Farming in Archerstown, Co. Westmeath, husband and wife team John and Siobhan Henry run a 100-cow spring-calving dairy herd supplying milk to Lakeland Dairies.
In spring 2021, with the availability of a grant from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine under the Calf Investment Scheme, the Henry family installed the Volac Forster Technik computerised feeder, which has transformed their calf rearing system.
The new investment allowed the pair to rear a total of 84 calves last spring, made up of predominantly Friesian replacement heifers, along with some Angus calves.
Making the switch
The Volac Forster Technik computerised feeder is popular among the growing number of dairy and beef farmers who are switching to an automatic calf feeding system.
For John, making the switch to a computerised calf feeder is one of the best farming decisions he has ever made and regrets not investing sooner.
“This year calves were healthier, more content and their overall performance was excellent compared to previous years,” said John.
The Volac Forster Technik is fitted with the most advanced technology in computerised calf feeding.
The automatic cleaning feature, combined with sound overall management, ensures the highest level of hygiene.
As standard, it is internet-capable and a free CalfApp and CalfCloud are available, which enables farmers to manage feeding and check calf drinking behaviour and health when away from the shed or the farm.
Among the optional extras is an electronic calf scale which enables continuous monitoring of calf weight, which can add value, especially when rearing top quality replacement heifer calves.
Computerised calf feeder benefits
Reducing labour was one of the main reasons why John considered computerised feeding. Before the Forster feeder was installed John, along with his wife Siobhan, nephews Shane and Ross, as well as farm worker Richard Shaw, were bucket-feeding the calves for many years.
“The calf rearing system we had in place was not cost-effective and we felt we had to make considerable changes. We were spending valuable time bucket-feeding calves, which could have been spent more efficiently,” he said.
John redesigned several old sheds into a purpose-built calf shed and is extremely pleased with how the feeder and his new calf shed has improved the overall performance of his calf rearing.
“I am delighted with the performance of the calves this year; they grew more evenly compared to previous years and I put this down to the feeder and new environment,” he added
John was particularly pleased with the feeding curve on the Forster Technik feeder as it allowed him the option to feed his replacement heifers at 900g/day and his Angus calves at 750g/day, while all remaining in the one group.
John also found the weaning process advantageous as calves were weaned over a number of weeks and this took the stress out of the weaning process for the calves. Calves started to eat more straw and meal during these weeks and by the time the calves were weaned off the machine there was no reduction in performance like other years.
John values the ability of the machine to notify him if a calf hasn’t received its milk allocation during that day or the previous day. The feeder also illustrates if a calf is showing signs of sickness, giving John plenty of time to take action.
“The feeder has taken the guess work out of calf rearing. Now we know if a calf isn’t drinking their full allocation of milk or is under preforming and we can take action early,” he said.
John uses Blossom Milk Replacer from Volac, containing 23% whey protein and 18% fat and oils, supplied by local merchant, Pat Carolan.
Volac’s high-performing calf milk replacers all contain Imunopro, the highly nutritious bioactive complex produced from liquid whey. Imunopro is unique to Volac and contains high levels of immunoglobulins, amino acids and lactoferrin.
Technical and engineering back up
As well as Volac’s Business Manager Tomas O’Reilly offering expert advice to the Henry Family, John was delighted with local engineers John McCormack and Tommy Connors from Connors Dairy Services in Ballymahon, Co. Longford who fitted the new Volac Forster Technik calf feeder and were always on hand if John had any issues or questions.
Volac’s national network of business managers and engineers ensures that farmers have complete technical and engineering support on all aspects of computerised feeders, milk replacers and on the company’s range of nutritional and health products.
Click here, to contact your local business manager or engineer for expert support on any aspect relating to your computerised feeder or your calf rearing systems.