Calf Care Checklist: 8 Things You Might Forget Your Autofeeder Needs

Posted on November 12, 2020 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf products coordinator
Have you ever bought a new tractor and wished you would have recorded all the little things the dealer rep explained and showed you? Calf raisers might very well have the same experience when installing autofeeders.

As technology delivers more and more details, it’s easy to forget all the little things along the way. But, as I have learned by working with many different brands and types of autofeeders, these details can be very important to the function of your machine.

1. Reduced-temperature detergent: Autofeeders run at lower cleaning temperatures than other milking systems and require reduced-temperature detergents. Most equipment dealers carry them. Read the label or work with your dealer to get the right concentration. Too high of a concentration can cause buildup, which, in turn, can lead to more bacteria. Follow up with sanitation checks to make sure the detergent is working.

2. Acid wash: In some systems, regular detergent washes are not enough, so we’ve added an acid wash to the protocol. If you struggle to pass regular sanitation checks of your autofeeder system, adding a weekly or biweekly acid wash may help. Work closely with your dealer to establish the safe, correct protocol and avoid dangerous chemical reactions.

3. Short hoses: When changing hoses, make sure they are as short as possible. This reduces the amount of cleaning that needs to take place. Slack in the lines provides space for bacteria to grow. Some units rely on gravity to empty the lines. If a portion of the hose is below the drain point, it will never completely empty.

4. Regular calibration: Even if your machine has autocalibration, you should manually check the scales three to four times per year to make sure they are working. Use the weigh bar designed for your feeder and follow the directions for scale checking.

5. Cleaning tool correctly stored: Some machines have a small tool used for cleaning the powder well discharge area. When the fly door opens or closes, that tool can fall behind the mixing bowl and alter the weight reading. Make sure the tool is hanging freely every time the fly door is opened and closed.

6. Rubber band holding the discharge hose: This rubber band (see photo) plays a huge role in calibration. The hoses are connected to the mixing bowl, which is attached to the scale, and the rubber band keeps the hoses in place. If the rubber band is missing, the hoses will touch the fly door and alter scale weights. The rubber band can be replaced with a zip tie or string if needed. This may be one of the most common “I didn’t know” lessons with autofeeders.

7. Written feeding protocol: Check your feeding program regularly. Sometimes buttons get pushed without knowing it happened. Keep this written information in an easy-to-find spot near the computer and handheld control. Verify your limitations and concentrations as well as whether you are using a restricted or unrestricted program. Work with your calf nutritionist if you have any feeding program questions. He or she can also help you regularly check the feeding program. Watch total consumption numbers; quick changes in this data may indicate changes in the feeding program.

8. Clean hose to fill bottles: When moving backgrounded calves to the group pen, you might want to use the extra portion option on the autofeeder to fill a bottle for a new calf. This milk can be dispensed through the drain hose, but I don’t recommend it because this hose does not get cleaned like the rest of the machine. Instead, consider using a different hose to fill bottles so you can detach, clean and dry it before the next use. Adding a quick-connect link can make this process even faster.

As autofeeder technology continues to evolve, we continue to learn. Have regular discussions with your equipment dealer, calf nutritionist and peers to make the most of these machines as you raise the next generation of your milking herd.

This article was originally written for Progressive Dairy and published online July 29, 2020.  Click here for the original article.

Category: Autofeeders
Starting Strong - Calf Care