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Are Automated Feeders the Future of Calf Rearing?

Are Automated Feeders the Future of Calf Rearing?
By Eimear Diamond, Regional Sales Manager 11 months ago

Are Automated Feeders the Future of Calf Rearing?

You have done the hard bit…figured out where you’re going to source calves from, what powder to feed them, and what starter feed is best. Now you are faced with the many options for how to feed the chosen milk powder, and with those options, host a range of costings.

It is widely accepted that calves and youngstock are the most vulnerable on the farm – however the tide is turning. Once calves were housed in the sheds that time forgot, and fed as quickly as possible at the end of the day (whilst you were probably already running late for tea!). We are now seeing bespoke sheds going up all over the country, complete with mechanical ventilation and automated feeders, mechanical ventilation and automated feeders.

However, the question remains: is automatic feeding the answer to your calf-rearing questions? And when investing in automatic machines – what should be considered?

Automatic feeders:

In recent years, we have seen automated machine feeders becoming more popular on farm, and with recent government grants including machines, popularity has soared.

The basic principle of machine feeding is that calves can enter and leave the feed station at will, but the feeding regime is controlled by computer technology. This technology allows a carefully controlled milk feeding program – with each calf individually identified (via electronic collar or tag) and fed to their stage in the program. Most machines on the market can handle 4 stations, allowing from 100-120 calves to be fed per machine.

Calves thrive on consistency - one of the main benefits of machine feeding - including guaranteed temperatures, mixing rates and quantities. Another main benefit of machine feeding is regular small meals, which allows you to reallocate your valuable time.

These machines are commonly described as “labour-saving devices” but if you buy one with such high hopes, you may be in for a shock. We think automated machines are more likely to allow you to reallocate your time. It will no longer be necessary to be in the calf shed at 7am and 7pm every day, instead, you can go in throughout the day as it suits you. And although mixing milk powder, or carrying milk from the parlour is no longer necessary – time will now be spent checking the alarm list, pulling those calves into the feed stations to ensure they drink, and cleaning the machine. A machine is most definitely not a replacement for a good stockperson.

Machines are best exploited when feeding calves regular small meals. They mix up the calf’s allocated portion when it enters the feed stations – so each feed is fresh. Smaller, regular portion size, and a more gradual wean on machines helps mimic nature – helping to reduce calf stress.

There has been a surge in machines being installed in the last few years, with a mix of farmers requesting them. Many farmers are new to automated feeding and there are those who have had machines on farm for 10-15 years, who are now upgrading to a new model.

More and more farmers are saying: “We couldn’t be without our Wynnstay machines.”

Which Machine to choose?

After having considered all the above, and still thinking an automated feeder will suit your system and farm, the next question is likely be – which machine to go for?

There a few big names on the market and when we get down to the nitty gritty, they all perform the same basic task. Feed calves as often as you programme it to do so, at the correct temperature, and it will show you an alarm list covering various areas (from drinking speed and break offs in drinking, to not finishing portion size). Wynnstay’s

suppliers have a wide range of feeders to suit your individual needs and an impressive selection, including machines that can feed 120 calves, can be found on Page 31 of our Focus on Calves publication.

Much like choosing a new parlour, it is paramount to go with a manufacturer who has an engineer close by, should a call out be needed. Find someone reliable, who is going to be on the other end of the phone for those first few weeks, whilst you adjust to the machine.

Other Factors to consider:


Drainage is one of the most important factors when thinking of where to install feed stations. There will be a lot of liquid from each station, from the machine auto cleaning, and also from the calf – urinating and salivating. Therefore, it is essential to have good drainage from the area around them.

I would recommend stations be located at the front of the pens on hardstanding, away from the bedded area, ensuring that any liquid will drain away from the beds.


With up to 30 calves in a pen on machines, planning a disinfection and cleaning protocol will be key to success. Disease prevention is paramount.


Teats are the point on your machine that all calves come into contact with – 3-4 times a day, and must be regularly maintained. You may feel that you a re replacing teats on the machine more than you bargained for, remember you have 25-30 calves visiting that one teat many times a day! It is essential that damaged or worn teats are replaced immediately as they can disrupt milk flow and also act as a place where bacteria can build up.

It is good practise to have two sets of teats operating at any one time, allowing them to be swapped once in the day; so that one set is being cleaned and disinfected while the other is on the machine.

Take-home message

There is no question that machines are a great tool – but you will need to be patient as calves adjust, and a good stockperson is essential. A good feeder set up will allow you to manage calves, not manage problems.

For further advice on automated milk machines and machine feeding, contact your local Wynnstay Calf & Youngstock Specialist.

Eimear Diamond Calf & Youngstock Manager

Eimear Diamond

Regional Sales Manager

m: 07881 379008

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