An increasing number of Cumbrian dairy farmers are taking a leaf
out of their counterpart’s books in Germany, where 60pc of
replacement heifers are reared on computerised calf feeding systems.
Among them is Eden Valley producer, Michael
Cannon, who is appreciating their key benefits - tangible labour
savings and higher early calf performance combined with complete
Swapping buckets for a computerised calf feeding system has brought
labour savings of more than £6,000 a year at Low Abbey Farm,
Kirby Thore where the Cannon family, Michael and his parents, David
and Margaret took the opportunity, while restocking, to double
herd size to 200 Holstein cows.
“The system, which has continually proved itself over the
last four years, has taken the pressure off one of the most important
skilled jobs on this farm. Calf management during those first few
weeks of life is critical to overall lifetime performance,” he
“Apart from the massive time saving, it has enabled me to
take total control of each calf’s feed regime, and subsequently
rear a quality replacement heifer which achieves our target of
calving at two years and is scheduled to go on to average 9,000
litres over a minimum four lactations,” he explains.
“In fact we believe the system is the nearest to rearing
a calf naturally on its dam. The calves seem much more content
being able to feed little and often and live in a group. Nutritional
scours have virtually been eliminated along with growth checks
at weaning and the system is more welfare friendly.
“Added together, these benefits are visible in terms of
calf growth rate and general healthy appearance, and the quiet
temperament tends to remain with them to adulthood.”
Crunch time came for the Cannons when they restocked their 350
acre holding back in 2002 with two all year round calving herds,
one pedigree and the other commercial. Michael’s sister,
Jill, who used to rear the entire crop of calves born at Low Abbey,
had decided on a career change away from the farm. They were also
one labour unit short.
“We were bucket feeding up to 40 calves, a job which took
three hours each day and was fraught with human error - milk could
be mixed at different temperatures, rates and times of day. Furthermore,
the calves tended to guzzle and go on to suffer from rumen disorders”.
Michael became convinced about investing in Volac’s U40
feed station after visiting a neighbour who had successfully tried
and tested the system. He finally committed after being made aware
that the computerised system was offered with a guaranteed back
up service from trained dairy engineers, supplied by Hadrian Farm
“Since then, my time spent with the calves has been reduced
to 20 minutes a day spent visually appraising them, replenishing
the feeder with milk replacer and checking through the computer
programme for any non-drinkers,” he said.
The U40 records volumes consumed by individual calves and their
drinking speed, which highlights any potential problems up to 24
hours before they would usually be seen physically, enabling Michael
to take preventative measures if necessary. “The system is
a great management tool, however, it is not a replacement for good
stockmanship,” he emphasizes.
Low Abbey calves are individually penned for their first five
days and trained to drink colostrum from a teat. They are then
fitted with a transponder on a collar and introduced to a group
of up to 20 loose housed calves and the U40 feed station. The next
24 days the computer is programmed to allow each calf to receive
milk replacer on a rising curve to six litres per day, after which
that volume is maintained through to 42 days when it is gradually
reduced to weaning at 52 days.
Michael feeds Volac’s Blossom Milk Replacer which, at 13.5p/l,
he says proves to be cost effective. Apart from fresh water and
straw, they have access from six days of age to an 18pc CP starter
feed. “The youngest calves tend to demonstrate strong mimicking
behaviour when it comes to starting on solid feed, and by weaning
they are eating up to 2kgs a head per day.”
He adds: “Despite the initial outlay, the system has more
than paid for itself within the first two years, an investment
we rate very highly in return for the improvement in our unit’s
All livestock farmers will have the opportunity to investigate
computerised calf feeding systems for themselves at the following
roadshows organised by Hadrian Farm Services: March 22, Borderway
Mart, Carlisle; March 24, Mitchells Auction Mart, Cockermouth;
March 27, Penrith Farmers’ Auction Mart, Penrith; March 28,
Lockerbie Mart; March 29, Borderway Mart, Carlisle.
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