Virtual Farm Tour: Creamery Creek Holsteins LLC
The team at Creamery Creek Holsteins LLC in Bangor, Wisconsin continually keeps an eye on emerging technologies to optimize performance on the 700-cow dairy. So, as automatic calf feeders gained a foothold in the U.S. marketplace, manager Justin Peterson researched and adopted the technology for his calf operation.
Prior to installing the autofeeders almost two years ago, all of the farm’s calves were fed in hutches. Peterson said the Wisconsin winters were tough on calves and employees, so the idea of moving inside a barn and out of the elements was appealing. In addition, the automatic calf feeders allow the calf to “function as its own individual.” Calves can eat, rest and interact on their own schedules, not at a schedule set by the farm.
Peterson built a new calf barn and installed two DeLaval autofeeders with four stations, which can feed about 50 calves. He said he went with the DeLaval machines because a local dealership had a lot of experience with autofeeders and is able to offer strong product support.
When the autofeeders were first installed, calves moved directly into the group pens from the maternity area. Farm managers noted the calves would break with scours at about day 8 or 10. After two months, they implemented a backgrounding program and have been happy with the results.
Newborn calves are now placed in individual hutches for two weeks and receive 3 quarts of milk twice daily from a bottle. They are also introduced to water immediately and starter on day 2. They’ll receive an extra feeding if it’s especially cold.
Peterson and calf manager Toni Stauffer said backgrounding has made a big difference. Calves are healthier when they are introduced to the group pens and they learn to use the autofeeders quicker.
The two also said they’ve had to adapt the calf barn’s ventilation system as pneumonia is the biggest disease challenge they see. The pens seemed to have “dead spots” with the tube ventilation system. As long as the curtains are open and a breeze moves through, the calves do fine. But, without the natural air movement, the calves seemed struggled more. They said newly installed fans seem to move air more effectively.
High plane of nutrition
The autofeeders feed calves to a higher plane of nutrition. After two weeks in the backgrounding hutches, calves are introduced to the autofeeders and first receive 8 liters of milk per day. They are gradually ramped up to 10 liters. They’ll stay at that level until the last 10 days, when they’ll ramp down and are weaned completely at day 50. They have unlimited access to water and starter grain during this time.
The farm does take advantage of pasteurized waste milk in the autofeeders. However, the supply is not large enough to feed all the calves, so about half the total volume fed comes from milk replacer. The machine also allows for the automatic inclusion of other additives or medications.
Peterson and Stauffer noted that the higher plane of nutrition has paid off in terms of performance. For the first while, to track rate of gain, all of the calves were weighed in the barn and also for the first two weeks in heifer pens. Now they have a benchmark that helps them visually determine whether calves are growing at the expected rate.
Change in management
Peterson said he originally planned to save labor with the autofeeders, but now recognizes it’s a reallocation of labor. Someone still needs to spend a significant amount of time observing the calves, reviewing consumption data, and ensuring top-notch cleanliness for both the pens and the machines.
Stauffer echoed that thought. She estimated it takes about 8 hours each day to feed the calves and clean the facilities and equipment. That’s in addition to her responsibilities to dehorn calves and administer vaccinations to the whole herd.
Peterson said he recommends autofeeders for calf-focused farms. If managers want to install autofeeders and “walk away,” they’re likely to face a lot of problems. However, if they are willing to invest the time and attention into the program, they’ll see great benefits in healthy, high-performing heifers entering the milking herd.
Starting Strong - Calf Care