Updated: Aug 28
I saw this post in a facebook group today and the way it was worded got me worked up.
Let’s talk about auto feeding calves!
The biggest flaw with the auto feeders is that people get them to save time. You will spend just as much time with your moos for chores folks. You will just be doing different tasks.
Before investing make sure your feeding program will allow you to successfully feed calves on this and your source of calves is appropriate.
If you are not feeding a high plane of nutrition you will have problems with calves suckling on each other and the bigger calves pushing smaller ones out of the way to steal their milk. The computer will think the smaller calves got their milk when they didn't. Smaller weaker calves can't afford to skip a feeding. It can be a costly mistake for that calf and your wallet to trust data from a machine that was missmanaged. Calves suckling on sacks, ears, and navels leads to navel infections, and manure meals.
Be prepared to bottle feed the first few feedings to teach the calf to drink properly and then fetch the moo to teach it to drink from the feeder.
Put the feeder in an area with good drainage were it can easily be cleaned. Not just the nipple, but the ground where the calves stand so you don't have issues with slop. Manure getting kicked up onto the nipple is a quick way to give your calf scours. A raised floor pad has been found to be helpful to prevent manure build up.
Calves should be penned individually the first 14 days to get a good start, but this is even more important if you are getting them from sale barns or multiple sources. If you are not sourcing calves straight from a dairy with a solid foundation under them keeping them separate for at LEAST 14 days is recommended or however long it takes for you to vaccinate the calves to prevent spread of illness when they are grouped together. Diseases like Salmonella Dublin are not forgiving. It only takes one calf to carry it to your herd before you have no moos and a heavy vet bill. The calves that survive an event like that will likely not be profitable or perform for you.
Be sure to budget for new nipples and hoses regulary. Cleaning and maintenance of the machine will make or break your operation.
Do your research and learn what to look for when reading the data back. Suckling speed and amount of milk consumed will tell you so much about your moos.
Don’t over crowd the pen. Seeing a long line of moos waiting on the feeder is not ideal.
Separating sick calves off is necessary! So you will need space and time to properly care for those sick moos too!
Keeping track of grain will be a challenge you will have to figure out before you wean. Feeding Ab Lim is a great way to solve many of the problems mentioned above, but has its downsides. Calves will need to be on milk longer and have a longer weaning time because of the reduced starter intake. Rumen development needs to be there before you wean or the calves will fall back. Weaning a 250 pound calf means nothing if it loses 25 pounds trying to adjust because the starter intake was not there.
Walking calves and observing calves first hand will be even more important! Catching things early is the key to a quick turn around.
That first 60 days of a calf’s life will define it all the way through. If you get the calves started right with whatever method you choose they will finish out faster and perform better in the parlor!
If managed properly auto feeders can be quite handy, but often health issues arise after installation because the feeder does not have realistic expectations and protocols in place to use them successfully. The auto feeder will provide some flexibility with timing of chores, but keep in mind calves thrive with consistency. Consistency is KEY.
MOST IMPORTANTLY THESE ARE NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR YOU DOING CHORES. Calves still need time and attention!