×
×
homepage logo

Precision ag moves into calf barns

By Staff | Mar 16, 2014

By KAREN SCHWALLER kschwaller@evertek.net REMSEN and DOON — Dairy producers from around Northwest Iowa got a chance on March 5 to see how precision management and technology are being used to raise pre-weaned dairy calves on two farms near Remsen and Doon. Both facilities utilize automatic calf feeders, machines that automatically mix and dispense milk replacer rations and monitor consumption. Greater emphasis is being placed on ensuring heifers are reaching their genetic potential, most noticeably in the development of the pre-weaned calf. The tours were hosted by Iowa State University Extension and took place at Dykstra Dairy — a 3,000-head dairy facility near Remsen, and Hillside Dairy — a 1,600-head dairy near Doon. In Remsen Darin Dykstra, owner of Dykstra Dairy, near Remsen, made the switch from conventional practices to the ACF in 2010. He said he used to have heifer raisers involved. “I wanted to do my own heifer raising,” Dykstra said, “and didn’t want the calves out in huts during blizzards and the weather we have here in Iowa. “They have lived up to my expectations. My death loss for anything under 1-year-old is 7 to 7.5 percent.” Dykstra said his biggest challenge has been salmonella, but that calves are put on a vaccination schedule to manage it before it becomes a problem. The process for calving at Dykstra Dairy includes feeding one gallon of pasteurized colostrum in the first hours of life, and within 24 hours they are removed from the dairy and taken to a calf barn, where they are introduced to the ACFs. They receive no other nourishment in the first 24 hours other than colostrum. “We want them a little hungry when they get here so they’ll find the feeder and eat,” said Dykstra, adding they go immediately on to a rich, 22/20 milk replacer. “It doesn’t hurt them at all to be a little hungry when they get here.” He said the calves are usually familiar with the system after the first day and a half. Calves are allotted a specific portion of milk replacer, with a sensor on the ACF reading the calf’s ear tag to keep track of how much the calf has eaten over the course of the day. Eating records are kept on a computer in the office. They receive 10 liters at the highest time of consumption, building up to that amount and gradually reducing it as calves become weaned. The concentration of the milk replacer is also adjusted over that time. They are on the ACFs until day 65. Dykstra Dairy has 40 heifer calves on each feeder. Calves may approach the feeder all day long, but because their allotted amounts are tracked, they can only eat what they are allotted. Dykstra said he has tried various ways and amounts to feed the heifer calves, but likes the results he sees with this method. The calves double their birth weight by weaning time. Dykstra said cleanliness is paramount to a successful ACF system. The machine cleans itself four times each day, along with employees replacing parts that are worn and need to be cleaned or repaired. Still, Dykstra said actually getting out there and looking things over is just as important as automation. “Technology can’t replace eyeballing calves to see how they’re doing,” he said. In Doon Mark Vant Hul, of Hillside Dairy, near Doon, said he started using a similar ACF system in 2012. His family used to have their calves distributed between 300 huts outside, but were weary of cold weather and its effects on young calves and workers. “Even when it’s 20-below, you can still work in here,” he said of the new facility, built in 2012, to house the calves and ACFs. There are 25 calves each in 32-by-32-foot pens. He said they started out doing well with the ACFs, then hit a downturn in calf health because of bacteria levels in the machines. He said it’s a learning process. “To keep things clean enough,” Vant Hul said, “it takes more than the companies tell you. “You have to clean things a lot more often. When our bacteria levels were high we saw depressed calves and problems with scours, and they weren’t interested in sucking. Once we got that taken care of, they took off.” Calves at Hillside Dairy receive three quarts of colostrum within the first half hour of life, three quarts six hours later, then are brought to the calf barn to start on the ACFs. The Hillside Dairy’s system also monitor what each calf consumes, with an ear tag sensor. However, Vant Hul’s system carry leftover allotments to the next day if the calf didn’t consume all it was allowed on a certain day. Calves are also started with two liters of a 22/20 ration and work up to seven liters, and amounts are gradually reduced as they are weaned. Concentrations of the milk replacer mixture are also monitored. Calves there are weaned at 55 days and are weaned individually, not as groups, depending on when they came into the calf barn. Hillside Dairy keeps bulls and heifers in the barn, and Vant Hul said he doesn’t see any difference in their growth rates with the ACF. Both dairy owners said keeping the drinking area clean and sanitized is paramount, and that sanitizing gets done several times each day. Sanitizing is priority one when switching groups of calves in the pens. Vant Hul said producers can’t rely on the machines to manage calf health, adding that they need to do daily visual inspections to see if the calves look good. Rations can be adjusted to make up for calves that appear to not be doing as well as they should. Vant Hul said there are some things he would do differently if he were to build again, including the installation of drains that would not allow for becoming clogged with bedding debris, building smaller feeder houses and putting two-foot high walls around the feeder housings. He said the insulated roof helps prevent condensation and dripping, making a healthy environment for the calves. Both dairy calf barns feature ventilation systems that move air in and out, which both dairymen said are beneficial all year. Vant Hul said his dairy calf facility has an issue now and then, but he said it’s still better than doing what he was doing before. “When we had the calves in huts,” he said, “and it was 20-below zero with a snow storm, calves would die really fast. “We still have problems in here now and then, but at least it’s manageable.” Vant Hul said he is pleased with the results he sees with the ACF system. “Twelve months down the road they all perform well—I don’t see any difference,” he said, adding that average daily gains are favorable and that bulls fatten evenly.

By KAREN SCHWALLER

“mailto:kschwaller@evertek.net”>kschwaller@evertek.net

REMSEN and DOON – Dairy producers from around Northwest Iowa got a chance on March 5 to see how precision management and technology are being used to raise pre-weaned dairy calves on two farms near Remsen and Doon.

Both facilities utilize automatic calf feeders, machines that automatically mix and dispense milk replacer rations and monitor consumption.

Greater emphasis is being placed on ensuring heifers are reaching their genetic potential, most noticeably in the development of the pre-weaned calf.

DARIN DYKSTRA shows how the auto-feeders work at his dairy. Calves there are taken from the mother a few hours after birth, and brought into to a calf barn, where they receive a rich supplement of milk replacer. This method ensures efficiency in milk production, maintains calf health and reduces labor.

The tours were hosted by Iowa State University Extension and took place at Dykstra Dairy – a 3,000-head dairy facility near Remsen, and Hillside Dairy – a 1,600-head dairy near Doon.

In Remsen

Darin Dykstra, owner of Dykstra Dairy, near Remsen, made the switch from conventional practices to the ACF in 2010. He said he used to have heifer raisers involved.

“I wanted to do my own heifer raising,” Dykstra said, “and didn’t want the calves out in huts during blizzards and the weather we have here in Iowa.

“They have lived up to my expectations. My death loss for anything under 1-year-old is 7 to 7.5 percent.”

“We want them a little hungry when they get here so they’ll find the feeder and eat.” —Darin Dykstra Remsen-area dairyman

Dykstra said his biggest challenge has been salmonella, but that calves are put on a vaccination schedule to manage it before it becomes a problem.

The process for calving at Dykstra Dairy includes feeding one gallon of pasteurized colostrum in the first hours of life, and within 24 hours they are removed from the dairy and taken to a calf barn, where they are introduced to the ACFs.

They receive no other nourishment in the first 24 hours other than colostrum.

“We want them a little hungry when they get here so they’ll find the feeder and eat,” said Dykstra, adding they go immediately on to a rich, 22/20 milk replacer.

“It doesn’t hurt them at all to be a little hungry when they get here.”

EARTAGS HELP IDENTIFY calves as they come approach the auto feeder at Dykstra Dairy near Remsen. Calves are allotted a certain portion per day. The eartags help determine which calf has eaten its allotment each day.

He said the calves are usually familiar with the system after the first day and a half. Calves are allotted a specific portion of milk replacer, with a sensor on the ACF reading the calf’s ear tag to keep track of how much the calf has eaten over the course of the day.

Eating records are kept on a computer in the office. They receive 10 liters at the highest time of consumption, building up to that amount and gradually reducing it as calves become weaned.

The concentration of the milk replacer is also adjusted over that time.

They are on the ACFs until day 65. Dykstra Dairy has 40 heifer calves on each feeder.

Calves may approach the feeder all day long, but because their allotted amounts are tracked, they can only eat what they are allotted.

MARK VANT HUL explains how the DeLaval auto-feeders work at his family’s dairy calf barn.

Dykstra said he has tried various ways and amounts to feed the heifer calves, but likes the results he sees with this method.

The calves double their birth weight by weaning time.

Dykstra said cleanliness is paramount to a successful ACF system. The machine cleans itself four times each day, along with employees replacing parts that are worn and need to be cleaned or repaired.

Still, Dykstra said actually getting out there and looking things over is just as important as automation.

“Technology can’t replace eyeballing calves to see how they’re doing,” he said.

In Doon

Mark Vant Hul, of Hillside Dairy, near Doon, said he started using a similar ACF system in 2012. His family used to have their calves distributed between 300 huts outside, but were weary of cold weather and its effects on young calves and workers.

“Even when it’s 20-below, you can still work in here,” he said of the new facility, built in 2012, to house the calves and ACFs.

There are 25 calves each in 32-by-32-foot pens.

He said they started out doing well with the ACFs, then hit a downturn in calf health because of bacteria levels in the machines. He said it’s a learning process.

“To keep things clean enough,” Vant Hul said, “it takes more than the companies tell you.

“You have to clean things a lot more often. When our bacteria levels were high we saw depressed calves and problems with scours, and they weren’t interested in sucking. Once we got that taken care of, they took off.”

Calves at Hillside Dairy receive three quarts of colostrum within the first half hour of life, three quarts six hours later, then are brought to the calf barn to start on the ACFs.

The Hillside Dairy’s system also monitor what each calf consumes, with an ear tag sensor.

However, Vant Hul’s system carry leftover allotments to the next day if the calf didn’t consume all it was allowed on a certain day.

Calves are also started with two liters of a 22/20 ration and work up to seven liters, and amounts are gradually reduced as they are weaned.

Concentrations of the milk replacer mixture are also monitored.

Calves there are weaned at 55 days and are weaned individually, not as groups, depending on when they came into the calf barn.

Hillside Dairy keeps bulls and heifers in the barn, and Vant Hul said he doesn’t see any difference in their growth rates with the ACF.

Both dairy owners said keeping the drinking area clean and sanitized is paramount, and that sanitizing gets done several times each day.

Sanitizing is priority one when switching groups of calves in the pens.

Vant Hul said producers can’t rely on the machines to manage calf health, adding that they need to do daily visual inspections to see if the calves look good.

Rations can be adjusted to make up for calves that appear to not be doing as well as they should.

Vant Hul said there are some things he would do differently if he were to build again, including the installation of drains that would not allow for becoming clogged with bedding debris, building smaller feeder houses and putting two-foot high walls around the feeder housings.

He said the insulated roof helps prevent condensation and dripping, making a healthy environment for the calves.

Both dairy calf barns feature ventilation systems that move air in and out, which both dairymen said are beneficial all year.

Vant Hul said his dairy calf facility has an issue now and then, but he said it’s still better than doing what he was doing before.

“When we had the calves in huts,” he said, “and it was 20-below zero with a snow storm, calves would die really fast.

“We still have problems in here now and then, but at least it’s manageable.”

Vant Hul said he is pleased with the results he sees with the ACF system.

“Twelve months down the road they all perform well-I don’t see any difference,” he said, adding that average daily gains are favorable and that bulls fatten evenly.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page