Calf feeding system mimics Mother Nature

The inventor says it provides many of the advantages that can be obtained by assigning calves a dedicated nurse cow

WOODSTOCK, Ont. — A farmer drew inspiration from his family’s dairy farm and its raising of dairy calves and other young ruminants. He noticed there were advantages to having calves on a dedicated nurse cow.

“We saw how well they did with consistent feeding and more frequent feeding. That makes a huge difference,” Lester Martin said at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show in Woodstock Sept. 13.

Many of those advantages are also available with his Uddermatic, a milk-replacer feeding system.

“I figured there was a better way to feed calves milk replacer than with a handheld bottle two times a day,” Martin said.

“With the Uddermatic, for dairy calves, we go up to six times and for small animal ruminants, lambs and kids, we can go up to 10 times a day, whatever the farmer wants.”

Design of his first machine, the A150, began about seven years ago. It was a unique concept in North America at the time, as far as Martin knows.

The A150 is a stationery unit capable of feeding 15 to 20 calves at a time. A mechanism dispenses the milk powder in a consistent and accurate fashion. It’s then mixed with water.

“It’s a simple feeder, very durable, with stainless steel and nylon parts. It could outlast the farmer,” he said.

“I’ve tried to keep away from materials that would fatigue or rust.”

The next challenge was to develop a system capable of feeding multiple pens of young animals.

Martin came up with a rail system that mobilizes the milk dispensing unit. The labour-saving system can be adapted to single-animal pens or to multiple-pen group housing for as many as 200 calves or an even greater number of small ruminants.

Martin farmed out the computer programming of the electronics, which controls not only the movement of the machine from pen to pen but also allows farmers to modify the ration delivered on a pen-by-pen basis.

An on-board heater maintains a consistent feed temperature. In older systems, hot water was pumped along the rail line to the unit. A camera system is optional.

An alert is sent to the farmer’s smartphone if a calf fails to consume its full ration.

Martin also switched to a live rail to power the system.

“If I can get the track there, the feeder can go there as well,” he said.

Uddermatic rail systems are available for around $30,000, although costs vary depending on the specific design. Martin said he’s been marketing about one rail system a year.

In some respects, the business is a community effort. The manufacture of most components is farmed out while Martin looks after the assembly and installation.

“It’s not as important to know a lot as to know where to go for the right information,” he said.

“I wanted to stay home and raise my family, and 35 milking cows is hardly enough to swing it. This is supposed to take the place of a couple kilos of milk quota…. It’s a good sideline.”

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