Video: System manages dairy barn’s feeding, tracking, calf health

Group housing, individual system trials Information can alert producers to health issues

WOODSTOCK, Ont. — People who have been frustrated waiting for calves to finish eating may appreciate the contraption Grober Nutrition is using for its nutrition and management studies in Woodstock.

Emily De Benetti of Grober Nutrition she said this is the second year the company has used the Forster Technik’s feeding system in its trials in the Development Barn on the Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show grounds.

The brains of the calf feeding system is a computer program, “which allows us to individually manage our calves’ feeding programs,” De Benetti said.

“We have days on milk managed, the concentration of the milk, portion sizes and a weaning program all installed on this program.”

Weaning programs, including the graduated 10-day step down, are an important part of the computer programming. De Benetti said everything is gradually changed throughout the milk fed period to decrease metabolic upsets.

“The slow graduated process allows calves to come in often and get small meal sizes, which helps them stay full throughout the day instead of binge eating,” De Benetti said.

The computer records information from each meal, which allows the milk-fed programs to be easily tracked.

“We can see as a group where we’ve had ebbs and flows in intakes. What’s good about that is that we can follow disease trends and developmental trends with a group of animals,” De Benetti said.

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Grober Nutrition is conducting two distinct trials using Forster Technik’s feeding system. Both trials use nipples to feed, but there are differences in feeding methods.

One system puts calves in group housing, and radio frequency identification ear tags activate meals. The computer identifies the animal when a tag is scanned and then delivers the corresponding meal.

The second system puts calves in individual stalls and a shuttle travels along the Calf Rail to each animal. The Calf Rail is usually attached to the ceiling so the legs can’t be bumped, although in the Development Barn it sits on legs.

A blue insulated milk line, which has a heating coil running through it, connects the feeding shuttle and the Forster Technik pump station, where concentration and temperature are controlled. It pumps milk to the shuttle, which also contains a secondary pump.

“The secondary pump has a secondary membrane that regulates the flow of milk. It enables the computer to monitor how much the calves are drinking, how quickly they are drinking, and that information goes back to the computer.”

This system can be set to feed up to eight times per day. Grober Nutrition staff feed calves in the studies fives times a day.

The feeding shuttle can also be sent manually to a specific calf if necessary.

“Water gets flushed through these lines, and then milk gets flushed all the way down to the pump but not past the pump so that milk doesn’t flow,” she said.

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“It has to wait for the calf to suckle.”

A beeper lets calves know it’s time to feed and the shuttle slides down the rail until it hits a magnet. This tells the computer to stop the shuttle and turn it to face the calf.

“The calves have about two minutes to activate the pump before it is stopped,” De Benetti said.

“Once the pump is activated, they have around eight minutes to drink their meal. If they haven’t finished their meal allotment in that time, drink faster next time girls.”

The machine turns away from the calf when it is finished its meal and moves down the rail to the next magnet, at which time it turns to face the next calf.

A nozzle sprays detergent and water on the nipple between calves to prevent contamination.

The rail system can feed 32 calves, 16 per side. The limiting factor is the hose that usually reaches no more than 30 metres from the machine.

The machine returns to the docking station once it finishes the feeding cycle, which is where the washing and rinsing cycle occurs.

Grober Nutrition is using a Forster Technik feeding system for its nutrition and management studies in Woodstock. | Robin Booker photo.

Grober Nutrition is using a Forster Technik feeding system for its nutrition and management studies in Woodstock. | Robin Booker photo.

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