Virtual Farm Tour: River Crest Dairy, LLC

Posted on January 17, 2019 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Autofeeders allow for easy care and great performance at River Crest Dairy, LLC
It’s been 15 months since the calves of River Crest Dairy, LLC in Greenwood, Wisconsin moved into a new autofeeder barn, and the team couldn’t be happier with the results they’ve seen so far.

The 222-cow dairy is owned and operated by Jeanne and Pete Opelt with their son, Trent, and his wife, Kristan (Noeldner).  The registered Holstein herd was formed when the Opelt and Noeldner herds combined.  Trent’s sister, Lindsay Van Cuyk, takes the lead on managing the calves along with Jeanne.

Van Cuyk said the dairy freestall was built in 2015, and the family initially used the old Opelt tiestall barn to house its calves.  She said the calves “did OK,” but they knew they could improve performance with better ventilation and housing.  They toured many barns in the area and combined all the things they liked into their design.  Weaned heifers were placed in the new barn in October 2017, and preweaned calves followed in November.

Barn features
The roofline vent and positive pressure ventilation tubes minimize respiratory challenges.  Split sidewall curtains open from both the top and bottom and are controlled by temperature, precipitation, and windspeed sensors.  Van Cuyk said the clear panels at the top of the south-facing wall allow sunshine to enter the barn and keep it warmer on cold winter days.  A two-foot gap between the sidewalls and the pens keeps drafts off animals.

Preweaned calves are split between two autofeeder group pens based on age.  Van Cuyk said she tries to always move calves in pairs to keep older calves from “picking on” those that are new to a pen.  She said this is especially important when calves are moved up to the weaned pens.

Each preweaned pen has a drain that runs the entire length of the pen.  The floor slopes toward the drains, which are covered with landscaping material and gravel.  Straw bedding is placed on top and stays dry throughout the year.

“We are shocked at how well the pens drain,” Van Cuyk said.

Autofeeders and nutrition program
Since Van Cuyk is busy with two young children and her mother works full-time off the farm, the family decided on autofeeders to limit the amount of manual labor needed and provide more flexibility in daily calf chores.  They went with the Urban CalfMom machine in part because they knew they could get product support from the farm’s refrigeration service.  Van Cuyk said she has not had any mechanical issues with the autofeeder so far.

Newborns receive 1 gallon of high-quality maternal colostrum via bottle or esophageal feeder within four hours after birth.  Colostrum is tested with a Brix refractometer, and the farm feeds Secure® colostrum replacer if it does not have enough high-quality colostrum.  They test calves’ serum total proteins concentration to evaluate the effectiveness of the colostrum program.

In the first four days, the calves are bottle-fed 2 quarts of pasteurized whole milk in the morning and at night.  Vita Plus Liberator, a direct-fed microbial, is added to this milk to promote intestinal integrity and function.

The calves move to the autofeeder pens on day five and are initially allotted 7.5 liters of pasteurized milk in a 24-hour period.  That amount is gradually increased until calves reach 10 liters by 21 days.  At 45 days, the milk feeding begins to drop until calves are completely weaned at 61 days.

While on the autofeeders, calves have 24/7 access to water and BSF calf starter with 20 percent protein.

Weaned heifers stay in the same barn, but move through a sequence of larger pens, until they are between 8 to 10 months of age and move off-site.  They receive a grower and dry hay until 6 months of age, when the heifer TMR is introduced.

Measurable performance
Van Cuyk weighs the calves at day zero, 30 and 60.  She said average daily gains typically fall between 1.6 and 2.2 pounds per day in the first 60 days.

The first heifers to live in the new barn will calve in a few months from now.  Van Cuyk said she’s excited to see how the animals perform when they enter the lactating herd.  So far, the barn – with its positive effects on calf health, performance and ease of care – has exceeded her expectations.

“There is nothing in this barn that I have yet to complain about,” she said.  “It’s all so much easier.”

Category: Autofeeders
Farm tours
Starting Strong - Calf Care