Preconference Producer Panel Discussion – Lessons Learned with Autofeeders
Article written by Macy Sarbacker
When it comes to autofeeders, those who have installed the technology on their farms have learned through experience how to best operate them and what they would do differently if given the chance.
In the preconference session at Vita Plus Calf Summit 2014, Chad Carlson, Jeremy Heim and Justin Peterson shared their experiences and lessons learned with their autofeeders.
Chad Carlson of Carlson Dairy LLP in Pennock, Minnesota farms 1,000 acres and milks 1,500 cows. On its dairy operation, the Carlson family has an Urban U-40 autofeeder that feeds 50 calves and self-cleans two times per day in a retrofitted 44-stall coverall. The Carlsons are fond of their Urban U-40 and are in the process of building a new calf barn with additional autofeeders as they have outgrown their current facility and are looking to improve ventilation and efficiency.
Chad Carlson suggested doing your research before choosing an autofeeder system and maintaining a good calf care person. Though autofeeders demand less physical labor, a good calf person is still key to monitoring calves and maintaining the autofeeder system, Carlson explained.
Jeremy Heim of Heim’s Hillcrest Dairy in Algoma, Wisconsin farms 1,300 acres and milks 600 cows. The Heim family lost buildings in a barn fire in 1995. In 1996, they rebuilt and he and his brother later returned to the dairy operation. In November 2012, the Heim family built its new calf facilities.
The model for their setup comes from Canada with an open-style barn with large igloos for the calves. This barn has a 72-calf capacity, four pens and three feeding stations, and is entirely mobile. Calves are fed with Holm & Laue autofeeders. Heim said he thought the Holm & Laue system was a good choice because these feeders display visit length, drinking speed and consumption. They also have the ability to include additives to the milk for individual calves.
Heim said he wishes he would have built a barn instead of igloos. He also suggested not making changes to autofeeders based on each consultant that comes to the farm.
Justin Peterson of Creamery Creek Holsteins in Bangor, Wisconsin milks 630 cows. The farm was established in 2010 and, in January 2014, Creamery Creek Holsteins moved from calf hutches to autofeeders. The new facility has four pens with a 100-calf capacity, insulated ceilings and in-floor heating on the feeding platform. Creamery Creek Holsteins uses two DeLaval autofeeders with two feeding stations each. At this time, the farm is not producing enough waste milk to feed the calves, so powder is used as a substitute when necessary.
Peterson said he would build a bigger barn with individual starter pens if he could go back and change the way he did things. He would also add windows in the milkhouse for undisturbed calf monitoring and improve his supplemental summer ventilation.
Though the herd size and autofeeder systems vary greatly between these farms, the three producers could agree on the following tips for someone considering autofeeders.
- First and foremost, focus on ventilation and air quality.
- Find a way to keep everything clean. The cleaner it is, the healthier calves will be.
- Make sure you have quality people feeding and monitoring the calves.
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