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Calf scale monitors success of feeding program

Progressive Dairyman Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 11 September 2014

Mitch Breunig of Mystic Valley Dairy, LLC in Sauk City, Wisconsin, raises 225 calves each year for the 430-cow operation. About 180 of the herd is raised by a heifer grower from age 7 months to about 60 days before calving.

Keeping tabs on weights and the growth of the animals has always been an important part of calf rearing on the operation, though the method wasn’t always consistent.



The need for an upgrade
Breunig and his brother began using weight tapes at vaccination of four- to five-month-old calves to record growth. Breunig explains they had started incorporating a more aggressive feeding system and were trying to measure the results.

“We were seeing that you can get three different readings on the same calf from three different people using the tape, depending on how tight or loose you have it,” Breunig says. Breunig, his brother and the farm’s veterinarian were all taking measurements, and without a consistent method, there could be as much as a 10-pound difference in recordings.

At the PDPW Conference in 2013, Breunig saw a promotion for an AlleyWay Scale from Digi-Star. He built a cart around the scale to hold an individual calf and began using the scale twice as often as they had been using the weight tape.

Capturing the data
Calves are now weighed at weaning and then again at 4-5 months old. They use an average birthweight as a starting point. The recorded weights are then added as an event in DairyComp. Breunig says the program offers helpful ways of analyzing the data.

“Our vet also uses the Penn State software for ranking growth rates, so we put it through that system too,” he adds.


Last summer, tracking measurements helped Breunig to realize some challenges in his operation.
“We think the quality of the hay we were feeding wasn’t what it needed to be because we had some rates that weren’t as optimum as they should have been,” he says. “We also found some ventilation challenges and heat abatement issues, so we started addressing those.”

The Breunigs currently make their breeding decisions based on age of the heifer rather than weight, but the weight measurements are helping to determine why some groups of weaned heifers may not be growing as quickly as others. Breunig says they could be recording wither and hip height but feel the weights provide a more accurate vision of how the heifers are growing.

Setting goals
Beyond the short-term solutions Breunig has been able to discover, he’s also looking ahead to what could be next for this technology and his calves.

“We already have RFID EIDs, and we’ve heard about a reader that could scan the calf’s eartag and automatically record the weight from the scale into the system, but we’re not that far yet,” he says.
The calf scale also has Breunig thinking about recording weights of older animals.

“We have a scale system that we used to use for recording lameness in cows,” he says. “I’d like to see if I could get a different reader for that and I could weigh my pre-fresh heifers.”

While he would still record weights of the youngstock, tracking similar data of the cows would provide an opportunity to analyze the milk production of a cow at a certain weight. PD


emily caldwell

Emily Caldwell
Progressive Dairyman

Read a related article, "Using and troubleshooting calf scales efficiently."