MICHAEL Cahalane operates three dairy enterprises in Clonakilty, County Cork. “I don’t own any land, I’m renting everything. I am milking 350 dairy cows across three farms in Clonakilty,” he says.
“There are two herds of purebred Jersey and a cross-bred herd. My milking platform is 225 acres. I have two full-time staff that milk the cows morning and evening – John Hill and Jerome Twomey. I have two relief milkers – Caitlin Keating and Cathal McCarthy.”
Michael operates an 80 per cent spring calving and 20 per cent autumn calving herd as he supplies winter milk, “We keep about 100 heifer calves, the rest of them are sold, they’re gone at 14 days.”
Michael decided to purchase a JFC Agri Evolution S4 Automatic Calf Feeder in October 2020, “We decided to install a four station automatic calf feeder. We purchased in October 2020 and installed in January 2021, so we’ve had one full calving season on it. I just like the JFC Agri feeder. There are a few local farmers that have them and they are very happy with them. The design of the feeder, it looks far stronger and better built than anything else I looked at, in my opinion.”
There were many reasons as to why Michael decided to install an automatic calf feeder: “We wanted to reduce the amount of time spent feeding calves. Calving is busy enough without having to worry about feeding the calves. I have heard so many farmers saying how good the feeders are at saving time, reducing the workload and how the calves perform on them. There was also a TAMS grant available so it made sense from a financial stand point to make the investment.”
Michael has seen a number of clear benefits to calf rearing on his farm since installing the automatic feeder: “I was telling James McGrath in JFC Agri that I should have got it years ago because the last year has been amazing.
“Before we had the calf feeder, I was feeding with a nipple bar feeder. On the nipple bar feeder you don’t know how much each of them is drinking. The faster drinkers benefit while the slower feeders are at a serious disadvantage.
“The Jersey calves would be a smaller framed calf and benefit from smaller and more regular feedings rather than just twice per day. The calves are much healthier because they’re getting their milk little and often. Jerseys, by their nature, can’t take the big volumes when you’re feeding twice a day.
“I had a milk cart, before the automatic feeder, that I used to mix replacer and I’d go out and pump it out to them then but found it to be a very labour intensive way of feeding calves. On the automatic feeder, the milk is prepared and mixed perfectly and at the right temperature every time. It’s a massive save on labour.”
The Evolution S4 is saving Michael a substantial amount of time during a very busy period: “I reckon at least two hours per day. The calf feeder is making a massive difference. It’s eliminating a lot of the work there at the moment, it frees up a lot of time. It also gives me peace of mind that the calves are being looked after properly.”
Michael rears his calves on a 72 day feeding programme with the machine automatically weaning the calves off by gradually reducing their allocation up until the point of weaning. This has made weaning a much more ‘straightforward’ and ‘stress-free’ process on the farm, “When the calves are born, they are all given three litres of colostrum within the first hour of life. I bottle feed them and get them trained up for the first five days, feeding them whole milk and then they go on the feeder then for 72 days.
“The feeder really does all the work. All I have to do is top it up with milk replacer. The calves are uniform at weaning and don’t lose condition at weaning as the feeder gradually weans them off.”
Ease of use was a key feature highlighted by Michael: “The mach-ine is very simple to operate. I was concerned at the start that I might find it difficult, but it couldn’t be simpler. If there was anything I was unsure of, the lads at JFC Agri are always at the end of the phone.
“Everything you need is on the screen. It shows you the current feed and the previous three feeds of all the calves. There’s a green tick if everything’s okay and it’s a red ‘X’ if there’s a problem. You can set up the machine to divide the feed up to five times a day. You can set a different feed curve for different calf requirements. There is great flexibility in the system. It has eliminated any stress on calves at weaning.”
Michael is planning to install a second JFC Agri Evolution S4 Automatic Calf Feeder on one of his two other farms for the upcoming calving season.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.