Performance of calves housed in individual pens and fed with buckets two times per day vs. calves housed in groups and fed with a computerized milk replacer and starter feeding system

Computerized feeding of calves reduced age at weaning by 5-10 days. This resulted in an 18% reduction in milk replacer. Computerized feeding of calves reduced labor requirements substantially. On average, the computer feeding system required about ½ the labor of an individual feeding system. Weight gains, feed utilization, and health of computer fed calves were similar to those of individually fed animals.

Final Report

August 22, 2001

Objective: To compare average daily gain (kg/day), average daily intake (kg/day), feed efficiency, labor required, days treated for diarrhea, and days treated for respiratory disease of calves housed in individual pens and fed with buckets twice per day versus calves housed in groups and fed with a computerized milk replacer and starter feeding system.

Protocol: Calves were fed 3 quarts of colostrum as soon as possible after birth and again 12 hours later. On days 2 and 3 of life calves received two quarts of transitional milk twice daily. Until Day 4, all calves were individually housed. Between Day 4 and Day 10, calves were assigned to individual pens and two times daily bucket feeding or to group housing with computerized feeding.

The trial was split into two periods. The first period included calves born between April 3, 2000 and September 14, 2000. Fifty calves were assigned to group housing with computerized feeding and 53 calves were assigned to individual pens and two times daily bucket feeding. The second period included calves born between October 30, 2000 and March 26, 2001. Forty-one calves were assigned to group housing with computerized feeding and 41 calves were assigned to individual pens and two times daily bucket feeding. Different milk replacers and different rates of milk replacer feeding were used in the two periods. Treatment assignment was randomized with a group pen filled with 6-8 animals and then the next 6-8 calves put into individual pens and then another group pen filled and so on.

Calf starter concentrate was fed free-choice starting on Day 4. The calf starter concentrate was a textured sweet feed with low molasses containing 22% CP and Lasalocid (57 g/ton) for control of coccidiosis. Calf starter concentrate was fed via buckets to the individually housed calves and via a computerized feeder system to the group pen calves. Daily calf starter intake was measured and recorded. Braden bottles were used for the first week of life for all calves during the second period of the study.

Two group pens were used. One for younger and one for older calves. The pens were bedded with straw. The bedded pack portion of the pen was cleaned out and treated with disinfectant every 4 weeks. The concrete by the computer feeders was scraped daily. Calves were removed from the group pens if they were sick and not eating. Water was available to all calves at all times. Individual pens were bedded with straw and disinfected after each calf was removed.

Period #1 Milk Replacer Feeding

Individually housed calves received 2 quarts of milk replacer (0.25 lb/2 qts or 60 grams/liter) two times per day from 4 days to 3 weeks (227 grams milk replacer/day). From 3 weeks to 4 weeks,individually housed calves received 0.25 lb. of milk replacer in three quarts of water two times per day (227 grams milk replacer/day). After 4 weeks, individually housed calves received 0.25 lb. of milk replacer in four quarts of water two times per day (227 grams milk replacer/day). Milk replacer contained 20% CP and 20% Fat. It was an all-milk product with 200 g/ton Neomycin and 100 g/ton Terramycin for control of diarrhea. It was the preference of the farm cooperator to feed lower than normal levels of milk replacer because of scours and grain intake concerns. Typically, U.S. producers feed 1 pound (454 grams) of a 20% protein/20% fat milk replacer each day.

At 42 days of life, individually housed calves were weaned by diluting the milk replacer. For the first 3 days, 50% of the powder was fed (0.125 lb/4 qts, twice daily) (113.5 grams milk replacer/day). For the next 4 days, 25% of the powder was fed (0.0625 lb/4qts twice daily) (56.75 grams milk replacer/day). Calves remained in the individual pens for at least 4 days following weaning.

Group housed calves (6-10 calves/pen) were fed the same milk replacer as the calves in the individual pens. Calves received 4 liters of milk replacer (60 grams/liter) in 4 portions per day (240 grams milk replacer/day). Milk replacer was fed via a computerized system that was equipped with a stall gate. Milk flow was stopped for 16 seconds in between ½ liter allotments in order to slow down the rate of drinking. Calves were weaned by diluting the milk replacer over a period of 7 days once they consumed 1 kg of concentrate for 2 consecutive days. Minimum weaning age was 28 days of age. Calves remained in their group pen for at least 4 days following weaning.

Period #2 Milk Replacer Feeding

Because of weight loss concerns in the young calves and low intakes through the computerized grain feeder, the milk replacer and milk replacer feeding rate were changed for Period #2. Milk replacer protein intake was increased from 48 grams/day to 72 grams/day while milk replacer fat intake remained relatively constant (48 grams/day for Period #1 and 54 grams/day for Period #2). Some structural modifications were also made on the computerized grain feeder. The goal was to promote calf starter intake through the computer feeder and to increase protein consumption for muscle and bone development.

Individually housed calves received 2 quarts of milk replacer (0.375 lb/2 qts or 90 grams/liter) two times per day from 4 days to 3 weeks (340.50 grams milk replacer). From 3 weeks to 4 weeks,individually housed calves received 0.375 lb. of milk replacer in three quarts of water two times per day (340.50 grams milk replacer). After 4 weeks, individually housed calves received 0.375 lb. of milk replacer in four quarts of water two times per day (340.50 grams milk replacer). Milk replacer contained 20% CP and 15% Fat. It was an all-milk product with 200 g/ton Neomycin and 100 g/ton Terramycin for control of diarrhea. At 42 days of life, individually housed calves were weaned by diluting the milk replacer. For the first 3 days, 50% of the powder was fed (0.1875 lb/4 qts twice daily)(170.25 grams milk replacer). For the next 4 days, 25% of the powder was fed (0.09375 lb/4qts twice daily) (85.125 grams milk replacer). Calves remained in the individual pens for at least 4 days following weaning.

Group housed calves (6-10 calves/pen) (at least 15 sq. ft./calf) were fed the same milk replacer as the calves in the individual pens. Calves received 4 liters of milk replacer (90 grams/liter) in 4 portions per day. Milk replacer was fed via a computerized system that was equipped with a stall gate. Milk flow was stopped for 16 seconds in between ½ liter allotments in order to slow down the rate of drinking. Calves were weaned by diluting the milk replacer over a period of 7 days once they consumed 1 kg of concentrate for 2 consecutive days. Minimum weaning age was 28 days of age. Calves remained in their group pen for at least 4 days following weaning.

Data and Statistical Analysis

Calves were weighed at birth and at approximately 2, 4, 6 and 8 weeks of age. Average daily gain was calculated during each two-week period. Diarrhea and respiratory disease were monitored through the use of electrolyte and antibiotic treatment. Coughing animals with elevated body temperatures were treated with antibiotics as prescribed by the herd veterinarian. Antibiotic used and length of treatment were recorded. Days treated for diarrhea and respiratory disease were evaluated for all treatment groups. Daily labor hours were recorded for each calf treatment group.

Dependent variables tested include cumulative weight gains, average daily gain, average daily intake, and feed efficiency for birth to 6 weeks and each 2 week interval, days treated for diarrhea and days treated for respiratory disease. Trial analysis was as for a completely randomized design. Birth weight, calving ease, and colostrum intake were used as covariates in analysis of weight gain, intake, and feed efficiency. Statistical analysis was accomplished using SAS. For continuous data (weight gains and days treated), Proc Mixed was used to conduct the analysis. Due to the low levels of disease encountered, data on respiratory and diarrhea treatments were not statistically analyzed.

Results and Discussion:

Weight Gain Analysis

During the first four weeks of life in Period #1, computer calves gained significantly less weight than calves in individual pens. Cumulative weight gain at four weeks of age was 9.173 kg for calves in individual pens vs. 5.677 kg for computer calves (p<0.0001). Calves in both groups actually lost weight during the first two weeks of life. Average daily gain from two to four weeks was 0.636 kg/day for calves in individual pens versus 0.525 kg/day for computer calves. This difference was significant (p<0.01).

After increasing milk replacer nutrient intake in Period #2, there was little difference between weight gain of computer calves versus calves in individual pens during the first four weeks of life. Cumulative weight gain at four weeks of age was 11.552 kg for calves in individual pens vs. 10.022 kg for computer calves. This difference was not significant (p>0.20). Average daily gain from two to four weeks was significantly greater for calves in individual pens (0.750 kg/day) vs. for computer calves (0.625 kg/day) (p<0.05). But, the difference in average daily gain from 0-2 weeks was not significant (0.068 kg/day vs. 0.042 kg/day) (p>0.20).

From 4-8 weeks of age, growth rates were higher for all calves. During Period #1, there were no significant differences in average daily gain for individually housed calves vs. computer calves from 4-8 weeks (p>0.20), averaging 0.84 kg/day from 4-6 weeks of age and 0.89 kg/day from 6-8 weeks of age. Because of the low growth rates during the first four weeks for Period #1 computer calves, overall average daily gains and cumulative weight gains were significantly lower for computer calves than for individually housed calves. Average daily gain calculated from birth at 6-8 weeks of age was 0.551 kg/day for individually housed calves and 0.472 kg/day for computer calves. At 8 weeks of age, individually housed calves had gained 29.78 kg while computer calves had gained 25.32 kg. These differences were significant (p<0.001).

During Period #2, average daily gain from 4-8 weeks of age was higher for computer calves than for individually housed calves. This difference was significant from 4-6 weeks (0.898 kg/day for computer calves vs. 0.805 kg/day for individually housed calves) (p<0.05). But, the difference was not significant from 6-8 weeks (0.912 kg/day for computer calves vs. 0.825 kg/day for individually housed calves) (p>0.20). Differences in average daily gain calculated from birth at 6-8 weeks of age and cumulative weight gains at 8 weeks of age were not significantly different for computer calves vs. individually housed calves (p>0.10). Daily gain calculated from birth at 6-8 weeks of age averaged 0.582 kg/day.

In general, daily weight gains of calves in this study can be considered typical. According to Milk Specialties Company data presented by Davis and Drackley (1998), 366 calves fed 454 grams (1 pound) of milk replacer per day and offered free-choice calf starter averaged 0.42 kg/day at six weeks of age. In the current study, average daily gains calculated from birth at 4-6 weeks of age averaged 0.43 kg/day during Period #1 when calves were fed 227 or 240 grams of milk replacer per day and 0.51 kg/day during Period #2 when calves were fed 340.5 or 360 grams of milk replacer per day.

Period #1 – Average Daily Gain for each Two-Week Interval

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Weeks 0-2 -0.002 0.018 171 -0.105 0.018 171 <0.0001
Weeks 2-4 0.636 0.025 182 0.525 0.025 182 0.0022
Weeks 4-6 0.821 0.023 167 0.861 0.022 167 0.2080
Weeks 6-8 0.901 0.028 139 0.868 0.029 139 0.4138

Period #2 – Average Daily Gain for each Two-Week Interval

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Weeks 0-2 0.068 0.028 70 -0.04 0.027 70 0.5092
Weeks 2-4 0.750 0.033 55 0.625 0.032 55 0.0114
Weeks 4-6 0.805 0.026 39 0.898 0.030 39 0.0251
Weeks 6-8 0.825 0.06 36 0.912 0.094 36 0.4541

Period #1 – Cumulative Weight Gains at 2,4,6, and 8 weeks

Individual Calves
Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Weeks 0-2 0.143 0.273 171 -1.437 0.276 171 <0.0001
Weeks 2-4 9.173 0.571 160 5.677 0.553 160 <0.0001
Weeks 4-6 20.460 0.0687 148 17.394 0.665 148 0.0018
Weeks 6-8 29.780 0.775 120 25.323 0.890 120 0.003

Period #2 – Cumulative Weight Gains at 2,4,6, and 8 weeks

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Weeks 0-2 1.382 0.448 70 0.787 0.429 70 0.3550
Weeks 2-4 11.552 0.862 52 10.022 0.846 52 0.2246
Weeks 4-6 22.864 0.829 48 22.886 1.028 48 0.9870
Weeks 6-8 32.270 0.792 75 30.597 0.952 75 0.1893

Period #1 – Average Daily Gain Calculated from Birth at Two-Week Intervals

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Weeks 0-2 -0.002 0.018 171 -0.105 0.018 171 <0.0001
Weeks 2-4 0.300 0.018 160 0.185 0.17 160 <0.0001
Weeks 4-6 0.463 0.015 148 0.396 0.014 148 0.0015
Weeks 6-8 0.595 0.014 75 0.472 0.016 120 0.002

Period #2 – Average Daily Gain Calculated from Birth at Two-Week

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Weeks 0-2 -0.068 0.028 70 -0.042 0.027 70 0.5092
Weeks 2-4 0.379 0.025 52 0.320 0.024 52 0.1078
Weeks 4-6 0.522 0.016 48 0.508 0.020 48 0.5933
Weeks 6-8 0.595 0.014 75 0.569 0.016 75 0.2410

Grain Dry Matter Intake Analysis

Calf starter intake has accounted for at least 65% of the variation in growth of young calves in past studies with limit-fed milk replacer (Kertz et al., 1979). Studies have also noted much variation in starter intake among calves that are fed and managed similarly. Davis and Drackley (1998) estimated average grain dry matter intake to be 0.48 kg/day, 0.86 kg/day, 1.2 kg/day, and 1.52 kg/day at 3, 4, 5, and 6 weeks of age, respectively. In the current study, average grain dry matter intake from 2-4 weeks of age was 0.72 kg/day. Average grain dry matter intake from 4-6 weeks of age was 1.63 kg/day. It can be concluded that grain dry matter intake in the current study was slightly higher than published predictions. This makes sense given the lower than normal milk replacer feeding rates used in the current study.

During the first four weeks of Period #1, grain dry matter intake was significantly lower for computer calves than for individually housed calves. Cumulative grain dry matter intake at Week 4 was 12.02 kg for individual calves vs. 8.71 kg for computer calves (p<0.001). During weeks 4-6, differences in grain dry matter intake were not significant, averaging 1.66 kg/day (p>0.20). One might speculate from these results that it took more time for the computer calves to get acclimated to the grain feeder. But, older calves that were used to the computer feeder had no problem consuming as much grain as calves fed grain in buckets. The difference in cumulative grain dry matter intake at Week 6 was less significant (p>0.05) with the individual calves consuming 33.31 kg and the computer calves consuming 30.54 kg.

The dry matter intake results of Period #2 were somewhat different from Period #1. During the first two weeks, cumulative grain dry matter intake was somewhat greater for computer calves than for individually housed calves (4.28 kg for computer calves vs. 2.40 kg for individual calves) (p<0.10). Differences in daily grain dry matter intake at this time were not statistically significant (0.31 kg/day for individual calves vs. 0.42 for computer calves) (p>0.20). But, after two weeks, individually housed calves ate more grain dry matter than computer calves. Total grain dry matter intake at six weeks of age was 39.09 kg for individually housed calves vs. 28.02 kg for computer calves. This difference was highly significant (p<0.0001).

Looking at the data overall, the computer grain feeder compromised grain intakes, especially in the young calves. Young calves are timid. It may be asking too much of them to get used to eating dry feed and to enter a computer feeder and wait a few seconds for grain dispersion. For practical feeding on the commercial farm, it may be better to introduce grain to young calves free-choice at a manger feeder. Then, at 3-4 weeks of age after they are used to consuming dry feed, introduce the computer feeder and wean according to dry feed intake. Further design modifications and adjustments to the computer grain feeder may also improve grain intake of young calves.

Period #1 – Cumulative and Average Grain Dry Matter Intakes at Two-, Four, and Six-Week Intervals

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Wk 4 Cumulative DMI (kg) 12.02 0.56 96 8.71 0.59 96 0.0001
Wk 6 Cumulative DMI (kg) 33.31 1.13 96 30.54 1.19 96 0.0962
Week 0-2 Average DMI 0.18 0.01 96 0.09 0.01 96 <0.0001
Week 0-2 Cumulative DMI 1.88 0.13 96 0.86 0.14 96 <0.0001
Week 2-4 Average DMI 0.79 0.04 96 0.57 0.04 96 0.0001
Week 2-4 Cumulative DMI 10.14 0.49 96 7.85 0.52 96 0.0019
Week 4-6 Average DMI 1.69 0-06 96 1.62 0.06 96 0.4184
Week 4-6Cumulative DMI 21.30 0.72 96 21.84 0.075 96 0.6072

Period #2 – Cumulative and Average Grain Dry Matter Intakes at Two-, Four, and Six-Week Intervals

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Wk 4 Cumulative DMI (kg) 15.17 1.10 72 11.16 1.14 72 0.0152
Wk 6 Cumulative DMI (kg) 39.09 1.73 72 28.02 1.80 72 <0.0001
Week 0-2 Average DMI 0.31 0.07 72 0.429 0.07 72 0,3031
Week 0-2 Cumulative DMI 2.40 0.04 70 0.55 0.04 70 <0.0001
Week 2-4 Average DMI 0.97 0.04 70 0.55 0.04 70 <0.0001
Week 2-4 Cumulative DMI 12.76 0.59 70 7.27 0.63 70 <0.0001
Week 4-6 Average DMI 1.79 0.06 69 1.41 0.06 69 <0.0001
Week 4-6Cumulative DMI 23.83 0.83 69 18.45 0.91 69 <0.0001

Feed Efficiency Analysis

The efficiency with which calves convert energy and protein to body gain was evaluated using Crude Protein (CP)/Gain and Metabolizable Energy (ME)/Gain ratios. Lower ratios indicate greater feed efficiency. In a study of calves fed from 6-66 days of age, calves fed 600 grams of milk replacer per day and free-choice calf starter achieved a Mcal ME/kg Gain ratio of 3.7 (Williams et al., 1981 as cited by Davis and Drackley, 1998). The average Mcal ME/kg Gain ratio from 0-6 weeks in the current study was 3.6. So, it can be concluded that efficiency of energy use in this study was similar to published estimates.

In Period #1, there were no significant differences in feed efficiency between calves housed individually and computer-fed calves (p>0.10) although the computer calves generally had feed to gain ratios that were numerically lower.

In Period #2, there were no significant differences in feed efficiency between individual calves and computer calves from 0-4 weeks of age (p>0.10). But, from 4-6 weeks of age, kg CP/kg Gain and Mcal ME/kg Gain were significantly lower for the computer calves (p<0.05). Computer calves used 0.400 kg CP/kg Gain whereas individual calves used 0.548 kg CP/kg Gain. Computer calves used 4.887 Mcal ME/kg Gain and individual calves used 6.802 Mcal ME/kg Gain. These results make sense with the lower grain dry matter intakes and higher rates of gain found with these computer calves.

Based on the overall data, it cannot be concluded that there were differences in feed efficiency between the computer calves and the individual calves. Further study with more calves may be warranted to see if calves fed via the computer system may utilize their feed nutrients more efficiently. Williams et al. (1986) (as cited by Quigley et al.) found that fat was used more efficiently in calves fed milk replacer six times per day rather than once per day. But, this milk replacer contained a significant amount of skim milk powder that needed to coagulate in the abomasum. Today’s milk replacers like the one used in the current study do not need to coagulate (or clot) to be digested because they are whey protein based and contain little skim milk or casein. Whey proteins naturally are digested in the small intestine without the action of abomasal proteases.

Period #1 – Feed to Gain Ratios calculated for each Two-Week Interval

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Kg CP/kg Gain: 0-2 wks 0.114 0.069
99 -0.031 0.074 99 0.1561
Mcal ME/kg Gain: 0-2 wks 1.615 0.968 99 -0.549 1.028 99 0.1371
Kg CP/kg Gain: 2-4 wks 0.304 0.024 119 0.275 0.020 119 0.3536
 Mcal ME/kg Gain: 2-4 wks 3.855 0.299 119 3.450 0.253 119 0.3108
Kg CP/kg Gain: 4-6 wks 0.423 0.050 111 0.365 0.043 111 0.3820
Mcal ME/kg Gain: 4-6 wks 5.167 0.613 111 4.369 0.532 111 0.3318

Period #2 – Feed to Gain Ratios calculated for each Two-Week Interval

Individual Calves Computer Calves

LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF LS Mean (kg/day) Std Err DF P value
Kg CP/kg Gain: 0-2 wks 0.329 0.144 64 0.006 0.147  64 0.1298
Mcal ME/kg Gain: 0-2 wks 4.671 2.136 64 0.018 2.169 65 0.1407
Kg CP/kg Gain: 2-4 wks 0.365 0.025 55 0.315 0.315 55 0.1774
Mcal ME/kg Gain: 2-4 wks 4.704 0.325 55 4.266 0.314 55 0.3543
Kg CP/kg Gain: 4-6 wks 0.548 0.033 39 0.400 0.038 39 0.059
Mcal ME/kg Gain: 4-6 wks 6.802 0.409 39 4.88 0.470 39 0.0041

Weaning Date Analysis

According to the trial protocol, individually housed calves were to be weaned at 6 weeks of age while computer calves were weaned when they were at least 4 weeks of age and had consumed 1 kg of calf starter for two consecutive days. For Period #1, most of the actual weaning dates for the individual calves were recorded. When an actual date was not recorded (as was the case for some individual calves in Period #1 and all individual calves in Period #2), weaning was assumed to have occurred at 6 weeks of age.

For both Period #1 and Period #2, computer calves were weaned at a younger age than individual calves (p<0.05). For Period #1, computer calves were weaned at 34.5 days of age on average. For Period #2, average weaning age of computer calves was 36.06 days. As mentioned earlier and as seen in this study, there is great variation in calf starter intake among calves that are fed and managed similarly. Rather than measuring actual calf starter intakes, many commercial dairy producers elect to all wean calves at an older age, such as 6 weeks, to ensure that all are eating at least 1 kg of calf starter per day before weaning. Although this is safe, it may not be economically efficient. In this study, calves were fed about 18% less milk replacer when they were weaned according to calf starter intake using the computerized feeder system.

Period #1 – Weaning Date Comparison

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  Days of Age Std Err DF Days of Age Std Err DF P value
Weaning Date 44.07 2.34 89 34.50 2.15 89 0.0308

  Period #2 – Weaning Date Comparison

Individual Calves Computer Calves
  Days of Age Std Err DF Days of Age Std Err DF P value
Weaning Date 44.93 0.67 63 36.06 0.76 63 <0.0001

Labor Requirement Analysis

Less labor was required for the computerized feeding system than for individually housed calves. Feeding calves individually required about 3 times more time than feeding calves via the computer system. On average, 4 hours/calf were required to feed calves individually in the calf barn while only 1.4 hours/calf were required to feed calves via the computer. Less time was also required for wash-up for the computerized system (1.4 hours for the individual calves and 0.5 hour for computer calves). Clean-up time in Period #1 was similar for both systems (about 1 hour/calf) but in Period #2, the computer system required about 0.5 hour/calf while the individual calves required about 1 hour/calf. Because labor time was not recorded for individual calves, it could not be statistically analyzed.

Total labor time was 6.4 hours for the individual calves and 2.65 hours for the computer calves. Assuming that calves remained in the calf barn for a week after weaning (50 days for individually housed calves and 42 days for computer calves), labor time per calf per day can be calculated to be 7.68 minutes for individually housed calves and 3.79 minutes for computer calves. University of Delaware researchers conducted a study with a similar computerized milk replacer system but without a computerized grain feeder. It took 10 minutes/day to manage a calf in a hutch while less than 1 minute/day was requirement to manage a calf using the computerized milk replacer system (Kung, Jr. et al., 1997).

Period #1 – Work Time for Individual vs. Computer Fed Calves

  Individual Claves Computer Claves
Feeing    
Total minutes 11332 3770
Minutes/alf 213.8 75.4
Wash up    
Total minutes 3258 1275
Minutes/alf 61.5 25.5
Cleaning    
Total minutes 3082 2983
Minutes/alf 58.2 59.7

Period #2 – Work Time for Individual vs. Computer Fed Calves

  Individual Claves Computer Claves
Feeing    
Total minutes 110010 3824
Minutes/alf 268.5 93.3
Wash up    
Total minutes 4140 1320
Minutes/alf 101.0 32.2
Cleaning    
Total minutes 2430 1363
Minutes/alf 59.3

33.2

Health Evaluation

The incidence of diarrhea and respiratory disease was very low. Calves were very healthy and very little coughing was observed. During Period #1, one calf in an individual pen was treated for heat stress and one computer calf was treated for an infected navel. During Period #2, two calves in the individual pens and three computer calves were treated for diarrhea. During cold weather there were some problems with computer calves becoming chilled. A low plywood cover was made in one corner of the pen for young calves to lay underneath. This reduced their exposure to drafts and resolved much of the problem. In February, there was a BRSV outbreak. Thirty-four calves in the weaned calf barn (Halfway House), eight computer calves, and two individually housed calves were treated with Micotil®. There was no relationship between calf management (computer or individual) and respiratory disease. Researchers at the University of Delaware found that computer calves in a group pen had fewer days on medication than calves housed in hutches (Kung, Jr. et al., 1997).

Conclusions:

Calves can gain weight, utilize feed nutrients and maintain health equally well in a group pen fed via a computerized system as in an individual pen. Labor and weaning age can be significantly reduced using a computerized feeding system.

The computerized grain feeder used in this study may have compromised grain intakes especially in young calves. It may be advisable to introduce grain to young calves using a manger feeder. After calves are adapted to dry feed at 3-4 weeks of age, the computer grain feeder can be introduced and calves can be weaned according to dry feed intake. Further design modifications and adjustments to the computer grain feeder may also improve grain intake of young calves.

General Discussion Regarding Computerized Feeding in Group Pens

The following are suggestions for best handling calves on a computerized milk replacer and starter feeding system.

1. Follow good newborn management procedures. Feed 3 quarts of colostrum as soon as possible after birth and again 12 hours later. Ideally, only quality colostrum should be fed. Days 2 and 3 of life, feed calves two quarts of transitional milk twice daily. Keep calves individually housed up until 4 days of age. At this time, feed two quarts of milk replacer twice daily and encourage calf starter intake. Good newborn management will prevent scouring during the first few weeks of life.

2. Introduce healthy calves to the computerized milk replacer and starter feeding system at 4-10 days of age. Teach new calves to drink from the milk replacer unit using the manual function. Watch milk replacer and starter intakes closely using the ALPRO system. At Allenwaite Farms, we have had very good success with calves learning to use the milk replacer unit within 24 hours or less. Unfortunately, calves have been slower to adapt to the calf starter feeding system. Calves may be intimidated by the unit and may just not have the desire and patience to go into it, wait a few seconds for grain, and eat what they should. It may be better to feed calf starter from a trough rather than the starter feeding system up until about 3 weeks of age and after that, switch calves to a second pen with the starter feeding system. There is little advantage in knowing daily intakes of calves if the system compromises intakes.

To control cross-sucking of calves on the computerized milk replacer and starter feeding system a number of precautions should be taken.

1. Don’t let calves get hungry. Make sure all calves drink their allotted milk replacer and consume calf starter. Watch the ALPRO report closely. Calves that don’t eat or drink well are more likely to cross-suck. At Allenwaite Farms, calves receive 4 liters of milk replacer per day. The calf only needs to be allotted 1 liter in order to receive a portion. Most calves drink 4 portions per day of 1 liter each. Maximum milk replacer per visit is 1.5 liters. Currently, milk replacer concentration is 90 g/l and the milk replacer is 20% CP and 15% Fat. Allenwaite Farms is hesitant to feed higher amounts of milk replacer because of nutritional scour concerns and because they want to encourage calf starter intake. Others, however, have been successful with higher milk replacer concentrations (120 g/l). Finally, make sure water and calf starter is available at all times.

2. Feed a palatable calf starter. Allenwaite Farms has been successful using a commercial, sweet feed containing crimped oats, a pellet, corn, and molasses. Other than a few times in the summer, the system has been able to deliver this feed without getting bound up by its sticky nature.

3. Install a swivel stall gate on the milk replacer unit so that calves cannot be sucked from behind by other calves while they are drinking. This also allows calves to stay and suck on the nipple as long as they want to after getting their milk replacer portion.

4. Stop milk flow for 16 seconds in between ½ liter allotments in order to slow down the rate of drinking of the calf.

5. Wean calves by diluting milk replacer over a period of 7 days once they have consumed 1 kg of calf starter for 2 consecutive days. Calves that are meeting their nutritional requirements with grain and weaned gradually will be much less likely to cross-suck on other calves. After 7 days, allow calves to continue to use the milk replacer unit to get 4 L of warm water if desired until the time that they are moved. At Allenwaite Farms, the minimum weaning age is 28 days. Many calves have been successfully weaned at this age. Maximum daily calf starter is 3.5 kg per day.

6. Bed pens with straw. Straw may alleviate some of a calf’s boredom by giving her something to chew on and she will be less likely to want to cross-suck. From a nutritional point of view, it is undesirable for a calf to fill up on straw but a little bit may not be harmful. In previous research, Dr. Anne Marie de Passille found that providing hay to calves following a meal significantly reduced the amount of nonnutritive sucking from 1.88 minutes to 0.51 minutes (J. Dairy Sci. 81:2165).

7. Provide good ventilation but prevent drafts. In the wintertime, some extra shelter may be needed within the pens to alleviate drafts. At Allenwaite Farms, calves are housed in a large greenhouse barn with an open ridge and curtains. A low, plywood “house” in the corner of the pen with the young calves was installed this winter to improve calf thriftiness.

8. Keep calf numbers low, especially with young calves. At Allenwaite Farms, the first pen (4 days - ~28 days) is limited to about 12 calves. The second pen is limited to about 20 calves. Although the feeding system could theoretically handle more calves, reducing stress on the calves is important for optimum performance and control of cross-sucking.

9. After weaning, convert calves from eating calf starter to the heifer feed by mixing the two for a week. Do this before moving calves from the calf barn. A two-feed grain unit would work best for the weaning pen so that some calves could be on calf starter, other on a mix, and others on heifer feed.

References:

Davis, C.L. and J.K. Drackley. 1998. The development, nutrition, and management of the young calf. Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa.

Kertz, A.F., L.R. Prewitt, and J.P. Everett, Jr. 1979. An early weaning calf program: Summarization and review. J. Dairy Sci. 62:1835.

Kung, Jr., L., S. Demarco, L.N. Siebenson, E. Joyner, G.F.W. Haenlein, and R.M. Morris. 1997. An evaluation of two management systems for rearing calves fed milk replacer. J. Dairy Sci. 80:2529.

Quigley III, J.D. and B.J. Bearden. Growth and intake of calves fed milk replacer by nipple bottle or computer feeding system. The Professional Animal Scientist. 12:187.

Williams, P.E.V., R.J. Fallon, J.M. Brockway, G.M. Innes, and A.C. Brewer. 1986. The effect of frequency of feeding milk replacer to pre-ruminant calves on respiratory quotient and the efficiency of food utilization. Anim. Prod. 43:367.

Related Links:

Calf Notes: group feeding calves
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IMPROVING THE WELFARE OF DAIRY COWS THROUGH MANAGEMENT
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Advantages of group feeding from a welfare standpoint; also tips on managing the group fed calf
Building and Managing Super Calf Hutches
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This is a super hutch for older calves-includes pointers on group management and handling of calves
DAIRY COWS AND MANAGEMENT: A DAIRY PROJECT WORKBOOK - Part 1 of 8
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A very clear, although detailed, discussion about the positive aspects of dairy production. "People need cows" is the title of one section - this about sums it up!

Authors

F.A.R.M.E. Institute

F.A.R.M.E. Institute

FARME Institute's goal is to provide top quality, client-oriented, independent and confidential research and product development in ruminant nutrition.

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