The small footprint of the facility fit the Heims’ farm layout nicely. “I wanted them [calves] up front where people could keep a close eye on them,” says Jeremy Heims.
Automatic feeding and housing foundations of new calf program
Rearing calves in individual hutches was part of the game plan when the Heims family—Lloyd, Joyce and their sons, Jeremy and Scott—decided to bring the youngstock for their 600-cow dairy near Algoma, Wis., back home after 19 years of using a custom heifer raiser.
A last-minute conversation with their equipment dealer convinced them to ditch the individual hutch concept in favor of building a new, compact, group housing facility featuring automatic calf-feeding units.
"We were all set to place the order for the hutches," says Jeremy, who heads up the calf program at the dairy. "But the more the dealer told us about this system from German manufacturer Holm and Laue, the more it appealed to us."
The potential for labor savings topped the list. The workforce at Heims’ consists of a handful of family members plus five non-family employees.
Along with the 600-cow dairy, they farm 1,300 acres and do all of their own repair work. "Time is definitely at a premium around here," Jeremy says.
The calf facility’s small footprint also appealed to the Heims. Total space measures 40'x70'. There’s room enough for four gated, roofed pens with total housing for up to 75 calves, ages one to 65 days old; four igloo-shaped group calving huts and a center feed alley separating the pens. There’s also a small calf room with a pasteurizer for the waste milk fed to the calves, a 100-gal. milk tank and three automatic feeding stalls.
"Hutches for that many calves would have taken a lot more room," Jeremy says. "With our existing layout, it would have meant putting the calves out in back of the barn.
"But I wanted them right up front, in an area where people would be walking by all the time and could keep a close eye on them. The way we see it, the calves are the most important animals on our dairy. They represent our future," he adds.
The price tag of the entire facility was around $90,000. Included were the pens, the group calf huts, calf room, pasteurizer and feeding equipment, and calf jackets for the cold-weather months.
Once calves reach 16 days of age, they’re moved into a pen with two automatic feeders, says Jeremy Heims.
"It was a case of sticker shock, at first," Jeremy says. "But when we took a look at everything that would be needed with individual hutches—the hutches themselves, the wire panels, bottles, etc.—we realized that was a pretty big cash outlay, too."
In the Heims’ setup, calves that are one to 15 days of age are sorted into a pen with a group hut and serviced by one automatic feeder. Typically, there are around 15 calves in the pen. The feeder is programmed so that each calf can drink up to 7.5 liters of pasteurized waste milk each day, metered out in four separate feeding periods.
Jeremy spends a couple of days training each calf to use the feeder.
"It’s mostly a matter of just leading them up to it and showing them where the nipple on the feeder is. Some calves catch on in just a couple of visits. For other calves, it might take a few days."
At 16 days old, the calves are moved to the second pen, which holds 35 calves. The second pen features two group huts serviced by two automatic feeders. The amount of milk per calf is upped to 10 liters per day, also delivered in four separate feeding periods.
- April 2014