Calves at CY Heifer Farm in Elba, N.Y., have been housed in groups and fed by a computerized feeder for about a year now. Farm manager Jeanne Wormuth advises producers considering a switch to computerized calf feeding to think through the barn design and make the commitment to reduce the labor force.

Wormuth experimented with the number of calves in each pen and determined that 25, which allows each calf about 25 square feet of space, works best at her operation. “Calves need their space, and they will tell you if they aren’t happy,” she cautioned. The barn design needs to accommodate keeping the computer feeders warm and providing access to them. Other considerations are animal movement and access for bedding, cleaning and handling calves.

Reduced labor for feeding, bedding and cleaning pens can mean significant savings. Wormuth cut the number of people needed to care for calves from four to two. But she advised that the investment in feeders will not be worthwhile if the manager is unwilling to reduce the number of calf employees. The switch to group housing allowed CY Farm to purchase shavings for bedding in bulk, rather than in bags, which has reduced cost and improved labor efficiency.

Overall, the change from individual housing and feeding has been very positive for Wormuth. Calves experience less respiratory disease during weaning and are generally less stressed than before. Weight gain has not been affected by the change, and she has reduced rearing costs.