Home Grazing The Forgey Files -- Contents New Zealand Calf-Feeding System

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Dave Forgey
Dave Forgey
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
New Zealand Calf-Feeding System
Barrels equipped with special nipples makes group-feeding a breeze.

By Dave Forgey, Logansport, Ind., forgraze@carlnet.org

We get more questions about our calf-feeding system than almost anything else, probably because it makes short work of a time-consuming chore -- and it helps keeps the calves healthy. Basically, we feed them in groups using barrels equipped with special nipples imported from New Zealand. Hoses run from nipples to the bottom of the barrels.

Inside of bucket
Hoses run from nipples to
the bottom of the bucket.
[Full screen view, 167K]
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
This system works well when you have several calves born at the same time. That's not a problem for us, as we usually have 20 or more new calves a week in spring at our seasonal dairy.

It's best if you start calves on the barrel system the day they are born. We have found that calves started on bottles or buckets do not like to suck hard on the barrels and will give up before they get milk up the hoses.

We place calves in an individual pen after they have had colostrum, and allow them to drink milk from a container with a New Zealand nipple about 3 inches above the milk. This way, they do not have to suck as hard to get the milk and quickly learn that persistence gets them something to eat. When they are sucking well (usually by the second day), we move them into a group and use the barrels.

The barrels have special nipples in them which have hoses going to the bottom, to bring the milk up. We put 18 nipples on a 55-gallon barrel, mounted about 24 inches from the bottom. We never put more than 15 calves in a group, so that when one gets bumped off a nipple it can always find another to suck.

The principal is that the barrels should stay with the calves at all times so that they can suck on the nipples any time they have the urge. This eliminates sucking on ears or navels of other calves. We also do not wash the barrel until we wean the calves because it has the mother smell and they always suck on it. The very hard sucking, which they must do to get the milk up from the bottom, causes them to salivate heavily, and this seems to eliminate scouring.

Calves on barrel
Calves sucking hard on barrel
feeders produce lots of saliva,
which can help reduce scours.
[Full screen view, 230K]
[Photo by T.L. Gettings]
The nipples can be ordered from:

Paul McCarville
18875 McCarville Lane
Mineral Point, WI 53565
(608) 776-4514

Paul recently changed suppliers and a few people have had problems with the new nipples. I have discussed this with him and he said that he would continue to handle the old nipples on request. There is also another supplier of the nipples in Missouri:

Frank Rhinehart
16398 Highway C
Phillipsburg, MO 65722
(417) 589- 8010

His current charge is $3.50 per nipple, including tubing. We buy 7/16-inch outside diameter vinyl tubing locally. It usually sells for 10 to 15 cents per foot, and is available in many hardware stores. The plastic barrels we can usually find as salvage and cost nothing.

Because we only have calves in March and April we do not have problems with flies. If you should use the barrels year-round, it would be important to have covers on them to keep out flies. Also, our calf-raising facilities are empty from June to next March, so we never have disease problems.

In 30 years of dairying, we have never had a simpler or healthier way of raising calves. However, because it is so easy, you must not forget to watch the calves to see that they are all eating. If a particular calf is slow, she should be moved to a younger group where she can compete. Also, because the calves do not get as much personal handling as they would in individual pens, you must spend time with them or they can be very wild as they get older.

If you have questions please drop me an email at forgraze@carlnet.org.

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