Automation for more animal well-being in calf rearing

Published on Wed, 08/16/2017 - 2:13pm

Automation for more animal well-being in calf rearing

 Article provided by Förster-Technik

 This is what the German company Förster-Technik GmbH, now represented in North America by its subsidiary Förster-Technik North America Inc. is standing for more than 45 years.
Welfare experts all over the world are of the opinion that part of a calf’s natural behavior is to consume several meals throughout the day. Manual or mechanized feeding systems do not allow this kind of feeding in practice as they require too much time and labor. The auto feeders enable the calves to drink the feed amount that they want when they want and, in addition, they offer a reliable and safe management tool to the farmer. This is essential for a successful and healthy calf rearing with high daily weight gains.

How does the auto feeder VARIO smart from Förster-Technik work?
When a calf that is entitled to feed enters the feeding box, in a matter of seconds the auto feeder starts preparing fully automatically the feed amount fixed in the corresponding feeding plan for that individual calf in small and fresh portions. The water, milk replacer and other feed components, such as e.g. fresh milk or
additives are quickly and gently mixed in the intensive mixer so that the calf can begin to drink right away through a nipple. Auto feeders eliminate time spent mixing and feeding milk replacer. That leaves more time to watch calves closely, which is very important.
The auto feeder VARIO smart can be equipped with up to four stations to handle 25 to 30 calves per station. With an additional unique SynchroFeed 4-pump-module, the auto feeder can be turned into a highly performing device able to provide the calves at four stations simultaneously with feed.
Each group has its own feeding plan with individually adjustable feed quantities and feeding days, as well as plans for variable concentrations of milk replacer and milk ratios. This allows you e.g. to feed your heifer calves differently than your bull calves. The automatic feeder knows the daily portion for each one of your calves and gives them everything they need. This is the optimal way to meet the nutritional and physiological needs of your calves.
Homestead Dairy LLC can look back on a long history and family tradition and is managed by the Houin Family still today. Brian Houin returned to the family farm in 2003 after graduating at Purdue University.  One of his passions, which he is sharing with his wife Jill, is to raise calves to the best of his ability.  In 2015 they decided to introduce the auto feeders from Förster-Technik to raise their 750-800 calves.
“We put calves on 4 feeders in July 2015 and have never looked back.  We then added 2 more feeders in January 2016 and again 2 more in June 2017.  We have been so pleased with our average daily gain!
Prior to the feeders, we housed the calves in individual calf huts.  We fed the animals three times a day with 3 liters of waste milk, water, and grain. We had an average daily gain of 1.8 lb. Which we thought was great at the time.  We learned we could surpass that with auto feeders having 2.4 lb adg simply allowing for smaller meals more often.
We currently feed 750 to 800 calves on 8 feeders and running 50 per pen with two nipples available.  We started with the pens having one nipple and 27 calves in the pen, however we found the weaker calves never had the opportunity to eat, so we opened up the pen to 2 nipples for 50 calves and the growth on all the animals has been phenomenal.  
Each auto feeder is equipped with a SynchroFeed 4-pump-module so that 4 nipples can run simultaneously.
We start animals on day 1 on the feeder after a gallon of colostrum at birth. 6 hours later, they are given a half gallon of colostrum and then go to the feeder.

Feeding at our facility is set on the 40FIT plan where the animals are given 2 liters every 2 hours for 10 days. It is then increased to 2.5 liters and at 21 days it is increased to 3 liters.  It will peak at 32 days and calves will fully wean at 63 days. The maximum daily consumption is 24 liters.  We thought that was unlimited until having some calves hit that.  We are averaging consumption at peak to be 12 to 13 liters per day.  Day workers will fetch in the morning if they have not consumed anything yet and then we have a group of high school kids that fetch at night if they do not hit our minimum goal for that animal.
The positive effects have been amazing.  These calves are happy and full.  They are not bawling due to hunger, so if they are we know there is a problem somewhere else.  The health of the calves has improved to the point that we just do not lose calves to sickness.  Because the calves are getting bigger faster through eating more, they are fighting through diseases better and we are using less medicine.  With scours, we find we are rarely treating with anything but pepto or electrolytes because the calf is able to continue to eat through it and get over it herself.  That is what is amazing about this system, healthier calves simply by allowing them to eat more!
I am just beginning to analyze the data from milk consumption to milk production. I am excited to see if I can find a correlation.  I do know that the animals coming off these auto feeders are doing amazing in our robotic milking facility due to training as a calf.  It is the same concept and management style.  They can eat and drink when they want in the auto feeders just like they can eat and get milked in the robots. It was not planned out that way but it has been a great benefit to having both.
We had nine workers feeding calves in the huts with all of the different chores that needed to be done.  Putting in the feeders, we were able to go down to five workers per day.  The calves hygiene and health has helped increase their growth rate.  Workload has lessened because you are not going hut to hut anymore you’re just going to the calves that have not eaten.  The software allows you to see what calves have not eaten and you simply fetch only those animals.  Biggest benefit is GROWTH!  Bigger calves are healthier calves and healthier calves make it into your milking herd faster.
The % drinking speed was a huge help for me.  It flags animals with less than 80% drinking speed.  More often than not, those are the animals that are not feeling well and it gives us the opportunity to go check them out and see if it is something they will get over on their own or if it is something that might need treatment.  That saves us a lot of time.”

Robotic feeding also for individual penning
To ensure a high level of nutrition also for the very young calves kept in individual boxes and since intensive feeding is extremely important particularly during the first weeks of a calf’s life, Förster-Technik developed CalfRail, which allows calves to receive freshly prepared, warm feed up to eight times per day as early as the second day of life. Experience shows that calves are able to consume an average of 10-12 liters of whole milk during the first weeks of life and gain 1.8 to 2.2 lb of weight per day. The CalfRail has already been a success in Europe for five years. This system is now also a hit with dairy farmers in North America, where it was introduced three years ago.
The auto feeders from Förster-Technik are sold by the leading manufacturers of milking systems, like DeLaval, Gea Farm Technologies and Lely. If you need further advice, please contact Jan Ziemerink from Förster-Technik North America Inc. under 519-239-9756 or He will be glad to assist you.
Förster-Technik is also exhibiting at the World Dairy Expo in the Trade Center, booth 915.