Virtual Farm Tour: Minglewood, Inc.
Autofeeders help managers define and measure calf program success at Minglewood, Inc.
“The autofeeder is probably the best thing we ever did for calves.”
Kristin Quist of Minglewood, Inc. in Deer Park, Wisconsin, said autofeeders fit the farm’s management style. She said farm employees previously spent 16 hours per day feeding calves three times daily. Now Quist invests eight hours a day for all calves and heifers under six months of age. With more flexibility in the schedule, she can dedicate time to other areas of the dairy as well. It’s also easier to delegate tasks on days off while still providing calves with consistent care.
Minglewood is owned and operated by Quist’s parents, Kevin and Roxie Solum, and milks about 1,200 cows between two systems – a parlor and eight robotic milkers. The family installed the automatic calf feeders in December 2012. While they are proud of today’s calf performance and health, Quist readily admits it took a lot of learning and adapting to make the system work the way they needed it.
Managing the pens
The majority of calves are housed in a four-pen autofeeder barn. Quist said she likes to keep 20 to 22 calves per pen. She said she does notice more disease pressure if she approaches the maximum of 25 calves per pen. Calves in this barn are fed pasteurized milk supplemented with Calf Magnify. The rest of the calves are housed in a two-pen barn and fed Talon milk replacer through an autofeeder. Quist said calf performance is basically equal between the two barns and feeding programs.
Quist observed that calves less than 85 pounds at birth seemed to “slug feed” with large milk volume one day and low intakes the next. She adjusted the feeding parameters accordingly. Calves less than 85 pounds ramp up to 10 liters of milk per day, while calves greater than 85 pounds will ramp up to 11 liters. All calves are on milk for a total of 60 days; the volume is gradually decreased over the last 14 days. At weaning, calves consume 6 to 8 pounds of starter daily.
Quist emphasized the importance of a top-notch maternity and colostrum program. She said new maternity employees train side-by-side with a veteran employee for at least two weeks to become comfortable with all the processes. In the just-in-time calving system, calving pens are kept very clean and fresh cows are milked immediately in the pens.
Colostrum is pasteurized; anything scoring 22% or higher with a Brix refractometer is frozen in Perfect Udder® bags. Based on expected calvings, the team pulls out the frozen colostrum and puts it in the refrigerator to thaw. This way, when the calf is born, it takes just a few minutes to heat the colostrum to feeding temperature in a warm water bath and deliver the 4-quart feeding 45 to 60 minutes after birth. A second 2-quart feeding is delivered about eight hours later.
The newborns are kept in individual warming pens for about a day before moving to a backgrounding hutch. These pens are completely sanitized between calves. Newborns are backgrounded for four days and receive 2 quarts of milk three times per day. They must be able to drink from a bottle holder before they are placed on the autofeeder. Calves are housed in cohorts according to age, so the youngest calves are always together.
Building a team
Quist said another factor to their success is being able to adapt and try new things. For example, due to high straw prices, the farm just began using soybean stubble to bed the autofeeder barns. The team noticed more dust as they bedded, but Quist said this material seems to be more absorbent, so she anticipates drier calves and better air quality. She said they probably will still add some straw during the winter to provide more nesting depth.
Quist also said it’s easier to try new things when you surround yourself with a good team. She said she relies heavily on the farm’s suppliers and industry experts to get new ideas. They help her troubleshoot challenges and share ideas of what has worked on other farms. She said a strong team focused on the same goals of calf health and performance has gotten the Minglewood calf program where it is today. It also helps her focus on continual improvement.
“We’re here to take care of the cattle,” she said. “We have to do what’s right for them.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care