Automated milk feeding enables Barber’s Farmhouse cheesemakers to successfully rear 600 quality heifers per year from seven of their dairy herds.
When Barbers decided to start rearing all of its own replacements, a precise, automated system which would deliver consistent feeding programmes and save labour was the obvious choice.
Five years on and all of the heifers from seven of the business’ 11 dairy herds are reared on Volac’s Förster-Technik milk feeders on a dedicated calf rearing unit at Moor Lane Farm, Somerset.
The Barbers run 2,500 cows across all of the autumn block calving farms, with herds averaging around 8,500 litres a cow a year at 4.3% fat and 3.6% protein.
All milk is used for Barber’s Farmhouse cheese.
Calves are born on their specific farms where they receive four litres of colostrum ‘as soon as they hit the ground’.
Colostrum has to test >25% on a refractometer to warrant feeding to calves.
They are trained to feed from a teat and then move on to the automated milk feeders.
Alfie Barber believes consistently feeding plenty of quality calf milk replacer through an automated system is essential for long-term performance.
He says: “You only get one chance and you’re either going to make a good or bad animal.
You can very quickly get a bad animal if you don’t feed right.” Calves are run in groups of 20, with four to five groups on each machine.
Mr Barber opts to increase milk feeding rates per litre (see ‘Milk feeding regime’ panel).
He thinks it is well worth the extra cost considering the good growth rates calves are achieving.
From birth to weaning they are averaging daily liveweight gains of 1-1.2kg per day.
“I get the better growth from feeding a bit more. It’s a cheap investment really.
For an extra 60g a day of milk powder it is an extra 7p per day,” Mr Barber adds.
"You only get one chance and you’re either going to make a good or bad animal"
He believes consistency of feeding also helps support growth rates.
The automation also helps the team of five dedicated calf rearers focus their attention where it is needed.
Automatic weaning via the milking machine avoids growth checks at this time.
Mr Barber also believes feeding a high quality, 20% protein pellet is key to performance.
“You’re looking for a good frame out of the calf rather than a fat dumpling.
Giving them that high protein gives them frame growth.
And I add biotin to help bone growth,” he says.
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