Feeding Dairy Calves: Bucket V Teat Feeder

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!!!

Feeding Dairy CalvesMilk 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.

Bucket  Feeding Dairy 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.

Calf Feeder Analysis

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.

Calf Feeder

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!

Semi circular Teat feeder

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.

Calf Teat Feeder

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.

black teats

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)

20 thoughts on “Feeding Dairy Calves: Bucket V Teat Feeder

  • Anna - Milk Bar

    Thanks Lorna, I actually can’t find your email so here it is 🙂

    Preliminary results of on-going research on calf feeding make essential reading for anyone wanting to rear the best heifer replacements they can.
    The Milk Bar team say they have been startled by what they have found so far in testing the effect teat design has on rearing pre-weaned calves.
    A trial conducted by an independent research facility started in March 2014; and will follow the same heifers through to the time they start milking in 2016. While Milk Bar commissioned the trial, it is important to note that they had no input once the trials commenced. Teat treatments were randomised and blinded to the technicians.
    The trial has revealed some interesting findings, particularly regarding cross suckling damage, and curdling and digestibility, says Milk Bar?s Managing Director Ross McInnes. ?This is an independent trial commissioned to study the influence teat flow rate in commercial milk feeding systems has on calf health and performance,? he explains.
    ?The brief was to feed six groups of calves from the same farm, fed the same rations and housed in the same facility. Three groups were fed using Milk Bar Teats to give a controlled feeding rate, while the other three groups were fed using a faster teat with an internal valve that feeds at a similar speed to teats that are commercially available in Europe, New Zealand and North America.?

    Cross suckling and implications
    It has been shown in previous studies that the speed of milk flow influences post feeding cross suckling in groups of calves. The current trial confirmed that groups of calves fed on a faster teat with an internal valve will cross suck, while this behaviour is rare in calves fed from Milk Bar Teats.
    ?We have seen the udder damage caused by calves cross sucking. It has long been suspected that cross sucking can lead to heifer mastitis. In fact, O.W.Schalm wrote ?Calves suckling on each other can affect the development of the juvenile udder. This in conjunction with the transmission of mastitis pathogens is prone to lead to heifer mastitis.” We (Milk Bar) knew this was happening from observations farmers had reported, and we are very concerned at the impact this has on the future production capabilities of that heifer when she comes into the herd.?
    It has been previously recorded that in artificially reared calves 78% of the cross sucking was directed at the inguinal region, while in calves suckled on cows, 81% of the cross
    sucking was directed at the mouths of other calves, (Margerison et al 2003). It was noted during the 2014 trial that the calves suckled on Milk Bar Teats behaved like calves suckled on cows and mostly licked around the mouth area, while calves fed from faster teats with internal valves sucked the udders and navels of other calves.
    In addition, the calves in the pens fed with the faster teats with internal valves tended to have red swollen teats, but of greater concern was that the teat canals appeared to be open, and the keratin plug had been removed. Potential implications for udder development, adult milking performance and heifer mastitis are concerning for those calves fed from a fast teat. This is a serious problem for farmers but it is encouraging to see that this problem can be avoided through using well designed equipment.

    Curding and digestibility
    As part of the trial, calves fed from each type of teat were euthanized to investigate the effects of different feeding speeds within the digestive tract.
    ?The difference of the curd structure in the abomasum was very noticeable two hours after feeding. Calves in the faster teat with an internal valve group had large lumps of curd floating in a watery fluid while the calves in the Milk Bar Teat group had even, porridge like curding. Further to this, the results from the digestibility analysis showed huge differences in the absorption of lactose in 14 day old calves. Tests were conducted two hours after feeding and showed there was significantly more lactose remaining in abomasum of calves fed with a faster teat with an internal valve than there was in calves fed with the slower feeding Milk Bar Teats.
    A great deal more lactose had also passed through the digestive system and as far as the rectum in calves fed with a faster teat with an internal valve than in calves fed with Milk Bat Teats.
    This indicates there is significantly more lactose present in the intestines of calves fed with a faster teat with an internal valve. Lactose is a sugar, and an ideal medium for the growth of bacteria.”

    Why is a Milk Bar Teat different to a teat with an internal valve?
    Milk Bar Teats have an internal web that controls the flow rate, stopping calves gulping and encouraging the correct suckling action and saliva production required for better curding, higher weight gain and less cross suckling. Calves must suckle on a Milk Bar Teat, just like they do from a cow. If you squeeze a cow?s teat the milk goes back into the udder. To milk a cow you must strip downwards, squeezing the teat between thumb and fingers. When a calf is on a cow it must suckle to obtain milk. If you squeeze a Milk Bar Teat, you will get the same result, the milk goes back into the feeder. To get milk from a Milk Bar Teat a calf must suckle in exactly the same way as it does from a cow. This is the natural way for a calf to feed and the digestive system will stay healthy and the calf will be heavier as a result.
    If you squeeze a teat with an internal valve the milk squirts out. To get milk from a teat with an internal valve a calf will pump the teat. This is not the natural way for the calf to obtain milk and their digestive system cannot cope with the volume of milk, hence the problems farmers are seeing with calves cross suckling, getting nutritional scours and generally not thriving.
    Milk Bar?s Ross McInnes says the trial calves will continue to be monitored as they mature, and will update these preliminary findings as the project evolves. “We are very committed and passionate about rearing healthy calves. It is one of our priorities to continue research and development so that farmers can make informed decisions and enjoy the best results from their investment in replacement heifers.?
    For more detail contact Dairy Spares ? 01948 667 676
    Copywrite: All information from the 2014 Milk Bar research is the property of McInnes Manufacturing Ltd. No reproduction is permitted unless written request has been authorised by McInnes Manufacturing Ltd.

    This is an independent trial. Findings are presented as they were found.

  • Anna - Milk Bar

    Hi Lorna,
    I hope you saw us at Plough Match, it was a brilliant show, we love the Irish! If not, I’d love to forward you the research findings but I’m not sure if I should just pop it on here.

  • Anna - Milk Bar

    Hi Lorna,
    Your post has made it to NZ! I have read your thoughts with interest and thought you would be very interested in the independent Research Trail that was conducted in NZ about how the flow of milk impacts health of calves. It found that calves fed on Milk Bar Teats were heavier, did not cross suckle (therefore no damage to developing udders) and absorbed significantly more lactose than calves fed on the faster ‘peach like’ teat. If you would like more information on how faster feeding ultimately impacts your calves and expensive heifer replacements, I would be delighted to forward it to you. At Milk Bar we are passionate about rearing the healthiest calves possible which is why the Milk Bar Teat feeds at the same speed as a cow. While they may take an extra few minutes, they will be heavier and have improved long term production capabilities. You could, if you had time conduct your own trial, feed one group on Milk Bar Teats (PLEASE don’t make the slit bigger!), feed one group on the faster ‘peach like’ teat and one group on buckets. Observe the behaviour post feeding. Natural behaviour includes calves licking each other around the mouth, sleeping, eating grain or running around. Unnatural behaviour includes cross suckling on ears, navels and udders or standing isolated. We will be at Plough Match if you’d like to talk to us about the research findings. Hopefully see you there!

    • Lorna

      Where is your stand at the Ploughing?

      Not sure if the Milk bar ones are the ones that we found that the young calves just gave up sucking and we had to slit them, that was the problem but I will call along and check.
      We had problems with bucket fed calves sucking each other last year, there were a couple of bull calves that had to be moved because of it.

      Interesting research!

  • Michelle McIntyre

    I am so glad you like “peach teats” my father Robert McIntyre is the founder and owner of peach teats in New Zealand! I loved reading all your blogs, keep up the great work ladies!
    Happy calves make happy farmerettes…

  • Janice

    Hi Lorna,
    Get myself a little more comfortable using your name here, because reading your information on feeding calves & mentioning your husband’s name, I find that we do share more in common than cows, both our husband’s names are Brian, even spelled the same way. And, my husband shares a bit more with you & your husband because he is of Irish descent on his mother’s father’s side. That said, I will go back to addressing feeding calves, I like getting them on a bucket as soon as possible, it seems the longer they are on a bottle (I have never used a teat feeder), the dumber they get to drinking from a bucket. And, we feel that they grow better on cow’s milk rather than milk replacer, I wish I could afford a milk pasterizer for the calf milk, but we don’t really have that many calves at once to benefit from the cost of one, at least, I hope that is the correct answer. What I mean is, we hope that we’re not feeding “bugs” that the cows may be carrying in the herd, because unless you test for Johnes, or BVD, or who knows what, you just don’t know. My Ayrshire calves, depending on their size, may get 2 1/2 to 3 qts of milk, & I will start weaning at 50 to 60 days of age, but it all depends on how well they are eating their feed. If they are not eating their feed all that well, I will cut back on the milk so they will eat more of their feed.

  • patquirke

    Great post, Lorna.
    Having used most of the feeders you outlined above, we have settled on the Milk Bar compartment feeders, on which we cut out the standard teat and insert peach teats. All get an even feed, the teats are great. Not too fast-flowing, long-lasting. I sold my JFC’s to local dairy farmer who is “throwing” whole milk into his replacements, but for rearing to beef on a regulated amount of replacer, think the feeders we use are best.
    I tried OAD as well, but maybe I’m too soft, I didn’t like restricting “baby” calves. We wean at 46-50 days, depending on calf. Keep them healthy is main thing, no setbacks.

    • Lorna

      Agree – we wean at about 8 weeks but depends on amount of meal – once they are up to about a kilo of meal. We move them to once a day at about 6 weeks.
      It is taking the 7 week old calves about 10 minutes to suck the milk from those new black teats – not sure how newborns are expected to get milk from them! I prefer the peach teats too – will look at seeing if they fit whichever feeders we buy!

  • Pat

    I,m using a JFC 10 teat feeder with peach teats, the original tears were a disaster, the new tears are fast and each calf is finished in approx a minute and a half. I’m using Volac @40 per bag.

  • All things nice...


    That’s really interesting. We have the same blue JFC feeder and it is a bit awkward alright as it are always pushing each other and the close drinkers are always being shoved by the others. We use mainly single buckets with teat on them. We also bought a new one similiar to the blue JFC one with 6 teats but it has seperaters between each one so the calves have their own space, have to try it out yet. Thanks for the reviews. We feed twice a day also but don’t have as many calves as you. I was reading lately though, that milk replacer is just as good if not better than the real thing but we don’t use it. What’s your opinion?

    All things nice…

    • Lorna

      We don’t use milk replacer either, Brian did look at the difference in price as with the quota situation, he was wondering about supplying the milk rather than feeding it but it’s only 4c in the difference if you buy the most expensive. Plus there’s the hassle of making it up. Considering I hardly ever made up a baby’s bottle, I couldn’t see myself making up loads of calf milk replacer.
      Some say it is better but I don’t know – how can it be better than nature? I’m a bit of a traditionalist on this one. I think milk replacer is fine if used for calves when farmers don’t have access to milk, like beef farmers who buy in calves but otherwise? Never used it so I can’t say but I wouldn’t advocate it.
      I agree – the semi circular feeders give the calves a bit more room and they seem to settle to them better. The black teats are a pain though, had to slit them in the early days as some calves were hardly getting anything and now it pours out of some teats if the calf takes its mouth away for a second. Apparently the ‘peach teats’ that are black are the best!!!!



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>