The advantages of automatic calf feeders.


Dr Bob James, professor emeritus of Dairy Science and Virginia Tech University, discusses the advantages of automatic calf feeders. Dr James said smart calf-rearing systems with automatic feeders provided the opportunity to mimic nature. They also provided a raft of data to help manage and assess performance.

He said he originally had some doubts about automatic feeding systems. “I remember the first day I walked out to the pad when we had our automatic calf feeders, and all the calves were laying there and I looked at them and I said ‘oh gosh what have we done’,” he said.

“Then I realised they were just sleeping. Some of them woke up and meandered over and started eating. Very different behaviour.

“It is not normal behaviour for calves to get excited when you come out to them in the morning — they are doing that because they are looking for food.”

Automatic feeders allowed calves to be fed regular amounts of milk more frequently. They allowed the farmer to work out a feeding plan — the amount per meal, the amount per day and the percentage solids for each calf. They also allowed for gradual weaning.

Dr James said automatic feeder provided reports on how much each calf was eating and the number of visits it made to the feeder. Some also measured drinking speed. These were indicators for calves there were getting sick.

Many had automatic or semi-automatic cleaning and calibration.

Research was showing major benefits of more natural calf-feeding behaviour that appeared when those animals entered the milking herd. Slug feeding type behaviours might be learned — so teaching a calf to eat twice a day could lead to more slug feeding later in life.

Other options for smart calf-rearing systems that were being developed or available now include:

  • Activity boxes on automatic feeders that showed how aggressively a calf was feeding.
  • Neck bands that measured activity.
  • Water stations that measured water intake and incorporated weighing stations.
  • Flashing lights on calves that are triggered by certain alarms, so the farmer can easily locate any calf that requires treatment.

If you’re interested in learning more about the MaxCare range of calf milk replacers which are suitable for automatic calf feeders, click here.

Original article sourced from