moment. Declan Collins and Michael McCarthy work full-time on the farm and play a vital role in the running of the farm” said Norman.

Last year Norman purchased two JFC Evolution S4 automatic calf feeders: “We installed two JFC Evolution S4 automatic calf feeders for three main reasons:

“The first was to reduce the amount of labour needed to feed the calves. With the calf feeders, you can walk into the calf shed at 6am, walk through them to make sure they are ok and not have to return until 10am when you have the milking done and have had some breakfast. I’m married with four children. It’s important that I am operating in the most efficient manner so that I can spend time with the family.

“The second was for consistency. Having one year done, we’ve definitely saved on milk replacer and the water is always at the correct temperature.

“The third was to allow for increasing capacity in the future. If things change, we now have the capacity to keep the calves for longer. Each feeder is able to rear 140 replacement heifer calves for me.”

In terms of breeding, Norman aims to have all the replacement heifer calves arrive in February:

“We AI for four weeks with dairy straws so that we have all the replacement dairy heifers in the month of February. We could have anywhere between 120 to 170 replacement heifer calves.”

Norman said there were a number of keyw reasons why he decided to purchase two JFC Evolution S4 automatic calf feeders:

“I felt that it was a very simple and clean machine to operate. It’s very user friendly. It’s very easy to clean. What I was most impressed by was the fact that all of their fitters spend the winter fitting the machines and the summer building them in the factory so they know everything about them. It’s built in Ireland. They have people on the ground. The lads were friendly and helpful especially when we were getting used to the machines.”

Norman has seen a number of benefits since installing the Evolution S4 automatic calf feeders:

“The consistency in terms of liveweight gain is very notable. Our calves are even. Each calf receives the same amount of milk replacer. There isn’t a few bigger calves taking the majority of the milk as is the case with batch feeding them. Some calves are slower drinkers than others. The calf feeders have eliminated the quicker drinkers from taking more than the slower ones.

“The calf shed is also a good bit away from our calving shed. We don’t need to travel out to feed them a number of times each day, the calves are able to feed themselves.”

Norman was very impressed with a number of other features on the Evolution S4:

“When the calf is born, they all receive up to four litres of colostrum. They are put on whole milk for five days, transition milk for the next two weeks and are then introduced to milk replacer.

“ On the Evolution S4 there is an option to use two of the stations to release transition milk while the other two can release milk replacer.

“This is very handy so you can gradually introduce calves to the bigger lots after they are five days old.

“Also, all of the calf’s information is stored on the machine for the entire time that they are on the Evolution S4. You can also design your own weaning programme.

“The record on screen changes colour when the calves are being weaned, so you know when you can take them out of the calf shed.”

In terms of ease of use, Norman’s son Eddie is able to play a big part in helping out with the calves:

“My seven-year-old son is able to tell me if the calves have drank their milk and which ones that haven’t. He can also check if the hopper needs to be filled. My wife Aoibhin helps me with the new-born calves.”

Norman has seen a number of differences since using the automatic calf feeder instead of batch feeding them:

“When we were batch feeding the calves, the biggest problem we found was at weaning as it was a stressful process on the calves. Having used the Evolution S4 automatic calf feeders, we found that weaning has now become a stress-free process for the calves.

“The calves weren’t balling as their milk intake was gradually reduced by the machine and made the transition to grass seamless. Some of the calves would go into the station to get some milk, when they realised that they weren’t getting any they were quiet happy to back out and leave.

“Calves also took to the machines straight away, they were able to figure it out with little or no training. This is a huge help especially in February at the peak of calving when time is valuable and hard to come by.”

Norman feels that the Evolution S4 automatic calf feeders are critical in identifying calves that are sick and needing some attention:

“If you didn’t have the machine, you would be able to see if the calf wasn’t drinking only by the hollowness in their stomach. The individual calf information on the S4 machine allows you to take corrective action in time and diagnose and treat the calves in a fraction of the time than if you were batch feeding them.”

Norman was quick to highlight the efficient service that the team at JFC offer their customers:

“The back-up service is excellent. There’s a number on the back of the machine, it’s a 24 hour number. One night I called them at 11pm. With assistance over the phone I was up and going again by a quarter part eleven. They want the machine to work for you.”

Norman believes that JFC’s Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder is a well-priced product:

“I feel that the Evolution S4 is a well-priced product. The performance of the calves, the time that it saves and the knowledge that it delivers means that you have confidence in the quality and type of calves that you will deliver.”

Norman feels that JFC’s Evolution automatic calf feeder range is suitable to a number of different farming systems:

“It would definitely suit other types of farming systems. Even someone with 60 to 80 cows, it would more than pay for itself, even if they were to purchase the Evolution S2. It’s like having another person on the farm. The information that the machine stores is like having another person telling you what each calf has drank and if they haven’t drank their allocation. It gives me great confidence.”

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