Top Dairy Farms Rely on Automative Calf Feeding Systems

Published on Wed, 09/18/2019 - 9:37am

Top Dairy Farms Rely on Automative Calf Feeding Systems

Article and photos provided by Förster-Technik

  How a calf starts its life has a strong effect on the lifetime performance of that cow, i.e. herd’s potential is set at a very young age. Good calf rearing is therefore the decisive basis for successful dairy farming.

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. Dairies have to face many growing challenges, labor management as well as animal welfare are just two examples. This is why auto feeders are becoming more and more popular in the US and an indispensable tool for modern, healthy and economical calf rearing. They enable the calves to drink the feed amount that they want when they want, thus relieving the farmer considerably in his daily work. Auto feeders eliminate time spent mixing and feeding milk replacer. That leaves more time to watch calves closely, which is very important. In addition, with growing interest in animal welfare, it is impossible to imagine successful calf rearing without group housing and self-determined feed intake.

A change in thinking can be observed among farmers. It is not important how much calf rearing costs in total, but the success in calf rearing should be assessed on the basis of the total lifetime performance.

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 farmers’ 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 automatic calibration system. In North America the company is represented by its subsidiary Foerster-Technik North America Inc.  

How does the auto feeder VARIO smart work?
When a calf that is entitled to feed enters the feeding station, in a matter of seconds the auto feeder starts preparing fully automatically the feed amount set 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 teat.

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.

Many dairy farms all over the world have written great success stories with auto feeders and management solutions from Förster-Technik. So is RickReall Dairy.

The RickReall Dairy near Salem, Oregon is milking about 1,600 Holsteins and raising all the heifers on site. Louie Kazemier has been managing RickReall since 1991. His son Nate is the herd manager of the family farm and will be a 5th generation Dairy Farmer.

Nate Kazemier tells: “We first started using the auto feeders in May of 2018. We have been looking at automated calf feeding since we first heard of the technology. Once we felt we had learned enough from other people who had implemented it, we decided to make the switch.”

At RickReall Dairy the calves are raised in individual hutches for 10 days after birth. They get fed 4 quarts a day after colostrum. The farm has about 200 calves on milk, 6 auto feeders from Förster-Technik with 40 calves each and room for rotation through pens with about 2 weeks of “out time” for the empty pens to dry and disinfect. Each feeder has two nipple stations on separate pens of 20.  The feeders also have a powder medication dispenser that is used for a probiotic and vitamin package in the first 30 days. “We feed pasteurized whole colostrum twice and the 4 qts/day for the first 10 days. Upon entering the barn, they get 4qts/day ramped up to 8 in the first 10 days. they hold at 8 for 40 days and ramp down the last 10 days to weaning.”

Nate is happy with the auto feeders and says: “Group housing has made a big difference in behavior. Especially on growing heifers. They are much easier to herd and manage at a young age and don’t spook as quickly. Health wise, the numbers speak for themselves. We went from a 25 % death loss to less than 2 %. While it is not all contributed to the feeders, a large portion of it is, with better management and ability to treat. Weight gain is impeccable. Holsteins ween at an average of 205 lbs (70-78 days old).”

The first heifers RickReall Dairy had on the new feeders were just coming into breeding age and starting to confirm pregnancies. Nate tells: “We are breeding all heifers at 12 months now because they have the size and weight we need. Before, we were breeding between 13 and 15 months due to size restrictions.

If you are also interested in automated calf feeding systems or need further advice, please contact Jan Ziemerink from Foerster-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 number 877/878. Come and visit us to get further information about automatic calf feeders and other technical solutions for your successful calf rearing.