Calves housed in groups with computerised feeding perform better than those kept penned individually, according to animal nutritionists.

Less work, whilst feeding calves the high volumes of milk needed for optimal growth and lifetime productivity are the main attractions of computerised feeders.

But feeding calves in groups from an early age has other advantages, according to the specialist team at Volac International.

Some calves fed higher amounts of milk can be reluctant to eat starter feed, but those housed in pairs from one week of age consume more starter before weaning compared with individually penned animals.

Studies by the firm have found this is because of peer stimulation. The more starter eaten before weaning, the better the rumen development, which leads to better growth in the weeks around weaning.

Introducing young calves to pen mates when they are a week old pays health dividends too.

"Once calves are introduced to a group pen and fed with a computerised feeder it allows them to drink higher volumes of milk because multiple small amounts can be drunk throughout the day just as from the cow," Jason Short, Volac business manager, said.

More energy, more growth

This larger volume of milk provides the calf with more energy, which in turn improves health and growth.

It is suggested that calves should be individually housed for the first week of life before being moved into a pair or group.

"Of course, young calves should always be housed in a separate calf unit to reduce the spread of disease from older cattle to more susceptible youngsters," Short added.

For those considering moving forward this autumn by investing in computerised feeding, Volac offers 10 top tips for successful calf rearing.

Follow best practice colostrum feeding protocols. Follow the four 'Q's: Quantity, Quality, Quickly and 'Squeaky' clean.

Top calf-rearing tips

  • Feed enough milk: Offer at least 6L of milk a day from eight days of age through to 35 days of age.
  • Mix milk accurately.
  • Keep the feeder clean. Set your feeder to run an automated cleaning cycle twice a day before major feeding times.
  • Change and clean teats daily.
  • Keep calf bedding clean.
  • Manage groups: The ideal group size is 12-15 calves per pen (with a maximum of 20 in a group). Always keep the age range to a minimum (ideally: a seven-day spread, maximum 21 days).
  • Provide independent airspace: House young calves in a separate unit to avoid sharing airspace with older animals.
  • Ventilate calf accommodation: Ensure a ready supply of fresh air without drafts.
  • Offer solid feed and water: From day one provide both calf starter feed to encourage rumen development and clean, fresh water.
  • Calves grouped together from seven days of age consume more starter before weaning than individually penned animals.