As group calf feeding becomes more prominent in the U.S., dairy producers and calf raisers are looking for a selection of systems to choose from.
A few companies have introduced computerized or robotic feeders, while some farmers have taken it upon themselves to build a low-cost structure.
Advanced Dairy Systems has developed a warm box system that is less technical than a robot and turn-key ready for those not wanting to tackle a project like this on their own.
Well adopted in Canada, these boxes first debuted in the U.S. three years ago and are in place on a handful of dairies in Wisconsin, New York and Vermont.
The all-stainless steel box has insulated panels. Inside is a heater, thermostat, circulating fan and a barrel to hold the milk with an agitator blade that is set on a timer similar to a bulk tank.
The barrel can hold milk replacer or whole milk from the dairy. The milk should be acidified to preserve it from spoiling throughout the day. An acidified milk replacer can be used or citric acid or another method of preservation can be added to the whole milk.
The barrel is sized to hold enough milk to feed approximately 20 calves per day.
Calves are able to drink as much as they want as often as they want from calf nipples mounted on the outside of the box.
“It is a simple, effective way to feed calves,” says Kevin Kraemer with Advanced Dairy Systems. Plus, it allows for some calves to get more than two to three meals a day if they so choose. By drinking several small meals, the calves allow their bodies more time to absorb all of the nutrients.
What keeps calves from overeating is the fact that the milk is kept at 70°F. “The cooler milk naturally limits intake,” Kraemer says, noting most calves will only drink about 1/3 gallon at a time.
On the contrary, keeping the milk warm enough keeps calves coming to the box in cold weather. Kraemer shares that without temperature regulation, the calves would starve themselves in the winter.
Not only is the warm box convenient for calves, it also allows a calf feeder to choose the time of day that works best for them. With this unit, tending to the calves no longer needs to be done during the same time as milking. On some operations, this means one person could do both tasks.
In addition, it allows for a simple pen layout because the requirements are minimal. The box is entirely self-contained and all that is needed is a 110-volt outlet within reach.
Plus, when emptied of milk, it is easy for two people to move. Some users have one box for two pens and move it back and forth once a group is weaned.
“It fits in beautifully with our facility,” comments Mary Kelly, who uses this system in her calf barn on the family dairy.
Kelly Farm is a multi-generational dairy in Rensselaer Falls, New York. Currently operated by Alan and Mary Kelly and their son and daughter-in-law, the farm milks nearly 700 cows and raises all replacements on site. They average around 45 calves on milk.
Mary Kelly uses the warm box slightly different than it’s intended for, as in she only uses it to wean calves. The Kellys worked with Advanced Dairy Systems to install a pipeline system using some of the same principles as the warm box for their younger calves.
The farm groups calves in sizes of eight. When the youngest calf in the group turns 45 days old, the entire group is moved to the pen with the box to begin weaning. There they are also given free-choice grain and water.
“I will not allow a calf to break with coccidiosis,” Kelly says. “As long as calves are on milk replacer or when they are fully consuming grain, they are protected.” Therefore, it is at weaning when she is most concerned.
Use of the warm box enables Kelly to add a small amount of CORID to the calves’ diet at this stage. Because this prevention method can be fairly expensive, she says she likes that she can target the group that needs it the most.
Kelly also appreciates the unit’s ease of use. “The labor savings is just amazing,” she says. “I used to spend so many hours at the cleaning sink.” Now, she scrubs the box clean once a week. She also notes the nipples are easy to change out as needed.
From the day the unit arrived on the farm one year ago, it has been up and running without question, she concludes.
As a system that requires less labor than a traditional bucket or bottle feeding and is lower-cost than a computerized feeder, the warm box is something to consider. The boxes sell for approximately $3,000. PD
For more information, contact Kraemer at or (519) 656-2379 .
New Technology revisited: Where is ColoQuick now?
Nearly a year ago, we introduced the ColoQuick colostrum management system that featured a water bath to thaw and/or pasteurize individual packages of colostrum.
Since then, the North American distributor of the system, Golden Calf Company, has announced the availability of two new products.
The first is ColoQuick MAXX. This larger unit can handle up to eight portions of colostrum at a time, four times the amount the original unit could hold.
The second product is an accessory to the system. The Colostrum Bank Freezer is sized to hold up to 16 four-liter portions of colostrum.
The freezer/cooler has a digital thermostat that allows customers to adjust temperature exactly to a degree, anywhere from -35°F up to 40°F.
Automatic defrost and twin-turbo fans ensure the temperature is correct every time. It comes with seven fully adjustable shelves to sort and store colostrum based on quality and a glass front door to easily see the amount of colostrum in storage.
Would your operation benefit from a simple, free-choice feeding for calves? The following checklist can be used to determine if this new technology might be a fit for your operation.
- Do you have calves on milk on your farm?
- Are you interested in group housing systems?
- Is feeding acidified milk or milk replacer something you’ve considered?
- Would you like to reduce labor costs associated with calf feeding?
- Do you want a system that can be up and running on the day it arrives?
- Is simple important to you?
- Are you interested in keeping a flexible barn layout?
If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, this technology may be one for you to consider.