Automatic milk feeding systems for calves come with their share of advantages and challenges. Weaning time can be a particular challenge if not handled properly.

The key to successfully weaning calves away from the liquid feed offered by these systems is to do it gradually, says Miriam Weber Nielsen, professor of dairy science at Michigan State University.

"These calves are consuming a lot more milk than calves on conventional systems," Weber Nielsen said last month at the 2012 Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference.

As a result, they may be eating less grain than calves of the same age. Research shows this can cause the rumen papillae of calves to be shorter and narrower.

Weaning techniques used on farms visited by Weber Nielsen include delivering less milk to calves or diluting milk of the same total quantity over a 10- to 14-day period.

On one farm she visited, they moved calves in groups of 10 into separate pens. They hung a trough with nipples on it over a gate and delivered a set amount of milk to the calves each day. They scaled back the volume fed by 2 gallons every couple days until the calves were weaned, Weber Nielsen said.