Julie and Andrew Newham, Northern Victoria, Australia

More calves, better heifers

When Andrew and Julie Newnham decided to increase their dairy herd size from 500 to 700 cows, they installed four DeLaval automatic calf feeders, CF150x, to save time, allow them to rear more calves and to improve infection control. While they knew it would give them more control over calf nutrition, they underestimated the impact that would have on their heifer growth rates and fertility.

The CF150x handles both grain and milk and is managed by a central processor.

Julie’s initial concerns that calves wouldn’t go into the feeders on their own proved to be unfounded. “It only takes two to three feeds to for them to pick it up. I start by guiding the calf into the feeder and nuzzling their nose against the button.  Once they work out to hit the button to get feed, there’s no looking back,” Julie says.

Every morning and afternoon Julie checks the computer to find out if any calves have missed their latest feed. “This means sick cows are identified and treated earlier so our calf health is much better.”

Rearing up to 250 calves a year, Julie is glad the task is much less physically demanding than the old system but she also really likes being able to control individual calf nutrition.

“With our old system the calves were fed twice a day and I had no control over individual intake. There were always dominant calves that got more than their fair share of milk, and often got scours; and then it went through the whole group. Plus the less dominant calves got less to drink so there was quite a difference in size, even though they were the same age.”

“With the automatic feeders, calves don’t have to compete: each calf gets its allocated amount, regardless of its place in the pecking order. And they can have smaller feeds, regularly throughout the day and night, which is more natural,” she said.

Julie adjusts the computer settings to change the amount of feed as calves grow. As they eat more grain, their milk allocation is reduced. Calves can also be automatically weaned once they get to a predefined grain consumption.

“By the time they are weaned, the calves are all a pretty standard size because they don’t have to compete for their daily feed allowance,” said Julie.

Andrew estimates that heifers are now 450kg when joined at 15-16 months, compared with 400kg before they installed the automatic calf feeders.

“This translates into a much better conception rate at first joininig. It sets our heifers up for a long, fertile and productive life in our herd,” Andrew says.

Julie and Andrew agree that installing automatic calf feeders was one of their better decisions.

“They quickly paid for themselves through saved time, better growth response from calf pellets and better conception rates at joining,” Andrew says.

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