Daily monitoring of data supplied by most autofeeders helps assess calf health and performance. By monitoring individual animals for feeding frequency, consumption and drinking speed, sick animals can be detected before they start to show clinical signs. Many systems offer the capability of delivering oral antibiotics, coccidiostats and/or electrolytes to individual animals.
Leadley said the best animal caretakers will have the most success with autofeeders. He advises producers towalk through pens and observe animals before viewing computer reports. Managers with instinctive knowledge of animal behavior will be able to spot sick animals; computer data can then be consulted for additional confirmation.
“The priority of making a timely diagnosis of sick calves in group housing is much higher,” said Leadley. “When one animal in the pen is sick, they all are at risk.”
“All-in, all-out” management of feeding rooms is best for biosecurity, according to Earleywine. If a smaller herd size does not make “all-in” possible, he said “all-out” is still a must. “Pens must be completely emptied, cleaned and sanitized between groups of calves to keep pathogen loads down,” he stated.
One of the reasons producers cite most frequently for adopting autofeeding is labor savings. Interestingly, users are finding the systems don’t save a tremendous amount of time day-to-day. However, they do change the way labor is expended – from the physical routine of delivering individual feedings, to a more managerial role in which performance and outcomes are regularly measured and monitored.
In the Iowa study, “producers reported more flexibility in their calf-management schedules, even though the actual time they spent on the calves was about the same,” said Bentley. The Virginia Tech respondents reported similar conclusions.
New tasks – such as feeder cleaning, checking hoses and nipples, replacing parts, training calves and checking calf health – replace some of the time originally spent feeding, Leadley said. At the same time, producers feel they are spending time more efficiently, finding greater value in the work to track performance, he added.
Results speak volumes
While only 37% of the Iowa producers surveyed monitored average daily gain (ADG), those who did reported an impressive ADG from birth to weaning of 2.3 lbs. Average mortality rate was 3%, and average treatments for both scours and respiratory disease were 14% each.