Markus Straub was born and raised on a dairy farm in south Germany. Looking back he sees this as of key importance to his chosen career path. “That is a basic experience and very helpful for me to understand the needs of dairy farmers and their way of thinking.”

This is the background Markus brings when sharing his expertise on the high interest topic of automatic calf feeders.  Markus will share his presentation at the 2nd annual Canadian Dairy Xpo in Stratford, Ontario on Wednesday, February 5th.  If you’re looking for a “day off” this is the exact place to get recharged and revitalized for the year ahead.  Building on the resounding success of last year’s inaugural event, Canadian Dairy Xpo 2014 organizers have put together a tremendous diversity of products, experts and entertainment in one place at one time (Check out the full Canadian Dairy Expo program).

Förster-Technik – Products, Performance and Support.

Markus studied agriculture at the University of Nürtingen, Germany, and graduated in 1995. After his first work experience at an agricultural machinery department of a cooperative, he joined Förster-Technik in 1997 as a product and key account manager. In 2011 he became head of product management and sales at Förster-Technik which he explains is “the world market leader for automated calf feeding systems based in Engen, Germany.  Our sales span the globe, with sales of our products touching more than 40 countries. Förster-Technik products are sold in North America by Delaval, Lely and GEA. Moreover, we have a technical partnership with Grober Nutrition to support our sales partners and customers.” He outlines the products provided to dairy clients worldwide. “We are the developer and manufacturer of first-class, innovative automatic calf feeding systems and a wide range of accessories with which you can feed and monitor individually penned and group-housed calves from their first day of life.”

calf techChanging The Calf-Raising Mindset

With more North American dairy farms using automatic calf feeders, the interest has grown considerably and forward planning breeders will be at Xpo to share experiences, questions and concerns. “When Förster-Technik first started its business in North America in the 1990s, group housing and automatic calf feeding was fairly unknown and therefore farmers, veterinarians and researchers were very skeptical that this way of housing and feeding calves could work successfully. At that time bucket feeding in single hutches was the only way of feeding calves. The challenge was not just to place new equipment into a market place but also to convince the professionals that this new calf rearing concept based on group housing would also work under North American conditions. A great partner to promote this new concept has been and still is Grober Nutrition. As a team Förster-Technik and Grober Nutrition managed to introduce group housing systems with Förster-Technik calf feeders in North America and to make a success story out of them.”

calf techAdvantages of Automatic Calf Feeders

Markus is enthusiastic about ways that this technology can be an asset to modern dairy calf raising. “Our automatic calf feeders are equipped with animal identification and integrated management software to accurately and reliably control crucial parameters, such as e.g. drinking speed, feed intake, number of visits to the station etc. Our calf feeder in combination with the unique extension CalfRail, allows you to combine the feeding of calves in groups and single hutches. Due to the great flexibility of the system and the high performing components, our calf feeders are suitable for small, medium and large-size dairy farms.” No doubt experienced dairy men will seek input on how and why to incorporate this technology.

Global Demand Drives Growth. 40FIT Meets Needs.

Modern dairy operations are under constant pressure to be profitable in a changing marketplace.  On the bright side Markus points out that the consumer market is going to grow considerably. “The international demand for milk will grow, mainly driven by China.” That good news has to be looked at objectively from the North American perspective. “Farmers will more and more fight with the availability of resources like land and water. Therefore high production costs (including labor) will force the farmers in the future to achieve high labor productivity and to have efficient management tools available to make good and fast decisions. This will only be possible by introducing further automation as well as reliable and innovative concepts for production.” This is exactly the situation Förster-Technik is prepared to meet. “Our 40FIT concept perfectly fits to these needs. It offers a solution for rearing calves the most intensively. It combines the know-how of nutritionists, technical solutions from Förster-Technik like the special “40FIT-plan”, automatic calibration or temperature-controlled feeding. In addition, the 40FIT-concept offers tools for better monitoring and management of calves.  The aim of 40FIT is to assist the farmers to achieve optimum growth of their calves and to create a healthier and more efficient dairy cow.”

Healthy Calves Using Automatic Feeders and Group Housing

The main aim is to raise a healthier and stronger calf by using the automatic calf feeder in combination with group housing. Five areas that he will expand upon at Canadian Dairy Xpo are highlighted as follows.

  1. Get off to the Optimum start
    “Make sure that your calves have been optimally provided with colostrum during the first few hours in life!”
  2. Establish Good Management Feeding Practices
    Straub suggest that these five areas must be carefully considered and implemented.
    a-      Feed the calf intensively, i.e. more often a day with physiologically appropriate portions (e.g.  4 to 6 feedings a day). The 40FIT feeding plan gives the young calf the possibility to drink more often a day the amount of milk it needs.
    b-      Establish management routines for the daily work (check calves using the control unit and do not over babysit calves when getting them accustomed the calf feeder.
    c-      Spend part of your saved time just to observe your calves. Also check calves yourself because you need to know what is going on in the barn
    d-     Use the offered information of the management software of the calf feeder handheld terminal or CalfManager, like e.g. control tables showing the feed intake and drinking speed of the calf.
    e-      Drinking speed is a good indicator for health.
  3. Modern Dairy Calves Must Perform to Modern Dairy Requirements
    The decision to work with a new system always boils down to how it provides benefits over the system currently in place. Markus points out five potential advantages of automated feeding.
    1. Smooth controlled weaning supports the development into a ruminant.
    2. It is a safe process, always providing the right temperature, amount, mix and volume, according to an established feeding schedule.
    3. Labor saving (bucket feeding about 10 min / calf; Automatic feeder about 1 min / calf).
    4. Traceability. Supported by the management software the farmer has data available for any individual animal throughout the total rearing period.
    5. Informed decision making now and in the future (e.g. for breeding) because of data collected.
  4. Making Group Housing Work
    For many the change from individual hutches to group housing will be the most challenging transition.  Some studies have shown that group housing, as expected, works best, if you start out with healthy calves.  Markus points out that, although it is group housing, individual feeding, treatment and management must still be provided.  There are other important considerations.
    1. The calf group is established as a group from the outset. This supports the grouping process after weaning and reduces after-weaning stress.
    2. Future expansion is easily possible therefore making automated feeders suitable for different farm sizes
    3. The calves should be housed by age (group calves 0-4 weeks and 4-8 weeks) to reduce competition in the group. If you have enough calves to fill one group within one week you can use the all-in/all-out principle for this group.
    4. The housing in general must have a good ventilation, enough space (25-30 SQ/F), fresh water always available in addition to the feed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Markus Straub is a keen observer of how change is affecting the dairy industry. “Just a few years ago the main opinion was to raise calves with as little milk as possible and to gain body weight later via compensatory growth with concentrate feed. The latest research shows that intensive feeding in the first weeks after birth has a positive effect on the entire lifetime output.” Markus hopes you will bring your new ideas, visions and insight to Canadian Dairy Xpo 2014 and join the presentations on “heifer creation, health and development.”  It’s the perfect place to get leading edge feedback and encouragement about 21st Century tools that allow your calves to perform up to their potential. After checking in with Markus Straub at the Maizex Dairy Classroom, you could go home from your “day off” with a solution that`s “right on!”

Want to learn more about his? Markus Straub will be presenting at Canadian Dairy Expo on February 5th.