We spoke to Mayo-based Dairy Farmer, Domhnall Waldron, about his dairy enterprise and the benefits he has seen since installing the JFC AGRI Evolution S2 Automatic Calf Feeder last year.
Domhnall operates a growing dairy farm with plans in 2022 to milk 140 cows on a 65-hectare milking platform at Bekan, Co. Mayo, “I grew up on the farm and I am the fourth generation here farming the land. I spent much of the naughties working as an engineer in the construction industry. Following the downturn in 2009, I moved into the Agri sales area, covering the west of Ireland. I spent 5 years on animal nutrition sales with Agriking Ltd before moving to Grassland Agro as an Agronomist covering the Northwest.” Domhnall is married to Collette, a practice Nurse. They have three children, Saoirse, Gráinne and Ruadhán.
Reducing stressful and time-consuming periods on the farm was a significant challenge that Domhnall was keen to find a solution to, “When my dad passed away in late 2017 after a short illness, I was still working full-time. The first spring without him around was a real eye-opener, particularly on the calf rearing side. Over the years my mum would have taken on the calf rearing duty. When I took over the dairy cows in 2016, my dad started looking after the calves. It was a big change not having that help around. I started in 2016 with 60 cows calving that year. By 2019, we had 100 cows calving with plans to grow, so we knew we had to do something to change it. The spring workload was becoming unsustainable even with employed labour. That year I decided to leave the day job and become a full-time Dairy Farmer.”
In spring 2020, Domhnall decided to switch to milk replacer rather than feeding the calves whole milk, he hoped this would help reduce the pressure in spring. “Over the years, we always reared our calves on whole milk. In the spring of 2020, we changed to powder milk, so we had to mix that ourselves and then feed it out to the calves. As we would do the evening feed before milking, the link between feeding calves and milking was broken. We found that this system was still very labour intensive. In my work off-farm over the years I saw at first hand the automatic calf feeders working well on lots of different size farms. I never heard any farmer regretting having purchased one, with many remarking that the automatic calf feeder would be the last piece of equipment they would do without. Having heard this good feedback from many farmers and as I was eligible for a grant, I felt it was a no-brainer to purchase an automatic calf feeder.”
Domhnall purchased his JFC AGRI Evolution S2 Automatic Calf Feeder in the autumn of 2020 and after just one season has quickly seen the many benefits that it has instilled on his farm, “The JFC AGRI Evolution S2 Automatic Calf Feeder has been a game changer. It has drastically reduced the amount of time it takes to feed the calves, but it also lets you know if there is a sick calf or if any of the calves haven’t consumed all their milk. Before buying the Evolution Automatic Calf Feeder, we had been feeding them off a ten-teat feeder, it works for some people, but we found that it created a lot more work for us and there was a big difference in the size and weight of the calves at weaning.”
Particularly at calving time, Domhnall has seen a massive reduction in both time and labour needed to look after his calves. This is crucial given the pressures around calving, “It felt very strange for the first few weeks to go into the calf shed and the calves were all lying down, completely content. After milking, you didn’t have to go mixing the powder or feed them, just to check that everything was ok, top up the milk powder in the hopper and freshen up their bedding. I suppose it brought back a bit of the joy into calf-rearing again after a few hard springs. It's easily saving us two-and-a-half hours per day. You don't see that time ticking by, making up milk and feeding calves. It allows us more time to get other important jobs done and have a life outside the farm which is very important too. The past spring really showed us the importance of having reliable help and developing simple stress-free systems. In late March I was unfortunate to break my foot and was laid up for nearly eight weeks. I was lucky I had a reliable man working with me who was able to step in and take over the busy spring workload. The fact we had the Evolution Automatic Calf Feeder installed was critical in him being able to manage the workload. The children were able to help him out by monitoring the feeder and calves."
Domhnall is quick to highlight the notable improvement in calf quality since installing the Evolution Automatic Calf Feeder, “In terms of the quality of the calves at the end of the season, they are much more uniform. When we were rearing them on the ten-teat feeder, there'd be a bit of bullying and the faster drinkers would thrive.”
The display screen on Domhnall’s feeder gives him full oversight on his calf’s milk intake and enables him to adjust feeding levels if needed, “It's so easy to monitor. You go into the calf shed and everything you need to monitor their milk intakes is on the screen. It's very simple. It shows you the current feed and the previous three feeds of all the calves. There's a green tick if everything's okay and a red ‘X’ if there's a problem. You can program the feeder to feed the calves up to 5 times per day if you want. We start calves on four litres a day in two feeds for 7-10 days with the Evolution Automatic Calf Feeder gradually increasing this to six liters a day given in three feeds. At this stage each calf is getting two liters at each visit to the stall. They cannot overfeed on this system. It means that you can be relaxed about calf feeding because if there's an issue, you're ahead of it. If there are one or two sets of twins, we can adjust their feed curve to give them that extra bit of help by leaving them on the machine for longer or increase the amount of milk that they can get. We try to implement a 72-day feeding program, but we would leave the twins or light calves on that little bit longer. You can set a different feed curve for different calf requirements. There is great flexibility in the system so that's brilliant. Training calves onto the feeder was easier than we had imagined, very few calves had to be helped into the feed stall a second time. We have set the weaning period for 10 days where the feeder gradually reduces the feed times and liters over this period. When the calves are fully weaned, they are very content when put to grass. It has eliminated any stress on calves at weaning.”
JFC AGRI Customer Support
Domhnall is quick to highlight the excellent support that he receives from the team at JFC AGRI, “When I decided to purchase a calf feeder, it was a very easy choice to go with JFC AGRI. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about their calf feeders, calf crates and hutches and most importantly their support service. Anytime I ring or text them, might be something small, and they ring you back straight away. The team are very helpful and supportive, they know what they are doing. They came a few weeks ago to give the Automatic Calf Feeder a thorough annual service and it is now ready for the intensive spring season ahead.”
Taking all elements into consideration, Domhnall believes that the JFC AGRI Evolution S2 is a value for money investment on his farm, “We will have it paid back in three years. But you're also getting huge benefits on top of that in terms of time and labour savings, uniformity, stress-free weaning, complete oversight on calf performance and most importantly, an excellent backup service.”