What lessons have been learned from automated calf milk dispensers?

When you know that depending on the type of powdered milk you administer, it will take anything between one and a half and five hours for the calf to process their feed, you will probably start to wonder whether it is not in fact better to feed a calf three times a day. “It certainly increases the rate of growth,” suggested Sjaak de Kleijne, young stock ­specialist at Agrifirm in The Netherlands. “But it also means maintaining the same pattern in the weekends, too.”

An automated calf milk dispenser can offer a solution. “But is has to suit your needs,” commented Ger van Wersch, young stock ­specialist at FrieslandCampina. He is often asked by dairy farmers whether an automated milk dispenser is suitable for them. “It is a piece of extra technology you need to learn to handle correctly,” is one precondition he always explains. “You also need to be able to guarantee an ideal layout for the system in your cattle shed, in terms of climate.”

An automated calf milk dispenser can reduce the workload, but still takes time to set up.

Automated calf milk dispenser: settings and inspections

He compared the functioning of an automated calf milk dispenser to that of an automated milking system. “The essential aspects are routing and inspection.” It can reduce the workload, but it still takes time. Ger listed the elements that have to be regularly checked as ‘Have all the calves had enough feed, is the concentration still correct and has the system cleaned itself properly?” “The results can certainly match those achieved with traditional feeding methods.” Fellow ­specialist Johan Verdaasdonk underlined the importance of the smooth transition from cubicles to an automated milk dispenser. “The timetable offered by the automated milk dispenser must ensure a smooth transition. If you give your calves in cubicles three litres in a single feed, then that is the rate you should start with, for the automated dispenser timetable.” It may seem an obvious comment. “Make sure you check the settings carefully.”

Every type of milk powder

There are no restrictions in terms of milk powder when it comes to automated milk dispensers.  “There are still plenty choices for use in an automated dispenser system,” suggested Ger.  It is however important to consider free-flowing and flow characteristics. “This helps guarantee that you always deliver the same dosage, even in damper weather conditions, when the powder can become slightly sticky.” Here too, it is important to carry out regular checks. “For example, when you introduce a new milk powder, you have to recalibrate the entire system.”