A calf feeds from an automatic feeder© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

No matter what style or brand of calf feeder you have there is a simple five-step protocol for maximising its use. 

Remembering the “five Cs” of automated feeders can help farms tap into the benefits of automatic feeding and reduce the chance of disease transmission, say researchers at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).

Considerable labour savings (up to 10 minutes a calf a day) and a move towards group calf housing has helped the adoption of automated calf feeders in recent years.

PhD student David Bell of the SRUC’s animal and veterinary science group advises farms to remember control, consistency, calibration, cleanliness and the calf.

See also: What are the benefits of milk replacer for calf rearers?

Calf rearing at SRUC Barony, Dumfries

  • Aim to build intakes up to 6-7 litres/day by 10 days old
  • Feed 170g/litre of milk powder in winter (cold months)
  • Replenish bedding every other day so calves can nest covering their legs
  • Specific calf-rearing shed free from older stock
  • Hitting daily liveweight gains of 0.8kg/day

Control

Make sure you take control of the size and number of meals as well as the weaning strategy you desire. Use the data the systems record to give you greater control in decision making to plan out feeding programmes.

Calf

Calves showing good vigour can adapt to feeders quickly. Introduce calves to feeders early (from six days of age) as this gives them more time to benefit from the more frequent feeding and group interaction of the system. Automated feeders can feed calves six to 10 times a day rather than just twice.

Consistency

Digestion benefits from a consistent calf milk replacer being mixed and dispensed at the same temperatures. Many powders call to be mixed at no higher than 45C to avoid protein being denatured. Milk should be fed at 37-39C.  

Calibration

Different milk powders can have different guidelines for calibration. Farmers are recommended to change calibration between each batch of milk powder or when switching brand of replacer.

Cleanliness

Hygiene remains critical because multiple calves are feeding on the same teat, meaning pathogens can transfer easily, as found by research trials. Most feeders have an auto-wash function which must be used but not relied on completely as studies have found that biofilm builds up in mixing areas and pipes. Be prepared to change and disinfect teats and have hygiene stations where spare teats are, hot water and disinfectant.