September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Gibbs' construct cross-ventilated calf barn

Chris (left) and Shawn (second from left) Gibbs are pictured with their employee Bob Mettille and his son in front of their automatic calf feeder. The Gibbs family, who has been using the system for six months, milk about 380 cows on their farm near Waterville, Iowa. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KELLI BOYLEN
Chris (left) and Shawn (second from left) Gibbs are pictured with their employee Bob Mettille and his son in front of their automatic calf feeder. The Gibbs family, who has been using the system for six months, milk about 380 cows on their farm near Waterville, Iowa. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KELLI BOYLEN

By by Kelli Boylen- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

WATERVILLE, Iowa -   What do you get when you combine a family with a lot of know-how, a need for more calf housing and a few fans from a tiestall barn? A cross-ventilated calf barn with automated feeders that both the family members and the calves love.
Chris Gibbs said he loves watching the calves play in their pens with other calves in the new barn, and calf health has been very good since they moved into the new facility in September.
The Gibbs family - brothers Chris and Shawn, who farm with their parents Mike and Cindy - were housing calves from their herd of more than 380 milk cows in 122 calf condo stalls. During peak calving times, the condos were simply not enough and they would find themselves weaning calves a little early to move new calves in.
Feeding that many calves in calf condos is rather labor intensive, and Chris said he felt that they could do better with calf health than they were.
One day, Chris and Shawn were tossing around ventilation ideas for the new calf facility planned, and they knew they wanted to try something different. Shawn brought up the fact that they still had perfectly good fans from their old tiestall barn, and the idea for a cross-ventilated calf barn was born. Chris started to work out air exchange rates on paper and realized that using the fans made sense. They never hired an engineer, but rather had the talents to design the new system themselves.
Bob Mettille, one of the four full-time employees at Gibbs Dairy and the person who does the majority of calf care, Shawn and Chris designed the entire facility on paper.
"Everyone incorporated their ideas," Chris said, noting that each of them toured other calf barns to get ideas of what they wanted.  Bob is married to the Gibbs' sister, Angie.
The fans, used in conjunction with a curtain on the south side of the building, are all on thermostats. They are capable of air exchanges of up to one a minute for the summer, and four times an hour in the winter.  Different fans are turned on and off according to the temperature in the barn.  In the winter, two fans run on a cycle in low speed at preset intervals.
The calf barn is 60-by 120-feet with six pens total. Four of the pens are 20- by 44-feet, one is 18-by 60-feet and one is 20-by 50-feet. Three pens are for heifer calves, and three are for bull calves. They raise bull calves to about 350 pounds, depending on the markets.
The Gibbs' parlor is a double-16 DeLaval, so when they started considering automated calf feeders, they felt that company would be a good choice.
"We also wanted to make sure we had one good go-to place for good service," Chris said.
There are two automated calf feeders, each with three feeding stations (one per pen). Calves wear an ear tag that identifies them to the system. Calves can feed on-demand, and feed multiple times throughout the day.
Newborn calves are given colostrum and housed in one of the 16 individual pens in the calf barn. They are kept in the pens until they are aggressive drinkers, usually about four to five days old, depending on the number of calves born.
The calves are on a 52-day feeding plan. Heifer calves are fed milk replacer and bull calves are fed non-pasteurized waste milk.
Weaning transition has been going much better since moving to the new facility. The computer in the automated feeder gradually weans the calf. Calves are kept in the barn for two more weeks and still have open access to grain and water. After that time, they are moved to another location.
They have been in the new facility for a little over six months and things are going "excellent," Chris said.
"The calves used to get stressed when they were weaned and moved. Throw in a vaccination and that made it worse. The calves used to lose their baby fat during that time. Now, they keep the baby fat and stay healthy," he said.
Chris said, "Before when we took the calves out of the condos it was the equivalent to taking a hermit and throwing them into the city. They adjusted, but it took a while. Now the calves are used to their setting and weaning doesn't set them back."
Bob said it is easier to pick out sick calves when they are in the group pens with the automated feeders versus the calf condos.
"You can see how they are acting with the other calves. In the condos you could only compare it to itself," said
The Gibbs family has not done any actual weight measurements on the calves now compared to the weight they used to be when they were weaned in the condos, but they say that the calves are definitely heavier than they used to be at weaning. Bob jokingly said it hurts worse when they step on your foot now.
Chris said they currently have an average age of first calving at 23.5 months. He hopes that with the good start their calves are now getting they can shorten that to 22 months.
"The calves so far are a good sign that we should be able to do this," he said.
He noted that the grain intake of the calves has been phenomenal. He credits some of this to the fact that calves are so curious that if one is eating others come to see and end up eating as well.
Bob and Chris walk through the calf barn a lot, as do the other employees. Chris said they purposely put the calf barn between the parlor and calving barn so that the calves would be checked a lot.
The automated feeder computer system also helps keep an eye on the calves, monitoring the calves' intake and drinking speed.
The calves are bedded with ground wheat or oat straw blended with dry bean straw. The bedding is chopped outside and housed in a lean-to shed. It is brought in with a grapple bucket, all of which helps keep the dust down.
They said the only thing they would do differently is to have put in power curtains and place the corrugated fiberglass sheets in different places to allow the light into different areas of the metal buildings. Fortunately, both things can be changed if they choose.
Chris said curtain placement is more based on wind speed or actual temperature. The bottom of the curtained walls does have an air control mesh to prevent the calves from being in a draft.
They had one issue this winter when they had a few cases of pneumonia, but they learned it is better to have the curtains open too far than not enough.
Chris oversees the milking herd and Shawn oversees the crops, but the entire family does everything as needed. They farm about 1,100 tillable acres, growing corn, hay and soybeans.[[In-content Ad]]


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