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

Growing a strong future

Rohes transition to automated calf feeder
Marvin Rohe, right, shares with fellow dairy farmers the benefits he has seen since using the automated calf feeder during a robotics tour on April 16.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
Marvin Rohe, right, shares with fellow dairy farmers the benefits he has seen since using the automated calf feeder during a robotics tour on April 16.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN

By by Missy Mussman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

FREEPORT, Minn. - After a recent addition to their original stanchion barn, Rohe Dairy is now feeding their calves with a Lely Calm calf feeder.
Rohe Dairy participated in the robot bus tour on April 16 and 17 hosted by Leedstone/Stearns Vet Outlet of Melrose, Minn.
Marvin Rohe and his two brothers, Jim and Mike, are currently milking 250 cows in a double 12 parallel parlor. Across the road, the dry cows, sick cows and calves are housed in the original barn.
With Marvin and his brothers busy running the milking herd, their father, Harvey, Marvin's children and wife, Michele have been in charge of feeding calves.
"We used to have 20 to 40 calves on average in hutches," Michele said. "It got to be a little much."
That's when they decided to transition to robots for feeding the calves.
"It was all about the labor," Marvin said.
"We saw robots in the neighborhood at work," Michele said. "We knew this would be more convenient for Harvey."
By July 31, 2012, the automated calf feeder was installed.
Newborn calves are housed in crates, which are in the stanchion barn, for seven days.
"They have to drink from a bottle holder for at least three days," Michele said. "We want them to be used to something stationary before they move to the automated calf feeder."
"Getting them started like this allows them to be more aggressive on the feeder," Harvey said.
Prior to moving the calves, the Rohes ear tag them. They are not fed in the morning until Michele moves the calves.
"They transition to the calf feeder pretty decently," Michele said. "We haven't had many stubborn calves because they all want to eat."
Calves start with five liters in a 24-hour period. At the peak, they consume up to seven liters, and by weaning, drop to two liters. At the same time, they have access to calf starter and water.
"It starts them off slow, ramps them up and takes them down," Marvin said. "They are getting a lot of groceries and lots of water."
The growth rate is the main benefit for the Rohe calves.
"The average weight gain in the first group of calves on the feeder at weaning time was 1.86 pounds per day," Michele said. "Our vet is even amazed because we have four month old heifers that look like a six month old. They are filling out nicely."
Socialization is another benefit for the Rohes.
"At weaning, it used to take them a day or so to find the water and feed after moving them to a group pen," Michele said. "It doesn't take them so long now."
Keeping calves healthy in the new set up is key for the success of these calves.
"It's all about a good vaccination program and good colostrum," Marvin said.
The Rohes use Inforce 3, dip the navels in iodine and use scour pills first unless there are signs of dehydration.
Marvin's children change the nipples everyday, which are placed in a sanitization bath, bed the pen once a week and fill the milk replacer vat every night. They also change the hoses on the feeder each Monday.
The computer monitors how much a calf is eating, and is a good tool to check for changes in calves' behavior.
"It's all visual diagnosis first," Michele said. "Then we will go to the computer and check on their charts for any indication of illness."
The Rohes have not dealt with many sick calves since the transition.
"We have only lost one calf with the automated calf feeder," Michele said. "She was a small one to begin with though."
This switch has meant learning more about computers. They have to enter each calf into the system. Even though it has been a large learning curve, they have enjoyed it.
"It is easier for more people to come in and take care of the calves," Michele said. "Our first group is getting bred in three months, so we will see how well from beginning to end this has impacted us."

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