Automated feeding systems can simplify a producer’s workload in the barn. But both the feeding systems and the calves that use them still need careful management in order for calves to be reared successfully and to their full potential.

Dr. Bob James, a dairy science professor at Virginia Tech, will share his expertise in using automated feeding systems for pre-weaned dairy calves at the upcoming Healthy Calf Conference.

He is a founding member of the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, and was the recipient of the University Academy of Teaching Excellence Award in 2010. His expertise is in demand by calf ranches, dairies and feed companies in North and South America, Europe and Asia.

Dr. James’ recent research has been looking at understanding the pros and cons of automated calf feeding machines and management factors influencing their use.

Although the actual feeding might be managed by the machine, it is still critical for producers to keep a close eye on the calves to help detect sickness that the machine might not indicate. Look at the calves first, then delve into the data, he advises.

Healthy Calf Conference information

The Healthy Calf Conference runs December 2 from 9 am to 3 pm at the Arden Park Hotel in Stratford, with remote locations in Northern Ontario to be determined, and December 4 from 9 am to 3 pm at the Maxville and District Sports Complex in Maxwell.

Registration fees before the event and at the door are $90/person and $30/person for students. Click here to register.

Quick tips for using automated feeding systems

  • Ensure calves drink enough milk and that the machine is set up and functioning properly. Cross-sucking, which is an issue when calves that don’t feed enough, is not normally seen in machine-fed environments unless the machines are set incorrectly and calves aren’t getting enough milk.
  • Keep the machine clean and make sure it received regular maintenance. If it does not have automatic calibration, calibrate it weekly so the right amount of water is used.
  • Work with an experienced installer who comes with good technical support, as well as with a calf room or barn designer that has examples of systems working according to your standards.
  • Continue to keep contact with your calves to help identify which ones might need individual attention. Although you may no longer be feeding them yourself, you still have to observe them closely on a regular basis and learn to use the technology to help you manage the calves.
  • You should still follow the basics of good calf rearing – a clean, dry environment with proper air exchange and stocking density, and balanced nutrition.