Autofeeders Boost Consistency at Jones Dairy
Over and over, calf raisers are lectured on the importance of consistency for raising strong, healthy calves. That’s especially relevant when it comes to the nutrition of these young animals.
At Jones Dairy in Spencer, Iowa, Aaron (Jones) Titterington found one tool to offer more consistency to the farm’s Jersey calves: automatic calf feeders.
Titterington returned to her family’s farm in 2003 after graduating from Iowa State University with a degree in dairy science. She and her sister work together as herdswomen, with Titterington managing the calf program. Their dad oversees the feeding in addition to running the business and cropping sectors of the operation while their mother does the accounting and feeds calves in the morning. Their brother heads up the maintenance, new construction and trucking. In addition, the farm employs 11 non-family employees.
A little over a year ago, the Jones family purchased used Urban automatic calf feeders from a neighboring farm. They were interested in making the switch because individual hutches came with huge labor demands. Titterington found a way to incorporate the autofeeders into her calf program to boost efficiency while still providing individualized care. She said she’s been “extremely happy” with the autofeeders’ results.
When calves are born, they are each fed at least one dose of Secure
calf colostrum replacer, more if they appear to still be hungry. They also receive the Inforce 3 vaccine to prevent respiratory issues. For the first 10 to 12 days, calves are held in individual hutches inside an open-face barn. Titterington said she prefers individual hutches for newborns because it gives her flexibility to choose groupings, match ages and create a whole pen in the automatic feeder barn.
Initially, calves are fed 6 quarts of pasteurized milk, which comes from the farm’s separate parlor for special needs cows. They are introduced to starter and water right away. They are also fed Inner Shield
in their milk for the first 10 to 12 days to protect against rotavirus and other scouring illnesses. If at 10 or 12 days, they are still not drinking as much as they should, calves will remain in their individual hutches for a few more days.
Next, the heifer calves move to a barn and start on the automatic feeders. The barn is split into four pens with 15 calves in each pen. Calves in each group range in age by about 10 days. Traditionally, pens are bedded with straw, but cornstalks were used this year as they were readily available. Six variable-speed fans pull air across the pens from open windows. Both the fan speed and the window openings can be adjusted to accommodate for outside temperatures.
Over the course of three days, calves are stepped up to 7 quarts of milk per day in the winter, but remain at 6 quarts in the summer. The autofeeders are also used to wean the calves at 60 days in the summer and 80 days in the winter. With an all-in-all-out system, Titterington said the goal is to keep calves in the same pen for 10 to 14 days post-weaning to limit stress.
When the calves leave the autofeeder barn, they move to an open-faced, naturally ventilated barn. They continue to have free-choice water and the same amount of starter they had in the autofeeder barn. The one big difference is that they switch from a 23-percent protein starter to a 21-percent starter. At about four-and-a-half months, calves are introduced to TMR. When that happens, they switch to an 18-percent protein starter. By six months of age, the calves are off starter and completely on a TMR diet.
Titterington said weather remains her biggest challenge to raising calves. In western Iowa, an area with relatively few natural windbreaks, the weather is ever-changing. As Titterington described – and many calf raisers can relate – it can be windy and cold one week and 60 degrees and sunny the next.
That’s why adding consistency to the nutrition program is so important. She doesn’t have to worry about training someone to feed calves exactly the same way she does – the machines take care of it. This means she can devote more time to other areas of the farm, raise her young family and still ensure optimum care and nutrition for the next generation of milking animals.