I feed the calves twice a day (apart from some evenings when the kids have activities and I’m home too late – although it has been known for Brian to still be milking when we get home and out I go!). They get three litres of milk twice a day, just over 120 calves at the moment so that’s 60 gallons being carried in 2 x 3 gallon buckets around the yards. Brian did look at getting a pump and a tank so that milk could be pumped across to the main shed but there are 4 other sheds too and I reckoned by the time I’d get the milk out of the other tank too and then wash it, I’d have carried the milk half a dozen times!
They are growing so fast, it really is incredible. They are eating meal now too but still, most of it is milk and it is amazing that a gallon of milk a day can make them grow so fast.
Some people feed calves once a day – partly ?to save time and some argue that calves do better as they eat more meal. ?However, it would kill me having to carry 120 gallons of milk in one go so we do 2 feeds!!!
Milk for the calves (unless it is colostrum for newborns) is fed from the milking parlour into an old portable milk tank which empties via a tap into buckets. Each bucket takes 3 gallons which feeds 6 calves.
Our system is probably fairly antiquated compared to lots of farms. Our main calf shed houses 42 and they are divided into pens of 6 and fed with buckets. Our old milking parlour houses 27, they are in pens of 4 or 5 and are bucket fed too. The buckets are placed at the end of the pens and once they’ve learnt how to drink from them, it’s a pretty quick process.
Training them to drink is the timeconsuming part, some calves take to it relatively quickly, others take ages. You have to let them suck your finger, scoop some milk into the mouth so they get the idea that milk comes when they suck, then try to guide their mouth to the milk and then remove your finger so they suck unaided – this can take a few attempts.
I was recently reminded of my own lactating days when I suddenly felt that relief sweep over me when calf started drinking – that same relief I felt when baby eventually latched on! Do you remember that episode of ‘Sex and the City’, when Miranda is trying to feed Brady and can’t concentrate on a word Carrie is saying until baby latches on and the relief sweeps over her face and she gets her brain back! ?I’ve also discovered my brain doesn’t work too well when I’m carrying heavy buckets, if the kids ask me a question, I tend to wait until the buckets are put down – too hard to put words together and carry full buckets!!
Back to our methods of feeding! We also have the stable which has 21 calves. The stable is one of the oldest buildings on the yard and we would have converted it and the coachhouse into our house if it wasn’t for the fact it’s mere feet from the yard. So I’m feeding calves in what might have been my kitchen! They were traditionally bucket fed here but this year we’ve set it up to feed them with teat feeders.
For the pens with 6 calves in the stable, they are fed with this blue JFC feeder (about ?105) which has 6 divisions in it. It’s easy to move across from one pen to another. What’s my opinion of it? It drove me mad initally as the calves seemed to dislike being so close to each other. The feeder isn’t that long, the teats are close together, the teats are also quite short and straight, there isn’t that much give in them so the calves can’t really bend them. I kept having to get into the pen and pull the calves into position, pulling calves around is a good workout! ?They’ve copped on now and the outer calves tend to stand at an angle but if the end calf happens to stand perpendicular to the feeder, the others all seem cramped.
There’s the bucket teat feeder which is like a large bucket with 5 teats. They all drank from this one really easily, the fact that it is curved like a semi circle means that the 4 or 5 calves can spread out in a semi circle around it and aren’t on top of each other. The disadvantage is that you can’t tell if one calf is slow at drinking and getting less than the others (although if they were getting significantly less, you’d tell by their poor thrive). The teats in this feeder and the blue feeder above were also a pain as they had to be cut with a penknife at first, the calves were hardly getting any milk through them, and some had to be cut again and again!
These feeders are easy enough to remove and clean out, I tend to give them a good hot scrub about twice a week and it’s easy enough to do.
When I was a kid, we had numerous small sheds that housed the calves. Going to feed them was like meeting an avalanche as they’d all rush for the milk and there was no barrier between them and you! As we’ve had such compact feeding this year, we have to use 2 houses that aren’t ideal, in that the person feeding them has to open the door and get through the 10 or 12 calves with a bucket of milk and somehow walk the couple of feet to the feeder. ?There tends to be a few intelligent ones that wait by the feeder, knowing that the milk will be going in there and they’ll be first to get it. There’s plenty of the dim ones, that think by waiting by the door, they will get their nose into the bucket (okay, it sometimes happens) and that they will escape being pushed and shouted at! ?In getting to the feeder with the three quarters full bucket of milk, it can be somewhat hazardous sometimes. Calves sometimes think that the quickest way to the milk is to put their head through your legs and only this morning, the image of me being flung off an undersized bucking bronco flashed through my mind! Brian went flying through the air the second day we had the calves in here, tripped over a calf and went flying onto the straw, I nearly cried laughing.
But back to the feeders. Next up is the one that we’ve had for a few years. It has 12 ‘peach teats’ which are fairly pliable, the calves all kinda hunker down when feeding from it which apparently helps their digestion. It is divided into 12 sections. Apparently some farmers only put ten calves on these feeders as it saves the hassle of having to shove them around to ensure all 12 get to the 12 teats but then 2 greedy calves would move to another teat and get overfed!
Some days, all 12 will get to the 12 teats without having to be pulled around but those days are rare. There’s usually one running around that can’t find a slot or is left at the end and you either have to pull out that calf and move it into a vacant slot or move each calf along but giving it a swipe and moving its head from one teat to another. I usually come out of this shed feeling fairly warm like I’ve just had a good workout!
What I like about this feeder though is its semi-circular shape which means the calves aren’t on top of each other and seem to be more comfortable feeding. This also means it’s easier for me to fit in between them when I’m throwing in the second and third buckets of milk. The ‘peach teats’ are pliable and they all seem to drink at fairly even speeds too.
Last feeder I’m reviewing are the two (shown above) that we purchased this year too. They are called the Milk Bar Systems and we got the 10 compartment ones. ?They have the same ‘tough, straight, short’ black teats as the blue and bucket feeders mentioned above and again, they had to be pierced with the penknife. ?Once the calves get the hang of it, they are fine though. Again they are semi-circular so the calves aren’t on top of each other but they’re still fairly close together so I have to squeeze between then to throw in the second bucket of milk.
Feeding calves via teat feeder is supposed to be better as the method of feeding moves the milk into a different part of their stomach (bovines have 4 sections to allow for chewing the cud) and helps them thrive better. We haven’t noticed any difference between the bucket fed and teat fed calves though. ?There isn’t much difference in time or handiness either though having a mobile feeding unit that could be driven into a huge calf shed might be something to aspire to 🙂
I do enjoy feeding the calves, it’s easy enough when they are all healthy and it’s kind of enjoyable watching them feed so vigorously and seeing them grow on a daily basis. It becomes horrible if they aren’t well, if they have scour and are fading away before your eyes but fingers crossed, all will stay well this year.
So that’s how we feed our dairy calves here in Crettyard 🙂
Update: ?11th may 2013
Now, that we have weaned most of the calves, and we are working out how we can afford to remodel our calf facilities for next year, I thought I’d update this post with our conclusions re buckets via teat feeder. I’m not sure if it was coincidence or what but the calves that were bucket fed in one shed didn’t seem to thrive as well as the teat fed ones in 2 other sheds. The eldest bucket fed calves in another shed really did well though so not sure if it can be claimed that it was all due to the teat feeders.
The plan for next year though is to use teat feeders in most of the sheds, it’s quicker plus it can be easier to train them to drink. ?It is definitely easier to have one less calf to the number of teats on the larger feeders, ie 9 calves on a ten feeder or 11 calves on a 12 feeder. If the feeder is 5 or 6 though, it’s easy enough to shuffle them around if need be.
Which teats are best? The ‘peach peach’ teats in the blue feeder are better than the black ones in the grey feeders. We replaced these the other day, partly because we had pierced them at the start of the year and with the constant sucking, the milk was just pouring out of them. Plus we thought that if we get the older calves to ‘break’ in the new teats, it would be that bit easier for newborns next year! The calves didn’t know what was happening the first morning and they must have spent 15 minutes sucking what normally took less than a minute. These are supposed to prevent gulping and engorging alright but are very hard for newborns. ?As you can see from the photo below, some of these teats were bitten in half whereas the ‘peach peach’ teats are still fine.
Now, we need lots of feeders for next year so if any company out there is looking for someone to review of selection of calf feeders – they know who to call ;0)