Shoreview, Minn. [December 18, 2012] – There has been a lot of discussion about group calf housing recently. Perhaps you are giving it serious consideration on your operation. Before diving in there are a few questions you may want to ask yourself, advises Ed Denton, calf and heifer specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition LLC. Questions that merit discussion include: Do I want to utilize mechanical feeding (auto-feeder) or ad-lib feeding (barrel feeder)? What square footage will my current calf rearing facilities allow? How do I wean the calves?
To begin answering these questions, Denton recommends to first look at the differences between the feeding systems and housing.
Auto-feeders are available in several brands; most dairies look to the same brand as their current milking equipment. Radio frequency identification or RFID equipment typically interfaces with both the auto-feeder and milking equipment. This auto-feeding equipment enables the collection of almost endless data on individual calves. Producers with automated feeders commonly review daily intake, drinking speed and frequency of meals. This data enables calf managers an opportunity for early diagnosis of calf illness. Slow drinking speed can be an excellent indicator of oncoming calf illness.
These feeding units require large capital investments and typically feed two or four groups of calves. Because of the large investment, the groups tend to be large and number between 20 to 25 calves per group. Larger groups increase equipment efficiencies, but increase housing challenges. Auto-feeders can dispense milk replacer and/or pasteurized waste milk.
Barrel feeders are typically “homemade,” utilizing tools readily available. “Because of the simplistic approach there is no electronic identification and data collection for each calf – all intake measurement is truly reviewed as a group,” notes Denton. The capital investment in the equipment is low and therefore encourages the use of more units with smaller groups.
Research indicates fewer respiratory issues are typically seen in groups of 6 to 8 calves vs. larger groups. “Smaller groups also enable a level of pseudo-individual care,” says Denton. Barrel feeder systems can also dispense milk replacer and/or pasteurized waste milk and typically are used with acidified milk or milk replacer.
Acidified milk/milk replacer allows for supplying milk/milk replacer to calves less often. “When feeding acidified milk/milk replacer, it is imperative to agitate the milk for short periods of time every hour to prevent separation of milk protein and fat from the whey,” notes Denton.