Virtual Farm Tour: Hasel Farms
When Heather Schuld and her family were researching autofeeders in 2010, they had to travel more than 200 miles to tour facilities as the technology was still relatively new and installations were few and far between. But the opportunity to immensely reduce labor demands made it an easy choice, and the Hasels moved calves into their own autofeeder barn in October 2011.
Hasel Farms, in Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is home to about 440 milking cows and dry cows, and an equal number of youngstock. The farm is a partnership between brothers Steve and Jim Hasel. Steve’s son, Nick Hasel, manages the farm shop and does all of the cropping. Steve and his daughter, Heather Schuld, manage the cow herd and Schuld takes the lead on calves and heifers.
With so many other farm responsibilities, Schuld said it took too long to do calf chores with 60 individual calf hutches on grass. Labor savings come from reduced time to feed grain, in-pen waterers, bedding and cleaning two large pens instead of many small ones, and not having to deal with snow, ice, and other inclement weather. It now takes Schuld less than an hour to do calf chores, but she still visits the calf barn several times throughout the day to observe the calves and review autofeeder data.
Healthy calves start with quality colostrum. Schuld tests colostrum with a Brix refractometer, and anything measuring above 22.5 is frozen in 2-quart bags. Newborns receive 4 quarts of colostrum as soon as possible. Calves are placed in individual pens in the calf barn for about one week and receive 2 quarts of Talon, a 25/25 milk replacer, twice daily. Schuld said they originally backgrounded for three days, but the calves seem to do better with a longer backgrounding period. Schuld administers dehorning paste to the calves during this time as well.
Autofeeder nutrition and care
Week-old calves move into the autofeeder pen, where they continue to receive Talon milk replacer. The volume is increased from 5 to 6 liters over the course of five days. It increases to 8 liters in the next four days and stays at that level for 34 days. After that, the volume is gradually reduced to 2 liters. The calves are usually weaned after 50 days on the autofeeder. Calves also have free-choice BSF calf starter and water.
Schuld said she closely tracks calves’ drinking speeds. She said that’s the best way to catch a potentially sick calf before she starts to show any physical signs of disease challenge.
Weaned calves will usually stay in the autofeeder pens for a couple of weeks before moving to the larger heifer pens in the same barn. Schuld beds the pens at least once a week, and they are completely cleaned out monthly. When the ambient temperature drops to about 40 degrees, Schuld starts putting jackets on calves, and they keep wearing them until the jackets no longer fit.
Sanitation and air quality
The GEA autofeeder automatically runs a cleaning cycle three times a day. Schuld manually cleans hoses and washes and rotates nipples daily. She also runs an acid wash through the system once or twice a week. She said that is very important to limit pathogen growth in the autofeeder system and maintain calf health.
If someone is considering autofeeders, Schuld said her biggest recommendations are to design the barn large enough and work with a specialist to correctly install positive pressure ventilation tubes. During the winter, Schuld usually keeps the sidewall curtains cracked to bring in fresh air. Large fans set with a thermostat provide additional air exchanges in the summer.
Schuld said she is pleased that the machine has required very little maintenance after seven-plus years of use. She is also very happy with calf performance on the autofeeders. She doesn’t have to deal with many disease challenges and achieves an average daily gain of about 2 pounds with her Talon feeding program.
“You really see the performance when they are older heifers,” she said. “We can really see that we raised strong and healthy calves after weaning and moving them to the heifer pens.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care