Farmers Check Out Automated Calf Feeding System

11/23/2013 7:00 AM
By Marjorie Struckle New York Correspondent

CHADWICKS, N.Y. — A group of farmers toured the group housing and automated calf feeding facility at Collins Knoll Farm LLC in Chadwicks, N.Y., near Utica, Nov. 7 as part of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County Dairy Tour.

The tour also included a stop at Tayl-Wind Farm in Cassville to look at a robotic milking system.

Collins Knoll Farm is owned by Ed Collins, but it has grown in size to support the families of his three sons: Rob, David and Alan — a total of four families.

One barn supporting the 740-cow milking herd has been retrofitted, while a new heifer barn and cow barn have been built. The farm’s rolling herd average is 29,000 pounds.

Replacing an old greenhouse barn two years ago with a metal barn with side curtains as been a learning experience. Rob Collins said the calf barn is too large for ventilation from the side curtains, so he wants to replace the curtains with tunnel ventilation.

After construction of the milking barn and a barn for fresh and dry groups, the heifer facility was essential. Since it’s a totally closed herd, replacement cows need to come from their heifer groups. The Collinses originally used sexed semen, but the heifer facility rapidly filled and they have reached a level of 200 calves to support the milking herd.

Using GEA Automatic Feeders has assisted in calf raising, but Herdsman Meaghan Fish said: “This does not mean you can forget about the calves. They are still visually checked for conditions.”

Newborns are placed into individual pens where a permanent identification, a lifetime chip equipment identifying button, and dehorning paste and tail banning are applied. Each animal receives two bottle feedings of calf starter before being introduced to the automatic calf feeders. The pens are sized to hold up to 25 calves each, beginning with 20 square feet per calf and increasing with age and size. Calf jackets are utilized for the two youngest groups. Each calf has a target drinking amount which they cannot exceed.

There are two automatic feeder units in the barn, each containing two stations. The calf will grab the tubing nipple and begin to suck. The chip in the ear tag identifies the calf to the machine. Each calf approaching the automatic calf feeder has a fresh mixture of milk replacer and water, with the option of additional additives.

A handheld or attached display shows individual and grouped calf feedings. Fish reviews the information several times during the day while observing the calves’ behavior and appearance. Once the allotted amount of feed is consumed during a certain time period, the machine will not provide additional feedings for that animal.

“Although nothing replaces actual observations of the calves, this is an additional tool to monitor their growth,” Fish said.

The calves are offered free-choice milk replacer, water and a calf starter grain. As the animals are weaned, the amount allowed to them through the automatic feeders is reduced.

The straw and sawdust bedding is replaced twice a week at the feeders.

The first automatic feeder unit cost $17,000 and the second cost $18,000. Today, the units are listed at $19,000 each.

The calves will enter the dairy herd with each calf producing an average of 80 pounds of milk per day.

“We are looking to make the work load easier and increase animals comfort,” Rob Collins said.

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