The Know-how For Calf Feeding For Almost 50 Years

Published on Tue, 09/15/2020 - 9:18am

The Know-how For Calf Feeding For Almost 50 Years.

 Article and photos provided by Förster-Technik.

 How a calf starts its life has a strong effect on its lifetime performance, i.e. growth potential is set at a very young age. Good calf feeding is therefore the decisive basis for successful dairy and beef farming.

Many top farms all over the world have written great success stories with auto feeders and management solutions from Förster-Technik. So has Shannon and Drew Dietz.

Shannon and Drew Dietz farm with Drew’s parents, Dan and Annette, in Nashua, IA. The Dietz’s used to milk cows up until 2011. They now feed out 700 dairy beef steers and heifers per year, raise corn, soybeans, oats, rye, alfalfa, and wheat on 1300 acres and have a seed cleaning business, Cedar River Seed Cleaning. All calves that they raise will be fed-out on the Dietz farm. Shannon and Drew sell their calves to his father, Dan, once they are ready for the feedlot. With their current set-up, they are able to supply Dan with 60% of the calves that he needs in a year.

Shannon and her husband raise 400 dairy beef calves per year: “We purchase all the bull calves from a local 650 cow dairy - roughly 8 new calves per week. Each calf starts in an individual pen for 14 days. We follow an extensive vaccination protocol that starts on the day that they arrive. The calves in the individual pens are fed 2 quarts of milk replacer 2x a day. After 14 days, and the calf is showing good signs of health and vigor, they graduate to the auto-feeder which they are on for the next 6 weeks. It usually takes a calf one or two days to start using the auto feeder on their own without us having to fetch them. We feed a 26-18 milk replacer at 139 grams/liter. We start the calves with drinking 4 L per day and working their way up to 10 L per day in the first 2.5 weeks. The final 3.5 weeks we stairstep down from 10 L to 2 L, with the last two weeks only allowing 1 L max, instead of 2 L, per feeding. We think a more drastic stairstep down converts them to grain quicker.”

60-80 calves are on milk consistently – 50-60 calves on the auto feeder, and 15-20 in individual pens. About her barn, Shannon says: “Our calf barn is a 64x50 mono-slope style barn with 3 independent curtains – one on the north side and two on the south side separated by 4 feet of see-through plastic to let sunlight in. The barn is separated into two pens. Each pen has one feeding station. Each calf starts in an individual pen, inside one of the two pens, for two weeks. There is a 16 ft. door on the west side, and the milk room that houses the auto-feeder is on the east side of the barn.”

In July 2019, the Dietz’s started feeding with Calf Feeder VARIO smart with two feeding stations both equipped with HygieneBox. On the one hand they have also added an IFS pump to the machine so that two calves can drink at the same time and on the other hand they also upgraded the teat with several hygiene functions like teat sliders and teat rinsing from outside. The teat sliders remain closed if a calf enters the feeding station and is not entitled to drink at that time. The teat sliders will also close once the calf is done drinking after one minute.

The HygieneBox is set up to spray hot water for 9 seconds on the teat after every calf drinks. It also allows the auto feeder to do automatic circuit cleanings 4 times per day instead of having to be there to manually doing it. Shannon says:”We love our HygieneBox and would not suggest anyone having an auto feeder without it now.”

Shannon explains why they switched to automatic feeding: “When I began rearing calves in 2016, I fed groups of 50 calves all-in/all-out, in individual pens. In this situation, I was only able to feed 15% of the calves Dan needed per year. During this time, we saw the advantage of raising our own feeders, as we had much less problems with them than with the feeders we bought from the vending stable. Another important reason was the later advantages of more powerful cows and cattle that rearing with auto feeders brings with it. Statistics show that if you can increase the calves’ weight efficiently before weaning, they will be more efficient for the rest of their lives. We knew that in order to reach their potential, the calves had to consume more than the usual 4-6 qt of milk per day. Automatic feeding suited us very well, as we wanted to extend to feeding more calves in order to supply a larger percentage of farms with dairy cattle. We filled each calf with about 2.2 bags of milk within 8 weeks.”

About their positive effects of the automated feeding, Shannon Dietz reports: “One of the first thing we noticed with the calves on the autofeeder was how content and quite they were. If it was not for the calves in the individual pens, the calves would be silent the entire time doing chores. Even the calves that are closed to weaned are satisfied because they are gradually weaned off milk and onto grain. This was sure different then driving in and having 50 calves bellering at you until they got their milk.”

“We also noticed that the calves are much easier to handle and move once they are weaned because of being in a group pen. We do not have to push calves 1 by one onto the trailer anymore because they just came out of individual pens. The transition to the weaned pen is also smoother because they are used to an automatic water and eating out of a bunk with other calves around. Our weaning weights have increased by 15-30 lbs. The calves have quite a bit of condition once they leave the calf barn, and so this helps with the stress of weaning as well as sets them up to continue to perform the rest of their life.

We have not had any of our auto-feeder calves reach market weigh, yet, but based on their current condition, it is looking promising that they will finish quicker than other similar aged steers not raised on the auto feeder. Our labor cost per calf has gone down. We can feed almost 50% more calves in the time that it used to take us to feed 50 calves in individual pens.
Our cost of gain through the pre-weaned phase has probably gone up a hair, but we are alright doing that since it should lead to efficient weight gain throughout their life. That economic advantage is yet to be calculated, but is for certain something we are looking for.”

“The calf feeders for sure take some of the heavy workload off of me. We were used to mixing 4 gallon batches and hauling all of the milk, water, and grain to the calf. So chores are a lot less physical then they used to be, but more management of the calves. The autofeeder does give us some flexibility of chore time, and if we wanted to get away, it is a lot more simple to get someone to feed 10-20 calves than 50 individual pen calves.”

“Another important detail is the hygiene. Do not skimp on hygiene or cleaning. Our auto feeder circuit cleans 4 times a day – 2 acid and 2 detergent. We also run an additional 4 mixer cleanings. We also manually scrub the inside and outside of the stalls and change nipples two times a day. Acid and detergent are much cheaper then dead calves.”
For Shannon, the calf barn is not only the heart of her workplace but much more than that, Shannon tells us:”Our calf barn actually served as the proposal spot when Drew decided to ask me to marry him!”

The German company Förster-Technik has been dedicating itself for almost 50 years to the development of innovative, sturdy, time-saving and easy-to-use calf feeding and management systems that make calves’ and famers’ life easier. Over 80,000 auto feeders have been produced by Förster-Technik to date. The core of the automated calf feeding systems is the VARIO smart feeder that feeds the animals around the clock, and monitors and documents the feeding reliably. Förster-Technik continuously focuses on improvements that provide the customer with added value every day. This includes, for example, systems with fully automatic cleaning such as the new HygieneBox or the 4-pump-module for simultaneous feeding SynchroFeed or the auto¬matic calibration system. A lot of time and development is also put into data management, which via the CalfCloud, CalfApp GO! and CalfApp VITAL. In North America the company is represented by its subsidiary Foerster-Technik North America Inc.  

For more information please contact Jan Ziemerink at 519-239-9756.