The concept of computerised feeding is brilliant. The machine can be programmed for any type of calf, in a group or as an individual, and you can choose from many different milk powders and feed at any rate. Some even dispense 50% whole milk. Weaning is gradual and it’s almost like having a mechanical cow.
Over a 10 year period we have seen some outstanding calves reared on this system and only a few disasters. So why the failures?
Often it’s the management which causes the system to fail. It is still necessary to have a dedicated calf rearer in charge of the system.
- Remember, it’s a vending machine, not a calf rearer! It has no brain and cannot make decisions.
- The operator needs to understand how to calibrate the machine, as the density of powders vary from factory to factory and from one pallet to another. The operator also needs to know how to set a feed curve.
- The manufacturers claim one feed station feeds 25 calves, but in practice we find smaller groups work better.
- Having one big group of calves and adding baby calves to the group one after another without starting a new group leads to overuse of antibiotic and pneumonia problems. Small groups in separate areas are easier to manage and clean out regularly.
- Calves need to receive colostrum for 3-5 days (where possible) before being transferred to the machine, during this time they should be kept in a single pen and trained to suck a teat. Introducing to the group pen too early causes poor intakes and stress induced illness.
- Whole milk is very difficult to manage in practice, often leading to hygiene problems.
In addition many rearers are under-dosing their calves with milk powder, owing to a key fact which has been lost in translation from German to English.
If you want to add 150g of powder into a litre (i.e made up to a litre) then you have to instruct the machine to add 175g on top of a litre.
It’s a subtle difference in translation, but makes a world of difference to growth rates. N.B. The machine always adds the prescribed amount on top of a litre of water.
Follow the chart below if you don’t want to do the maths:
Target: We are aiming to feed 900g-1000g/day (over 24hrs) to accelerated dairy heifers and 750g for slower growing calves or older bought in calves, which are starting the weaning curve.
If you have any new staff who need training on the machine, please contact one of our calf specialists who will make arrangements for a training session.
Written by Gill Dickson – Wynnstay National Calf Specialist