Leadley said autofeeders are a tremendous asset in delivering such programs.
“When you’re talking about feeding 7.0 to 10.0 quarts of milk per day, it’s challenging to do that with traditional, individual feeding programs,” he noted. “Autofeeders make it much easier to achieve high rates of intake, and make step-up and step-down programs more efficient.”
Challenges in transition
Virginia Tech University and Iowa State University (ISU) recently conducted surveys to assess producers’ experiences and opinions concerning autofeeders.
Jennifer Bentley Jennifer Bentley, ISU Extension dairy specialist, said ventilation issues and respiratory disease incidence were the biggest challenges producers have encountered with autofeeding systems. Increased milk feeding rates results in more urine output, making it more difficult to maintain good air quality.
“Many producers have had to make additional modifications to their ventilation systems after switching to autofeeders,” she noted. “That’s especially true for producers who have retrofitted existing buildings.”
Producers in the Virginia Tech study also indicated lower incidence of pneumonia when calves are fed individually and not put on the feeder until 10-14 days of age.
Competition and “bullying” at the feeder also was identified as a challenge, often due to a wide age spread among calves in the group, and underfeeding. Limit feeding (1.5 lbs. of solids per day or less), or feeding small amounts (a pint or less per feeding session) can create crowding at the feeder.
Cross-sucking was identified as a challenge – but not a serious concern – by some producers. Those problems usually were related to calves not being fed enough, or machine malfunction. Providing proper weaning transition also has been identified as a remedy to cross-sucking.
As more sophisticated systems allow feeding pasteurized waste milk or whole milk, producers noted the additional management challenges of correctly pasteurizing, storing and transferring milk.
Finally, producers said getting up to speed on the machine’s software program and reports was a short-term challenge.
Surveyed producers and experts agree that installing autofeeders does not give one a “pass” for managing calves.
“Breakdowns in the fundamentals of raising healthy calves will only be magnified by autofeeders and group housing,” said Bentley. “It’s critical that dry-cow care and vaccination; colostrum delivery; bedding and ventilation are managed diligently. If they’re not, the system will fail, despite all the nutritional benefits supplied by the autofeeder.”