From Cow to Calf… Without Lifting a Finger!

Published on Mon, 01/24/2022 - 1:03pm

From Cow to Calf… Without Lifting a Finger!

 By Steve Weisman.

 Historically, the dairy business has been an extremely labor-intensive business. From milking, to feeding, to monitoring the herd, to raising the new calves, it was all done by hand. The larger the herd, the more physical labor it took, and the more people were required to make sure everything was taken care of.

The good news is technology is making a difference, giving dairy producers the opportunity to turn their energy to managing the total herd rather than physically having to do everything. Calf Star, a U. S. based company located in New Frankin, WI., provides cutting edge technology when it comes to feeding the calves. Tom Olsen, the National Sales Manager for North America, and Europe, believes the new technology automation offers dairy producers the ability to raise the healthiest and strongest calves in the history of the dairy industry. “The Calf Star technology provides a totally automatic system that does the hand labor, keeps everything squeaky clean, while providing stronger and healthier calves and helping to improve the producer’s bottom line.”

Automation at both ends
According to Olsen, some dairies are moving to an entire automated system for both the cows and the calves. One such dairy is Wichman Farms, a 240-cow dairy utilizing four Lely Robots that proved greater flexibility and enhanced efficiency to optimize milking, along with a Calf Star calf feeding system of whole milk collected from the Lely Robots. It is truly the world’s first totally automated whole milk calf feeding system!

Proximity is important for this technology to work. In this case, the milking barn is located 250’ from the calf barn.

Working in unison
First off, the Lely Robots allow for automatic milk collection. The milk is immediately chilled and stored at 38 degrees (F) in the Calf Star Mini Flash 2.0  Raw Milk Tank.

Once daily the milk is then pasteurized in the Mini Flash 2.0 (HTST (High Temperature Short Time) Pasteurizer).

Transporting the milk
To feed the calves, the pasteurized milk passes through a flexible PEX line buried below the frost line to the calf barn with its automatic calf feeding system. The milk is piped to a Double Milk Jug, which comes in 50, 100 and 200-gallon sizes. The two-tank system always provides continuous milk supply. As one tank empties, the second one takes over, while the first one is automatically rinsed, washed, and rinsed to industry standards.

Next to the Calf Expert
From the Double Milk Jug, the milk is transported in an under the floor line (no more lines to trip over) that comes up behind the Calf-Expert automatic calf feeder, which has a dual mixing bowl. It also has a hopper if the producer wants to use milk replacer or provide additives.Otherwise, Wichman Farms are using  100 percent whole milk.

The Calf Expert feeder provides a fresh mix of the same quality and temperature milk at 105 degrees (F) for each calf. It is always fresh, and any residual milk is kept warm and flushed out of the system if there are long drinking breaks. The system has an intuitive control that identifies each individual calf to determine the exact feeding.

Raised area to drink
At Wichman Farms, the calf feeding area is a slightly raised platform that separates it from the calves’ general area. It also provides infloor heat for the feeding calves.

Automated cleaning
Cleaning dairy equipment has always been extremely labor intensive. With the system at Wichman Farms, there is no human intervention. Rather, it’s totally automated. The total system washes Clean Inin Place (CIP) from the robots to the calf nipples. The only human labor is changing out and sanitizing the calf nipple daily.   “The labor saving on milk handling for calves was important to our farm, going this route helped us save a lot on labor” says Brad Wichman from Wichman Farms.  “Our local dealership helped us do this the right way from the beginning.”

According to Olsen, “Dairy producers are realizing more and more that their calves are their future. Those first eight weeks are so crucial for positive growth, and a healthy calf will mean thousands of dollars more in milk over the life of the cow. What this system at Wichman Farms does is take the guesswork out of the entire process. All of these tools are designed to make sure each calf gets fed an optimum and consistent ration and at the optimum temperature and quality.”

Obviously, there are significant upfront costs for a system like this, but the paybacks come quickly in efficiency and consistency, higher production, increased saving on physical labor so there is more time devoted to herd management.

When it comes to learning more about this innovative technology, you can go to and browse product news, articles, products, costs and a Q & A section.

Olsen adds, “Calf Star has a dealer network to help producers with their questions and to help them make sound educated decisions. The dealers will also help with installation and trouble shoot any issues that might arise. We truly believe that this is the future of the dairy industry.”