Ciaran MacDonald operates a 350-cow dairy herd on Bellair Estate, Ballycumber, Co Offaly.
“We are a spring-calving system, using high-EBI Friesian bulls across the herd. We start calving on 1 February and aim to be finished by the end of April.
"We keep around 100 heifer calves each year, selling all the bull calves after three to four weeks. There are two full-time employees with me on the farm and we also hire in additional part-time labour at calving time.”
Ciaran felt that he needed to find a way to ease the pressure around calving.
“Calving is the busiest time of the year on the farm. All hands are on deck and it can be a very stressful time, especially if the weather is bad.
"You’re juggling a lot of jobs at that time of the year and if you can do something that makes things easier, I’m all for it.”
Ciaran installed a JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder in January 2019.
“We decided to install the four-station automatic calf feeder to comfortably cater for the 100 calves that we rear, but would also give us the option to increase numbers down the line.”
The JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder, feeds and monitors up to 140 calves on an individual basis. The control unit is complete with an innovative touchscreen display, dual hoppers and mixing bowls.
Ciaran has seen a number of clear benefits since installing the JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder.
Ciaran admits that the JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder has drastically reduced the time needed to feed the calves.
“On average, it saves us one hour and 30 minutes every day. There’s a noticeable reduction in the amount of time needed to feed the calves.
"You really only realise how much time would have been spent making up the milk and cleaning down the mixing equipment and feeders now that the machine does this for me.
"Once we can keep the calf alive at calving, the machine looks after the rest.”
In addition to amount of time saved when it comes to calf rearing, Ciaran has seen a reduced requirement for labour.
“You still have work with the feeder, but it’s a different kind of work.
"The big difference is that you don’t have to be there every morning and evening mixing up the powder, getting hot water, feeding the calves and cleaning the feeders and the equipment.
"All of this is now taken care of by the automatic feeder. It takes the heavy lifting and hardship out of calf rearing.”
In addition to the reduction in time and labour required to feed the calves, Ciaran believes that one of the biggest benefits for him is the ability of the automatic feeder to ensure that all the calves are getting equal treatment in terms of the amount and quality of feed that they are receiving.
“Previously, there could have been four to five different people feeding the calves. Because of this, it was very difficult to ensure that the ratios were the same at each feeding.
"One of the main reasons for going with the automatic feeder was to ensure feed consistency. The automatic calf feeder mixes the milk replacer to the same quality, the same temperature each time and gives each calf its predetermined quantity, ensuring consistency across the board.
"It has taken away the variability and ensures consistency. I don’t have to worry if the calves are being fed the right amounts, I know that they are with the automatic calf feeder.”
Improved calf quality and performance
Ciaran believes that the calves are healthier and are performing much better since installing the JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder.
“The calves are performing a lot better now on the automatic feeder. They can get fed throughout the day, rather than once in the morning and evening. They’re never hungry.”
Ciaran feels that weaning is much more straightforward now.
“The calves are weaned gradually by the computerised system in the feeder. There is no drop-off in their performance because they are gradually weaned off the milk replacer. It’s now much less stressful for the calves than when we were batch feeding.”
Ease of use
Ciaran finds the JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder to be a very user friendly system.
“I find it very easy to use and very easy to train people on how to use the machine. It’s a very simple system to operate.”
JFC Agri Evolution App
JFC Agri also offers a downloadable app for your phone that allows the operator to remotely monitor the Evolution automatic calf feeder range.
Ciaran intends to start using the JFC Agri Evolution App, as he feels it would complement his system.
“The automatic feeder is on a leased farm about two miles from the main block. The app means that I will be able to make sure that all is OK even when I’m not there.”
Ciaran will have access to all the information on the display screen of his feeder on his phone.
JFC customer support
Declan O’Donnell is Ciaran’s point of contact. Ciaran is very happy with the help, guidance and support he has and continues to receive from the team at JFC Agri.
“Declan is top class. He has been on hand from the very first day to make sure that I was happy with the automatic feeder.
"It makes a massive difference having that support, knowing that the team are there if they’re ever needed.”
Ciaran feels that the JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder is a well-priced product.
“We were looking for a solution that would reduce time, save labour and precision-feed the calves. The JFC Agri Evolution S4 automatic calf feeder fulfils this need.
"For anyone that is rearing calves, I would strongly recommend installing a JFC Agri Evolution automatic calf feeder.”
For more information, contact our Evolution sales manager James McGrath on 087-124 7435 or email JMcGrath@jfcagri.com.