Share milking on a first year dairy conversion brings plenty of challenges, taxing both time and energy. For David Johnston at Otautau in Southland opting for a Lely automated calf rearing system was one way to help ease the pressure. His partner Georgette Wouda usually has the calf rearing job and this season they took the calves from their share milking job and reared them on their own dairy support block nearby. However Georgette is also a vet with Vet South so both lead a hectic life right at the time of the year when demands are greatest for rearing calves.
"The demands on both our time at that time of year was one of several reasons we opted for an automated system. Having a system Georgette can check in the morning before her rounds helps save on time while knowing the calves are being monitored by the machine provides a good level of information on how they are doing," says David.
They opted for a Lely CALM system after seeing one in action two years ago, and theirs is one of several installed by the Lely Center Southland this year as farmers look for more efficient means to get calves to weaning weights. With the ability to access calf data easily, Georgette can return at the end of her rounds able to see what calves could be requiring attention and are not feeding as much as they should. David says the CALM system has delivered on its promise as a targeted rearing system providing easily understood information on calf growth performance.
"From an animal health perspective, it is not something we specifically invested in the system for, but we have found we are getting good even lines of calves right through." He has been impressed with the ability of the calves to adapt from colostrum delivered via the machine from the farm supply to milk powder once the colostrum ran out.
With calves presenting themselves as often as four times a day to feed, the "smaller more often" intake levels appeared to make their transition from colostrum to powder a seamless one, without consequent scouring or growth checks. David has also noticed a lot less bellowing from the calf pens with the Lely system. "They are getting more regular feeds, so they are not as hungry, and don't associate milk feeds with people, so don't make any noise when people come near their shed."
Initially their calves are trained on the traditional calfetaria, then on day five go onto the machine. David appreciates the ability to programme the machine to different feed profiles depending upon breeds, and this year is rearing cross bred replacements on it. While only running 80 head and keeping the machine at half its capacity he hopes to ramp up numbers next year and the option is there to have a bull-beef feed profile in place also.
Calves are run in two mobs until they are older. The transition to weaning is eased by being able to put them together in one mob and letting them move out into the paddock, returning to the Lely machine for milk. Time to weaning is similar to calves David and Georgette have reared conventionally but the evenness of the line is a stand out benefit often commented on by visitors.
"We like to grow our calves out to their full weaning weight, and are not so worried about keeping the inputs really low or minimising that weight - we have been very happy with them." Given his partner is a vet, he also appreciates the minimal health issues that spin out of having a CALM feeding system.
"We have not seen any of the usual bouts of scours you almost inevitably get at different times." The transition to weaning is a far more gentle one as the machine winds down individual feed levels. So much so the machine's warning system will be activated regularly for calves not drinking their minimal allowance, simply because they have weaned themselves off and lost interest in the milk. "We knew about Lely's reputation overseas and the CALM system has been reliable and well represented by its dealers down here."