Volac computerised feeder has transformed calf rearing and performance on Kerry farm

The purchase of a Volac computerised feeder three years ago has transformed calf rearing and performance for north Kerry farmers Rolanda Rice and Seamus Cantillon.

The husband and wife team run a dairy herd of 350 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows between Abbeydorney and Ardfert. The herd is split 60/40 between spring and autumn calving and the milk is supplied to Lee Strand co-op.

All calves are reared on the farm. Holstein Friesian replacement heifers calve down at 22-24 months and beef animals are finished off grass at under 30 months. AI is used for all replacements and they also run Angus and Hereford stock bulls.

Rolanda graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) with a degree in agricultural science, specialising in animal science, and Seamus worked for nine years as a sales manager for ruminant feeds with Dairygold.

With three children – Roland (5), Kate (3) and Padraic (1) – they have a busy lifestyle. Michael Rowan, their full-time employee, plays a vital role in lessening the workload.

“Up to 2017, all calves were bucket reared. Aside from the huge labour load, we were not at all happy with performance. Calves were on milk for 12 weeks or more and concentrate intake was much lower than it should have been,” said Rolanda Rice.

There was an alarming inconsistency in performance between calves and we were not achieving target weights at weaning. Weaning was stressful and calves didn’t continue to thrive after they were weaned.

“The calf rearing system was not cost-efficient and we felt we had to make major changes.”

Volac Urban Calf Mom

They examined the option of automatic feeding and, after researching the range of machines available, they decided to purchase a Volac Urban Calf Mom with a capacity to feed up to 120 calves at four stations. The feeder was installed in autumn 2017 and they have not looked back since.

Calf performance has dramatically improved. Heifer calves born in autumn 2017 weighed 95kg when they were weaned off the feeder. They hit critical weight targets much earlier and calved down well within the target of 22-24 months. Beef cattle are killing out at higher weights at 24-30 months.

Every calf is fed 3L of quality colostrum within three hours of birth and for the following three feeds. They are then fed whole milk and are put on the feeder at 10 days-of-age.

More family time

As well as the big labour-saving advantages, calves are easily trained and take to the feeder within 24 hours.

Rolanda and Seamus are particularly impressed with the facility to quickly identify any calf that is not drinking its full allocation. This enables them to intervene and treat much quicker.

They also highlight the step weaning process whereby the volume of milk replacer is reduced in the weeks leading up to weaning. This encourages increased concentrate consumption and ensures smooth weaning and no setback in thrive.

“We are extremely happy with the feeder. We have less hours involved in calf feeding, better quality animals, less stress and more time to spend as a family,” said Rolanda.

Volac Urban Alma Pro

Last September, Rolanda and Seamus purchased a second computerised feeder, a Volac Urban Alma Pro, which they installed in a separate shed.

The Urban Alma Pro represents the latest advances in computer feeding technology. It features the most up-to-date touchscreen technology with full control and alarm functions and can be operated through an iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows smartphone as well as via a laptop or desktop computer.

It enables users to have full access to calf drinking behaviour and calf health, even when not in the shed. A free Calfapp and CalfCloud, which enables tracking from mobile devices, is also available. It also features the option of a retractable fully automatic teat cleaning process that is carried out after each calf drinks.

The Urban Alma Pro has the capacity to feed up to 120 calves at four feed stations. Rolanda and Seamus have installed two stations, which can handle up to 60 calves.

Quality milk replacers

They use Heiferlac and Triple A Golden Maverick, two of Volac’s high-quality milk replacers. Heiferlac is designed specifically for high-quality replacement heifer calves.

The very high levels of Volac’s unique concentrated dairy protein, lactose and a specially selected blend of oils in Heiferlac help deliver the rapid frame growth in the early weeks of the calf’s life, thereby setting the platform to achieve critical target weight, size and development at mating at 15 months and calving at 24 months.

It is designed to deliver a growth rate of 0.9kg/day when mixed at 150g/L and fed at 6L/day in conjunction with ad-lib concentrate, straw and water in optimum conditions.

Triple A Golden Maverick can deliver a growth rate of 0.75kg/day up to weaning.

James Fitzpatrick (right) with Volac business manager Tomás O’Reilly

Meath beef farmer very pleased with Urban feeder

“I am very pleased with the feeder. It is simple to use. Calves do well and are very content,” said Meath beef farmer James Fitzpatrick.

James and his wife Sinéad run a calf to beef and a tillage enterprise at Ardbraccan, Kilmessan. He is also involved with his father Sean in the family contracting business.

He switched from sucklers to calf to beef a few years ago. He buys predominantly Friesian bull calves and the majority are finished as bull beef.

Up to last year calves were fed on teat feeders, which was highly labour intensive. Following discussions with Tomás O’Reilly, Volac business manager, James decided to purchase a Volac Urban Alma Pro computerised feeder.

The first bunch of 100 calves were reared on the feeder last spring. A smaller number of autumn-born calves are currently being reared.

James is delighted with the machine and with the service that he gets from Volac specialists and engineers.

“Knowing that each calf is consuming its full allowance and the facility to identify any calf that is not feeding are major advantages,” said James.

He is particularly impressed with the smooth weaning. The calves reared last spring suffered no setbacks at weaning and continued to thrive well since.

He is feeding Triple A Golden Maverick milk replacer which ensures that calves achieve optimal performance.

Volac’s unique milk replacer formula

Volac’s seven high-performing calf milk replacers – Blossom Easy Mix; ImunoGard®; Triple A Golden Maverick; Golden Maverick Hi-Spec; Maverick Once a Day; Heiferlac and Olympian – all contain high levels of 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, which has been shown to reduce scours.

The seven milk replacers are marketed under the Lifeguard milk formula range and all can be used in twice a day, once a day and ad-lib systems as well as in computerised feeders.

Volac’s technical and engineering back-up

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.

Contact your local business manager or engineer for expert support on any aspect relating to your computerised feeder or your calf rearing system.

To see a list of Volac’s business managers, just click here

Alternatively, to see a list of Volac’s engineers, just click here