Virtual Farm Tour: Juedes Dairy
Although this winter has been an exception, below-zero temperatures and lots of snow are standard conditions for many days in northern Wisconsin. Two years ago, during and especially harsh season, Carla Juedes said she would “never, ever again” go through a winter of raising calves in hutches.
Carla and her husband, Brad, own and operate Juedes Dairy in Merrill, Wisconsin. They milk about 200 cows and have five employees, including their son. Everyone helps where needed, but Carla is the main calf raiser for the farm. In addition to the winter challenges, Carla faced a knee surgery that also made calf chores more difficult.
The couple began researching options to move their 20 calves on milk indoors. Although individual pens inside a barn would protect them from the weather, Carla would still have to do a considerable amount of manual labor. That’s what made automatic calf feeders especially appealing.
The team selected the Urban CalfMom Paula machine for several reasons. The nipple is sanitized between every calf. The local dealership also provides great customer service, including routinely calibrating the machine.
Construction of the new barn and autofeeder installation were completed about one year ago. Since then, about 100 calves have moved through the system – and the Juedes team hasn’t lost a single calf.
Newborn calves are fed four bottles of colostrum in their first two days of life. They also receive Inforce™ 3 and Calf-Guard® vaccines. Once dry, they are placed in individual hutches in the calf barn for about five days and bottle-fed there. This makes for a smoother transition to the autofeeder.
Calves are fed Calf’s 1st Choice milk replacer. They start on 6 liters per day and then move up to 8 liters after four days. The barn is split into two halves, but both use the same feeder. The youngest calves are placed in one pen and move to the other after about a month. To wean, the milk replacer feeding is gradually reduced over a period of six days.
Brad said the farm is now feeding about twice as much milk replacer as it did previously – about 1.5 bags per day. But that’s paying off in terms of calf performance.
“I didn’t know our calves could get this big,” Carla said.
Calves are also introduced to starter immediately, including a 22-percent protein pellet and BSF calf starter. Once they move to the heifer barn (into groups of about 15 heifers), they receive the same pellet for about a month before transitioning to a TMR with high moisture corn and canola meal.
Simple and effective barn design
The new barn is one of the most interesting components of the Juedes calf program. Solar panels on one side and an insulated ceiling keep the calves comfortable year-round. Without any supplemental heat, the coldest the barn has ever been was 28 degrees F.
Brad said one of the biggest things he learned during the research phase was that you “have to get the ventilation right.” Two variable-speed fans pull air across the barn from a window at the opposite end. Special nylon netting over the window baffles the air, preventing drafts, but allowing for adequate air exchanges.
Because the calves are indoors, the Juedes team uses about half the amount of bedding. They’ve found that rye straw works best because it stays fluffy and dry whereas wheat straw is tougher to manage. Carla said, if doing it all over again, she would put a slight slant under the pens to allow for better drainage.
Advice for other calf raisers
“You gotta go look at what’s out there,” Carla said.
Touring other facilities and learning about challenges those producers have experienced went a long way in selecting the best machines and barn design for their operation. Brad echoed that thought. He said many calf raisers didn’t build their autofeeder barns for growth, so they became overcrowded. The Juedes team took that into account.
Carla also emphasized that she still spends time observing the calves every day. She also reviews the consumption data from the autofeeder. That way, she can catch and treat calves before small issues turn into major problems.
With a focus on calf health, a higher plane of nutrition, and a commitment to everyday sanitation and maintenance, an autofeeder system has proven to be a highly effective strategy for raising health calves at Juedes Dairy.
Starting Strong - Calf Care