What is more labour efficient, an automatic or manual feeding system is a common question that rears its head when it comes to calf management.
Teagasc has conducted a number of experiments, which according to one of its researchers, Dr Emer Kennedy, have found “no differences in the performance of calves on either when they were both fed the same amount of milk”.
Earlier this week, at the state agency’s dairy conference which carried the theme of turning challenges into opportunities – she revealed that equally, there were no differences in health or behaviour.
But, “big differences” arose around cost with the initial purchase price of automatic feeders and annual servicing fees.
Moreover, she outlined that “while some controlled experiments have shown a reduction in labour input, some work from on-farm labour studies have shown that where an automatic milk feeder is in place, that farmers tended to leave calves on milk for longer and I guess it is much harder to give them access to grass”.
“So, the labour input actually increased, as did the cost. So if you have an automatic feeder, yes it can be more labour efficient, but you need to be very disciplined in how you use it.”
At the event, Dr Kennedy presented a paper on management and housing guidelines to achieve excellent calf welfare, which she co-authored with Alison Sinnott.
At the end of her presentation, she urged farmers to ask themselves the following questions:
- Have you sufficient space and labour facilities for all your calves at peak?
- Are there areas of animal husbandry that you can improve? Are you ready if there is a disease outbreak or how will you prevent one?
- How are you going to manage transitioning calves to their new homes? How many are you keeping? Buyers? How can you make calves more desirable for potential purchasers?
Read more articles on this conference from That’s Farming.