Bulk Calf Starter Storage: Ask These 6 Questions – Jeff Winkler and Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus

Posted on August 23, 2017 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Jeff Winkler, Vita Plus operations leader, and Dr. Noah Litherland, Vita Plus dairy youngstock technical specialist
Calf raisers on operations of all sizes are looking at bulk calf starter storage.  Bulk calf starter has some advantages over bagged starter, including decreased price per ton (no bagging costs), no empty bags to deal with, and the convenience of bulk starter available right there on your farm.  Here are some key questions to ask as you consider construction of on-farm starter grain storage structures.

1. What capacity of bulk storage is needed?
First, consider what order size or other requirements you may need to accommodate.  For example, most Vita Plus facilities have a 2-ton minimum order size on bulk feeds.

Second, consider your calves’ total starter grain intake, which is influenced by a number of factors.  Calving intensity, amount of time on feed, and calf growth rate all impact the total number of calves fed.  Intake typically varies with the season; it peaks in the winter and reaches a low point during summer.  Starter grain intake increases as calves age and typically peaks around 5 to 6 pounds per calf per day at the end of the nursery phase.

A good rule of thumb is most calves will eat 100 pounds of starter grain during the first two months (calf starter intake should average between 1.4 and 2 pounds per calf per day for the first 60 days of age).  That makes it reasonable to estimate 1 ton of starter will feed 20 calves during the first 60 days of growth.

2. How much bulk calf starter will my bin hold?
The bulk density of calf starter varies among formulations, but densities typically range from 30 to 40 pounds per cubic foot.

3. How can I minimize fines?
From a feed-handling standpoint, the ideal starter grain bin storage design is a simple drop-bottom bin with adequate clearance beneath it for a feed cart, wheelbarrow or ATV.  This simple design minimizes fines, feeds out quickly, and typically has the least amount of mechanical issues.

Every time grain is handled through an auger, some fines will inevitably be produced because friction created by the auger to move grain causes physical damage to the grain.  If an auger feed-out system is needed, consider these points:

  • Choose an auger system with as shallow of an angle as possible.  Pushing the grain uphill through an auger at a high angle requires more work and more friction and grinding.
  • Choose a larger-diameter auger system that is as short as possible.  Small augers tend to have more flighting per foot, resulting in more trauma to grain.
  • Choose an auger system that has minimal play in the flighting.  Worn or bent flighting inefficiently moves grain and increases the amount of fines produced.
  • Select a motor or pulley system that results in slow-turning flighting.  A slow-turning motor will allow feed to fall out of the bin and keep the boot full so the flighting is full of feed.
  • Make sure the boot on the bin allows grain to flow freely into the auger.  Undersized boots or boot openings constrained by feed buildup from molasses can decrease the diameter of the opening, constraining flow of grain into the auger.

Drop-bottom bins are, without a doubt, the preferred bin style, but if an auger must be used, choose a 6-inch, slow turning, low-angle auger with an adequately sized boot to keep the flighting full.

4. How long should I plan to store calf starter on farm?
Freshness of starter grain is an important factor in starter grain intake.  Bulk starter grain is made fresh once an order is received and typically delivered to the farm less than 24 hours after production.  A good target for storage of starter grain is less than one month to maintain freshness and intake.

5. Is the on-farm storage time impacted by season?
The impact of storage time on feed quality is dependent upon both environmental temperature and humidity, and the quality of seams in the bin to prevent changes in feed moisture.  In the summer, bin temperatures soar during the day, which combine with humidity to have a negative impact on pellet durability.  During winter, starter grain can be stored for up to two months.

6. Are there alternative storage options besides a bulk bin?
Starter grain can be stored in a gravity flow wagon with a tarp cover parked in a building.  The starter grain should be a low-molasses formula to ensure the grain will flow out of the wagon.  Additionally, some producers will use flat-storage, such as a commodity shed or a frame in a calf barn storage room, as long as there is a door to allow the auger truck to dispense feed into it and a second feedout door.

Other tips:

  • Translucent poly-bins allow producers to keep a visual on starter grain storage to better judge when to re-order.
  • Inspect bins quarterly to check that seams in the sides of bins and bolt holes are keeping moisture out and the bin lid is closing adequately to prevent rain from blowing in.
  • Place bins in an area conveniently located for the feeder to minimize inefficient calf feeding labor.
  • Simple signs posted on the bins can help feeding staff know which bin to use.
  • Consider shrink in the estimate of calf starter grain use.  The single greatest factors impacting amount of calf starter shrink are:
    • Precipitation onto calf grain when feeding outside
    • Spilling from pails due to overfeeding calf grain

Category: Business and economics
Facility design
Starting Strong - Calf Care