Virtual Farm Tour: JDR Farms, LLC
Raising calves in autofeeder systems can reduce manual labor, but managers must still keep a close eye on calf health and facility cleanliness. The team at JDR Farms, LLC in Marlette, Michigan has developed such a system to raise high-performing dairy calves.
Jeff and Dannielle Root married in 2008 and bought their farm shortly thereafter. They started raising 40 heifer calves and, over time, added more animals, hutches, and a barn. They made the switch to autofeeders in 2015. Today, they have about 280 calves and heifers onsite at a time and raise about 1,040 calves per year. In addition to one part-time employee, the Roots’ team includes outside resources such as their veterinarian and nutritionist who also contribute to the farm’s success.
The Roots’ business is unique because they purchase newborn calves from one farm and resell them to another dairy farm at about 115 days of age. They use five autofeeders to feed pre-weaned calves for 60 days. The couple also cash crops on about 1,200 acres.
Dannielle said success starts with high-quality newborn care at the dairy farm, which also has a solid dry cow vaccination program. The Roots pick up 10 calves at a time on Monday and Thursday, and Dannielle said a calf must have a healthy navel, weigh at least 80 pounds, and have been eating well on a bottle for two to three days before they’ll take it.
Once calves are unloaded at JDR Farms, they are ear notched, given Inforce™ 3, placed in pens of 20, and introduced to the feeder. Later in the afternoon, the Roots help the calves to the feeder one more time. Dannielle said half the calves figure out the autofeeders by the next morning while the other half might need to be led to the feeders again. She said, within 48 hours, all of the calves know how to get to the feeders on their own. They are fed a 22/20 milk replacer and start at 6.3 liters per day. They are ramped up to 8.4 liters at day 10. That amount begins to drop at day 55 and they are off milk by day 60.
Each day, a team member does a walk-through in every pen and notes any calves showing signs of disease. Then they come back to the computer to look up the calf’s consumption records for further indications of disease. They will administer treatments accordingly.
In addition to taking the time to observe calves, Dannielle said cleanliness plays a key role in autofeeder success. That starts by completing scrubbing out pens between groups of calves. They then put down a layer of sawdust and add half of a big square bale of straw weekly.
The autofeeders automatically run four mixer cup cleanings per day and they are programmed to run two circuit cleanings per day. Dannielle runs an acid rinse weekly to prevent rust build-up. In addition, waterers and the autofeeder houses are manually cleaned daily and the nipples are also exchanged each day. All hoses are replaced between groups of calves.
Although they have a lot to clean, Dannielle said they can finish it all in about 45 minutes. Along with grain feeding and filling machines, morning chores take a total of three hours. Dannielle estimated they spend an additional 10 hours per week getting pens ready for another group of calves.
Two years in, Dannielle said she appreciates the scheduling flexibility she has with autofeeders. Although the team does morning chores and makes rounds on a regular schedule, they can take on the rest of the chores on a workable schedule. In addition, she has been very happy with calf growth and the health of the animals post-weaning. Dannielle said they have seen improved transition success, which she credits to socialization early in the calves’ lives.
Starting Strong - Calf Care