PRECISION Propels Performance for Next Generation

Published on Mon, 04/25/2016 - 3:08pm

Story and Photos by Sherry Bunting

Precision dairy technologies are propelling next generation performance with tools that change the way cows and calves are managed. Producers continually evaluate new strategies for raising the next generation of milk cows. The leading benchmark for newborn dairy calves, today, from the work of researchers like Dr. Mike VanAmburgh, Cornell, is to feed them more aggressively to double birthweight in 60 days.

AMS-Galaxy-USA is a leading consortium of progressive thinkers bringing precision performance to U.S. dairies: From the robust 2-box / 1-arm Astrea 20.20 milking robot, automatic feed pusher and bedding robot by Hetwin, as well as various sensor technologies for animal and barn management on the cow side to the Urban Calf Feeding systems that help producers feed and manage calves more aggressively and efficiently to improve well-being for calves and their caretakers in both group and individual housing systems.

In fact, AMS-Galaxy-USA’s Technical Service Center in Kutztown, Pennsylvania has spawned a testing, innovating and learning environment for farmers and technicians alike. It’s where Brad Biehl, vice president of technology, conducts training sessions and continually tweaks technologies in ways that earned him the 2015 Dairy Innovation Award in February at the 2016 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit.

His family’s five-generation Corner View Farm, is home to an array of technologies, including the Urban CalfMom Paula. From the Urban MilkShuttle, with an onboard pasteurizer option, to the CalfMom Paula and Alma, AMS-Galaxy-USA brings the Urban Calf Feeding technologies to the U.S. from Germany and has revolutionized the way farmers feed calves and the way calves respond. Dairymen and women from east to west are taking notice. Ashley Lamb, a dairy science major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and one of Tom and Marlene Helt’s 16 grandchildren, is thankful her late grandfather saw their calf-raising project completed in July of 2014. “My grandfather liked technology. He liked to try new things,” Ashley observes.

Tom and Marlene Helt started farming in Dane County, Wisconsin in the 1960s. Today, their children and grandchildren run the farm, which includes a dairy herd and beef feedlot. They raise all of their calves: 200 heifer replacements plus bull calves.

First among his peers to build a rotary milking parlor and computerize many functions of the dairy decades ago, Helt was a forward-thinker. Before his passing in December 2014, he was inspired to advance the calf facility for the next generation of calves and caretakers with automatic feeding. He compared automatic feeders at the 2013 World Dairy Expo, even working on the plans for the 2014 construction during his illness.

“This project has been a good change,” says Willy Michels, general manager at Helt Diversified for 32 years. “We like the efficiency and the ease in the way the Urban CalfMom Paula feeds and washes.” “The system is user-friendly and does everything itself,” adds Ashley. “We feed whole milk and appreciate how well the automatic rinse (every four hours) and complete wash cycle (twice weekly) are cleaning.”

In the center of the 216' x 27' calf barn is the cold storage room set up with two large cooling tanks for pasteurized waste milk and the CalfMom with its three additional drinking stations serving wet calves in four groups of up to 25 each. “We start them in individual huts inside the barn for two days. Once the calves have gone to the feeder to drink by themselves three times, we move them to the starter group. When they reach consumption of 9 kg/day, the calves are moved to one of the three larger groups,” explains Ashley, who helps in the calf barn and also does the afternoon milking with her uncle, Dennis Helt, the herd health and feeding manager.

Calves are weaned at 50 days and heifers calve-in at 24 months. Health has improved, and calf losses are down. The CalfMom master unit heats the pasteurized whole milk and accurately mixes with it a concentrated ‘balancer’ of proteins and minerals. “I like that we can tell if a calf drank and how much each calf is drinking,” Willy and Ashley explain how they access data right at the unit or remotely by computer.

“The CalfMom system is user-friendly, and much better than the old way of feeding calves individually in hutches,” Ashley relates. “Our calves are bigger and healthier. They are more active and growing faster than before.” When it comes to feeding calves still housed individually in pens or hutches, Urban has simplified this process and created a highly accurate system in the MilkShuttle.

For nearly a year now, the Hess family at JoBo Holsteins, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, has been using the MilkShuttle to deliver milk to 65 calves in hutches. The 930-cow dairy raises their own dairy herd replacements, feeding pasteurized whole milk to their calves, with some powdered energy balancer mixed in. “The MilkShuttle has really helped in that it is a more accurate and consistent way to stir-in the energy-balancer and to fill pails with the accurate gallon of milk the calves are to have,” says Josie Riser.

She and her brother John Hess, Jr., sister Joy Widerman, brother-in-law Dale Brown and parents John and Bonnie Hess are partners in the dairy. Josie oversees the calf raising, and the calf feeding is done by a full-time employee in the morning and by nieces and nephews and part-time student employees in the evening.

They can program the MilkShuttle three different ways and use the setting to fill bottles in addition to the gallon pails. Another benefit is not having to feed the calves in batches anymore. The MilkShuttle will feed all 65 calves at one time. “It is easy to use, and the calves respond,” Josie observes. “They are growing better because the MilkShuttle ensures the accuracy of the measurement so they are always getting their full nutrition.” In addition to having the feature of agitating the milk for mixing milk replacer or adding a balancing powder to whole milk, the MilkShuttle is known for its user-friendly heating process and insulation to keep maintain the right temperature consistently during feedout. It also includes an optional feature to have an onboard pasteurizer, enabling calf managers to further streamline and simplify the process of feeding whole milk to calves in individual housing setups.

At Hidden Acres Farm, Manheim, Pennsylvania, Kevin Rohrer has been using the MilkShuttle for six months. He and his son have 40 hutches with new batches of calves coming in over a two-week period every eight weeks.

“I really like the job this unit does in mixing and feeding the milk replacer,” Kevin reports. They previously transported a tank on a four-wheeler to gravity fill the buckets. They used to drag the hose to fill buckets with water after the morning feeding. “Now we use the MilkShuttle for both,” he says, adding that through the whole winter, they had no trouble getting it to the outdoor hutches. They just scraped a path in the deep snow, and it handled some snowcover. “It also handled the mud we had this winter,” Kevin adds.

He chose the MilkShuttle because he could see that the equipment is “high quality and made with high quality materials.” It has been trouble free. At Hidden Acres, the unit fills buckets based on time. An upgrade is also available to measure by flow meter as well. The Rohrers have 40 wet calves in hutches at all times. Calves are weaned and moved to the barn at eight weeks. Kevin reports that the MilkShuttle not only improves the way they deliver milk replacer to the calves, it combines many steps into one unit by “heating the water, mixing the milk replacer more accurately and consistently, and keeping it at a constant temperature.”

In group housing settings, the Urban CalfMom Paula provides automatic feeding for up to 30 calves, and the Alma feeds more calves per unit with a parallel setup allowing four calves to drink at the exact same time. This works well at Carlson Dairy, which is moving toward a fifth generation as brothers Chad and Carl Carlson and their wives Kindra and Kellie and parents Curtney and Louise — along with the seven children between them — continue the legacy of dairy farming begun near Pennock, Minnesota in 1891.

Today, the 1300-cow dairy includes a new calf facility completed in September 2014 after Chad was convinced by his performance comparisons with an older model of the Urban feeder in the old barn. The first two-year-olds from Chad’s first experimental group freshened last summer. They were ready to breed a month earlier than the farm’s prior average. For the eight groups, Chad decided on a parallel feeding setup with four CalfMom Alma master-units, each connected to its own set of four drinking stations — two on each side of a pen divider.

Chad is a stickler for watching the numbers, gathering in-weights and out-weights and keeping accurate data on average daily gain (ADG). Calves are weaned, on average, at 49 days, and their feeding is programmed automatically to peak at 42 days, then gradually cut back. Doubling the average birthweight of a calf by 60 days of age has been happening here for quite some time, even before going to the automatic feeders.

“We were feeding three times a day, so we were already getting ADG of 1.75 to 2 pounds per day. The growth rates now are even better and definitely more consistent,” Chad reports. “We are seeing growth rates consistently above 2.0 pounds now. Our last group averaged 2.24, and the group before that was 2.17.” In Marshfield, Wisconsin, Pankratz Farm is feeding more calves than they need for their current 120-cow dairy, but Steve and Barb Pankratz looked ahead to position the dairy for the future. Labor was a big motivator.

The farm, founded by Steve’s father Duane in 1946, is also home to a cash crops and custom harvesting operation. Today, third generation Jon, Matt and Kaylan all work here too The 84-feet by 280-feet curtained calf facility is laid out for 10 groups to eventually supply replacements for a future dairy herd of 400-cows. Until then, they grow additional bull calves from birth to 800 pounds for a beef feedlot in Iowa.

Barb admits she was growing weary with the previous physical handling of calves. She is happy about trading the time-intensive manual labor of hutch-cleaning and pail-feeding for the group pens and automatic CalfMom feeding system, which has also added another revenue stream in raising beef steers. “The work is different now,” says Jon. “It’s nice to see healthy calves,” Barb adds. “Now we are able to take care of more calves, and we’re doing a better job.”