CalfBlog FAQ

Welcome to the CalfBlog FAQ . Here you will find answers to questions provied by users of autofeeders.

General calf questions

I have a calf facility with open side walls and curtains. There is significant “natural” ventilation when the curtains are down. Why do I need a mechanical ventilation system?

Some of the newer facility designs with open side walls facilitate natural ventilation. However, there are many times during the day (and night) when the wind is not blowing. During these times poor-quality air from the accumulation of ammonia and various airborne bacteria and virus can accumulate in the area immediately around the calf. Mechanical ventilation systems, such as the positive pressure tube system or fans should be included in the facility design which bring fresh air into the facility 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Seek professional assistance to design these systems based upon your environmental conditions unique to your farm. See the following resource for more information on ventilating calf facilities.

Why is more than four quarts of milk or milk replacer desirable for the calf during the first weeks of life?

In desirable weather conditions when the temperature is 40oF (4oC)or less, 4 quarts provides barely enough energy to meet the calf’s maintenance requirements. As a result, there is nothing left to support growth. During colder weather, the calf must mobilize their limited amounts of body fat to stay warm. In such cases the body fat of the calf can drop to less than 5% which provides little reserves of energy. Feeding more milk or milk replacer enables the calf to grow earlier in life and support improved resistance to disease. Although cost/day may be higher, cost/unit of body weight gain is less. It is important to remember that starter intake does not contribute much to meeting the calf’s nutrient requirements until they are 6 weeks of age. Most calves will consume more than eight quarts of milk or milk replacer /day by 10 days of age. Higher milk intakes are also more readily achieved with autofeeder systems where the calf can consumer multiple smaller meals in each day.

Autofeeder calf management questions

What is a recommended routine for monitoring calves on my autofeeder system?

  1. Walk the pen and note any calves with rapid breathing, scours or that are lethargic. Make a note of these calves.
  2. Next check the data on the autofeeder. There are several locations where one can find this information.  They include: Handheld at the feeder station, Kalbmanager (older Foerster Technik software), Calf Cloud (on your computer) and Calf App Go on your phone or tablet. Locate all calves with drinking speeds  (liters/min) that are 80% of the previous three days.
  3. Develop a protocol for treating calves with scours or respiratory disease.
  4. Check out the post on on using the feeders

Quantities vs. Limitations

Quantity refers to how much a calf is permitted to drink within a day (from midnight to midnight).   Limitations refers to how much a calf is permitted to drink during one visit to the feeder.   This prevents the calf from consuming a very large meal during one visit to the feeder.   The 40 fit program is designed to allow the calf to drink as much milk as it want to consume in one day.  However, we use limitations to restrict them to consuming about 2L every two hours.   Typically, in North America we recommend the 40 fit program for about 28 days and then begin reducing milk in a step down fashion to encourage consumption of the starter.    When farms don’t use the 40 fit program they may restrict how much the calf can consume in one day.  We don’t recommend limiting intake to less than 8L/day as some calves may consume this within 12 hours and then will be hungry the rest of the day and it may encourage cross sucking.   Limitations are also specified as a minimum and maximum.  The maximum is normally 2 to 2.5L.  The minimum is a first few days 1.0 liter so calf gets used the feeder after that 1.5 liters or it is calculated by dividing the quantity by 20 hours.  The minimums requires the calf to “wait” a certain period of time before returning to the feeder.

When can calves be introduced to the autofeeder?

The primary criteria for deciding when to place calves on the autofeeder is… when the calf is very vigorous and has a strong appetite. In rare cases this can be as early as a few days of age and on some farms it may be two weeks. A strong dry cow program, clean and comfortable calving area and prompt feeding of colostrum that is high in immune globulins (antibodies) and low in bacteria counts is an absolute essential. Feeding the mom’s colostrum and feeding colostrum for several feedings are all added things to have a stronger calf. A reasonable goal is 3 to 7 days of age.

How should I train calves to the autofeeder?

On the day that they are to move to the group pen, calves should be hand fed their morning meal by nipple bottle. The liquid diet should be the same as used in the autofeeder. Lead the calf to the feeding station nipple and activate the pump to start the milk flow. Be gentle and patient. It must be a favorable experience. It also helps to introduce more than one calf to the feeder on the same day. If there are older calves in the pen, calves learn from their peers in the pen and may not require another intervention. If the calf has not consumed any milk by the next morning, they can be led to the feeder again. Be careful not to lead them to the feeder too often, or you will train them that a person must lead them to the feeder for milk.

Autofeeder operation FAQ

What is the best age to place a calf onto the calf autofeeder?

When the farm has an excellent program for maternity, newborn care and colostrum management the earlier the better!   The most important consideration is to place the calf on the autofeeder when it has a vigorous appetite.   These calves adapt well to this transition and are easy to train.  Provide their morning meal and introduce them to the group in the early afternoon and bring them to the nipple.   Be careful not to do this too often as this will teach them that a person needs to be present. We find that these calve quickly learn that they can eat more frequently than twice a day!  A good goal is to train them to the feeder within the first 3 – 5 days of life!

If calves are not aggressive eaters or have a bout of scours it’s advisable to wait, but strive to introduce them to the feeder by 10 – 14 days.  A policy of waiting for two weeks to introduce them to the feeder results in calves “learning” to expect milk twice a day and it may take several days or a week for them to learn that they can drink more frequently!

Detergent or acid. What kind and how much to use.

The older machines only use a detergent for cleaning the system. It is important to use a detergent formulated for use at lower temperatures which are similar to the feeding temperature (~105F or 40C). Those used for cleaning the milking system are not recommended. Read the label on the detergent. Newer equipment is designed for an acid rinse.  Again, use what is recommended by the dealer.

Calf feeder shows a clean drain warning only during cleaning.

  • The issue could be that the drain or training pump is not working or there is a blown fuse.
  • The drain line may be blocked or partially blocked or the line has been extended with a smaller diameter hose which restricts flow.
  • The drain valve is leaking or not working. Check this via diagnosis and assure that no milk drains when the calf is being fed.
  • The solution to this warning is to clean the valve and change all rubbers in valve (should be replaced every 6 months) or replace the valve if it is not working at all. These parts can be obtained from your Delaval, GEA or Lely dealer.

How can I check calves quickly on handheld?

Press button # 5. Calves with the most alarms will be on top of the list. Press button #4 and you can search the handheld to locate any calf you want.

The green light is blinking on the handheld. How can I find the warnings?

Press the “C” button and the warning will be displayed. Press the right arrow button to make sure there are not any more warnings. When you are not sure what the warnings mean refer to the manual or take a picture of the warning and send to the technician.

There is a calibration warning on the screen. What action should I take?

If you see a calibration warning on the handheld screen, press the “enter Key” and it will identify the which component needs to be calibrated. Make sure there are not any other calibration warnings. If warnings continue to be shown, check the milk powder (MP) outlet and make sure the fly screen does not touch the hose. (If the hose touches the fly screen (the door) it will cause errors in weighing the powder as it is added. Go to diagnosis and recalibrate the scale using instructions in the manual. If this does not solve the problem contact the technician.

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The little things are the big things!