John and Brid Nash, with their three sons, Billy, Sean and Conor, operate a dairy, beef and poultry enterprise in Castlemahon, Co. Limerick.

The Nash family farm a 95ac milking platform with a herd of 95 cows, comprising predominantly Fleckvieh, Friesian and Jersey-cross cows. They run a grass-based, spring-calving system, with calving beginning in early February.

The Nash family rear all replacements on their Co. Limerick farm, with the help of Alencar, a Brazilian native.

Introducing technology on-farm

Investing in a computerised feeder, as many know, can improve calf performance, bringing greater control and consistency to the milk feeding period. Proven automatic machines can also significantly reduce the labour devoted to calf rearing, but should not be seen as an alternative to spending time with your youngstock.

Look at automatic calf feeders such as the Urban Alma Pro as a way of taking the variables out of the rearing process, but recognise that a high level of supervision, good hygiene standards and management are still the keys to success, and this is the case on the Nash family farm.

In 2010, the Nash family installed its first feeder, an Urban U40 feeder, which transformed their calf-rearing system. The two-station feeder provided for 60 calves.

John Nash believes that automatic calf-feeding systems are the future. 10 years of using this system has given him plenty of time to concentrate on the welfare of his calves and has led to a big reduction in labour.

Showing the display screen of his computerised calf feeder
John Nash

“After using the Urban U40 feeder, I could not be without it,” he said.

Upgrading the computerised calf feeder

In spring 2020, after a consultation with their Volac business manager, Sharon O’Donoghue, the Nashes installed their second Urban automatic calf feeder.

Upgrading to the Urban Alma Pro was an obvious choice as it has the capacity to feed up to 120 calves at four feed stations and represents the latest advances in computerised feeding technology.

It features the most up-to-date touch screen technology with full control and alarm functions. It can be operated through an iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows smartphone, as well as via a laptop or desktop computer.

“I was really impressed with the new technology and how far the feeder functionality has progressed over the last 10 years,” John said.

“The feeder data is highly accessible on the 12in touch screen and is very user friendly.”

John’s farm hand, Alencar, finds that with the variety of language settings, he can interpret the information easily as English is his second language. Being able to interpret the information in his own language reduces the risk of miscommunication and puts John’s mind at ease if he is away from the yard.

All replacements and later calves are reared on the automatic calf feeder and fed a Volac Milk Replacer. John appreciates the flexibility of the feeder and the fact that two calves can feed simultaneously which offers greater scope for numbers.

“If I intend to increase cow numbers, I can very easily add on two more stations to utilise the feeder for 120 calves,” he said. 

Dynamic monitoring of calves

The Urban Alma Pro offers dynamic monitoring of calves. Each station is fitted with a FIT sensor.

This sensor makes sure that all feeding stations are supplied with warm milk at the same time. It clearly shows how much each calf is drinking, when the calf drank last and the health status.

It also helps identify calves that may not be taking in sufficient volumes of milk, which enables quick intervention and treatment before any serious symptoms emerge.

In addition, the automatic loop cleaning system ensures hygiene is optimal, which is pivotal when rearing calves to avoid any illnesses spreading through the calf shed.

The feeder has seven days’ history stored which gives a clear indication on calf performance, drink speed and consumption.

“This information is great to identify sick calves before it becomes a bigger more widespread problem,” said John. 

“Overall, I am really happy with the Urban Alma Pro. I can come to the calf shed before milking or when it suits me best. All calves are lying down contently, as they are feeding over the 24hrs.

“It cuts out the labour of manually feeding calves, it’s consistent and it flags any issues. It has been the best investment on my farm to date.”

Help and advice with their computerised calf feeder

Every January, Volac business manager, Sharon O’Donoghue, calls to the Nash farm to setup the feed curve for the season ahead. This allows John the time to focus on rearing happy and healthy calves.

Contact your local Volac Business Manager today to discuss the benefits of computerised feeding and automatic calf feeder options to suit your farming platform.

Click here to find your local Volac business manager and their contact details.