The purchase of a Volac Forster Technik computerised calf feeder has dramatically cut the labour load and has led to more contented, healthier and better performing calves for Meath dairy farmer Liam Harnan.

Liam, who runs a herd of 130 crossbred cows at Moynalvey, installed a Forster Technik Vario Smart feeder three years ago. It can feed up to 120 calves at four feed stations and is fitted with the most up-to-date technology in computerised calf feeding.

The automatic cleaning feature, combined with sound overall management, ensures the highest level of hygiene.

It is internet-capable as standard and a free CalfApp and CalfCloud is available which enables users to manage feeding and to monitor calf drinking behaviour and calf 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.

A great investment

Liam Harnan is very pleased with the Forster Technik feeder. While the big reduction in labour was the most immediate and obvious advantage, there were also improvements in the performance and health of calves reared on the feeder compared to those that were previously bucket-reared.

“I know exactly how much each calf is drinking. Some calves drink quicker than others and that was always a problem with bucket-rearing. The feeder ensures that every calf gets its allocated daily amount.

“I find the alarm system that alerts to a calf that is off its feed a huge advantage. It enables me to act quickly and treat the calf even before any real symptoms become obvious.

“The fact that the feeder lets me design different feeding programmes for different types or breeds of calves is another advantage that appeals to me. That is almost impossible to do in a conventional feeding programme,” said Liam.

Trouble-free weaning

Liam Harnan is particularly impressed with the smooth and trouble-free weaning of calves off the computerised feeder.

Milk replacer levels are programmed to be gradually reduced during the three to four weeks before weaning. This encouraged increased intake of concentrates. The end result is a seamless weaning process with calves suffering no setbacks.

Liam finds that calves are very easily trained on the feeder. The vast majority take to it after being introduced for the first time.

He also finds the technology easy to use. His daughter Shauna is a great support in dealing with any technological hiccups as well as assisting with the overall calf rearing programme.

He also acknowledges the support he receives from Volac business manager Tomás O’Reilly and from Volac calf feeder engineers.

Quality replacement heifers

Liam rears all his replacement heifer calves on the Forster Technik feeder. The rest of the calves are sold at two to three weeks-of-age.

The performance from birth to weaning is crucial to the lifetime performance of replacement heifers and in ensuring that they reach the required frame and weight at mating and calving.

Liam Harnan believes that the consistent performance of his calves on the computerised feeder combined with the use of a quality Volac milk replacer provides the platform for producing replacement heifers of the highest quality.

Meath football stalwart

Outside of dairy farming, Liam Harnan is a household name in Meath and is remembered by gaelic football fans throughout Ireland as a member of the all-conquering Meath team of the 1980s.

The team won back to back All-Irelands in 1987 and 1988, with Liam wearing the Number 6 jersey in both. He is also the holder of five Leinster Championship medals and two National League medals.

Michael Keating (right) and his brother Joe with Rebecca O’Sullivan, Volac business manager. Michael is very pleased with the performance of the first bunch of calves reared on the Forster Technik feeder

Feeder gives excellent calf performance on Tipperary dairy farm

Great labour saving and excellent calf performance is the verdict of Tipperary dairy farmer Michael Keating who installed a Volac Forster Technik Vario Smart computerised calf feeder last January.

Michael, who farms at Newcastle, Co. Tipperary, is milking 140 spring-calving cows on 55ha of a grazing platform. A further 12ha of leased land is used for replacement stock, silage making and, if needed, for zero grazing.

Calving starts in early February and cows are milked once-a-day for the first month in order to save on labour. He reverts to twice-a-day milking from early March.

A rigid colostrum feeding programme is in place, with 3L given to every calf within two hours of birth. They continue to get colostrum and transition milk for the next 10-14 days when heifer calves are moved onto the Forster Technik feeder. Bull calves remain on whole milk and are sold at three weeks-of-age.

Feeding programme

60 replacement heifer calves were reared last spring. They were on the feeder for 64 days.

For the first 43 days, each calf was programmed to receive 6L of milk replacer/day, mixed at 150g/L, in three feeds. Milk replacer levels were then gradually reduced over the following 21 days when calves were weaned.

Michael Keating was really impressed with the smooth and trouble-free weaning. Calves were eating around a kilo/day of concentrate when they were weaned and they continued to thrive.

The feeder’s alarm system is another feature that he found very beneficial. It identified two calves whose drink speed had slowed down. Michael took immediate action and it turned out the calves had coccidiosis.

By taking action before disease symptoms emerged, the calves received immediate treatment and were quickly restored to full health.

Quality milk replacer

He uses Gain Easi-Mix milk replacer, produced specially for Glanbia by Volac. Based on concentrated whey protein, it contains 25% protein and is packed with the vital amino acids, immunoglobulins and lactoferrins, which are vital for healthy calf growth and development.

Overall, Michael Keating is very happy with the performance of his first bunch of calves on the computerised feeder. He also acknowledges the excellent service he gets from Volac’s nutrition and engineering experts.

Volac computerised feeders – at a glance

  • Enable individual feeding programmes to be set for each calf;
  • Mimics the calf’s natural feeding behaviour;
  • Low routine labour;
  • Consistent concentration, temperature and milk portion size;
  • Early identification of calves not drinking their milk allocation;
  • Stepped weaning encourages increased concentrate intake and ensures minimal setbacks after weaning;
  • Automatic daily wash cycles and regular cleans ensure highest levels of hygiene;
  • Constant access to key data on PC and mobile equipment via WiFi connectivity.

Further information

For more information on the Forster Technik automatic calf feeder, just click here