The ability to feed little and often, on a pre-programmed system, while saving on labour, are some of the benefits experienced by one Cumbrian family since introducing a computerised milk feeder.
When calf rearing began to be ‘hard work and time consuming’ the Mattocks knew something had to change.
With herd expansion putting the existing calf set up under pressure, and Henry and Eileen Mattocks getting older and having to lug buckets up and down the shed, the system was far from ideal.
At the same time there was no capacity to rest pens between batches, which was upping disease pressure.
Consequently, after coming out of a period of low milk price, the decision to invest in a new shed with computerised milk feeders was an easy one.
Tony Mattocks says: “Mum and dad are getting older and there seems to be a shortage of good labour, so you’ve got to do whatever you can to make life easier.”
Mr Mattocks farms at Auldby Farm with parents Henry and Eileen and wife Karen. The family runs 150 all-year-round calving cows, producing 8,500 litres a cow a year at 4.1% fat and 3.3% protein. They rear all of their own replacements.
Getting calves off to a good start is a priority. However, the old, large shed suffered from poor ventilation, which meant there was a build up of stale air.
There was also a tendency for it to get cold in winter and was routinely overcrowded. Newborn calves were also in the same airspace as fresh cows.
As a result, the decision was made to build a dedicated shed in place of an old stone barn measuring 36.5 metres by 9m.
The Mattocks worked closely with Volac’s Jason Short to decide on the correct set up for calf health and computerised feeding. This involved visiting various set ups with Mr Short.
“It was very useful as I came away with ideas on how to design the shed. Jason took us to a shed that was almost identical to the one we put up,” Mr Mattocks adds.
“The advice he gave us on the shed design and the machine has been very helpful.”
The new shed includes a slight slope on the floor, so any liquid drains out of the building.
A chimney on top of the ridge also helps to draw air out.
Feeder takes pressure off The ability to feed little and often, on a pre-programmed system, while saving on labour, are some of the benefits experienced by one Cumbrian family since introducing a computerised milk feeder.
The building is split into four pens – two on each side – each with an Urban Alma Pro computerised feeder.
This means one side of the shed can be used for four to six weeks and then mucked out, steam cleaned and disinfected before being rested for a month while the pens on the other side of the shed are used.
“That rest is so important. That’s when you get shot of disease and bugs,” says Mr Mattocks.
Revamped colostrum protocols, coupled with improved ventilation and pneumonia vaccination, has also aided in disease prevention, with the Mattocks reporting a ‘vast reduction in scours and especially pneumonia’.
Having blood tested calves and established only 60% were getting adequate colostrum, all colostrum is now tested using weighted colostrum balls.
These red, yellow and green balls are used to establish colostrum quality depending on which ones float in a colostrum sample. Only the best will be frozen and fed to calves.
Four litres of colostrum is now fed sooner, within four hours of birth, and then topped up at the next feed. Traditionally, calves then moved on to calf milk replacer fed twice daily on a teat bar and then trough.
Now, calves move onto a specific, pre-programmed calf milk feeding system on the Urban computerised milk feeder (see box) which removes any possible inconsistencies in temperature, concentration and volume from manual feeding – something vital to calf growth.
Each calf has a collar ID, so the system automatically knows how much milk they should be receiving, based on age. The programme also means calves take more feeds over the day.
“That’s why I like the system, because they can’t take too much,” says Mr Mattocks. “When feeding twice-a-day with a bucket, you give them all the milk at once. When they’re young, I don’t think they take as well to it.”
The ‘little and often’ approach has helped reduce scours too, which has meant the team is using less rehydration medicine.
Each computerised feeder will also automatically flag up any calves that need attention based on number of visits.
Calves highlighted green will have had all the milk assigned to them, amber calves could still have more milk and red calves may have missed a feed. Karen or Eileen will visit each feeder twice daily and use this information to check red and amber calves.
Mr Mattocks says: “It helps us target which ones to look at. The information on the computer is unbelievable. There’s everything you need to know; exact volume drunk, when the calf comes in [feeds] and number of visits.”
Although calves are not Tony Mattocks farms at Auldby Farm with parents Henry and Eileen and wife Karen. weighed, Mr Mattocks believes calves look better, thanks to a combination of the new shed and feeding system.
“They’re eating more cake. Obviously if they’re eating more, they’re growing more. They’re just doing better all round.”
Less disease has also resulted in a 75% reduction in medicine use, largely in the form of treatment for pneumonia and scours.
Mr Mattocks is hopeful this will result in improved production once heifers enter the milking herd.
“We’ve found that if a calf gets pneumonia bad at a young age, she might look alright, but when they come into the milking herd and when she calves and gets stressed, it will bring pneumonia back on. And I think it must impact on production,” he says.
The Urban Alma Pro computerised feeder also auto-cleans twice daily, which helps with labour and disease pressure. Teats will also be manually changed and disinfected once-a-day.
Mr Mattocks adds: “It’s taken the pressure off at feeding time. That’s the biggest advantage as you can see them through the day. We’re not mixing and carrying milk. The machine is doing all the work for us.”