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Five of the top pedigree breeders from across Canada and multiple breeds share their thoughts on genetics, embryo transfer, marketing and Immunity+.  Sponsored by Shur-Gain this event was held on Wednesday February 4th at the Canadian Dairy Xpo.

The speakers are:

  • Marc Comtois – Comestar Holsteins, Victoriaville, QC
    Comestar Holstein’s is a family farm located at Victoriaville, Quebec. Known around the world for developing high quality genetics, they have established a strong international market. The herd is approximately 700 head and the base of the herd stems from the GREAT Comestar Laurie Sheik VG-88 23* Family. Marc is bilingual and is well known and respected around the world. The Comestar herd is known for their show winning ladies, but the herd is built on more than just show winners!
  • Glenn Barkey – Altona Lea Holsteins, Blackstock, ON
    Glenn is part of the Leading Livestock Genetics group that was formed to help farmers market animals and embryos. Leading Livestock Genetics (LLG), an alliance of dairy cow and dairy goat breeders are located in the East-Central region of Ontario, Canada. Altona Lea Farms is a two-time Master Breeder herd, multigenerational, family owned and run farm.
  • Jen Vander Meulen – Avonlea Genetics, Brighton, ON
    Jen and her husband Andrew have a deep history in the Jersey breed and are noted as one of the top of the breed in marketing. Avonlea Genetics Inc. is a third generation purebred Jersey farm with many accolades, including: 2 National Grand Champions and Lifetime Production Awards. In recent years an emphasis has been placed on their embryo program.
  • John Crowley – Crovalley Holsteins, Hastings, ON
    John Crowley and wife Cynthia have four children, Christina, Justin, Ryan and Vanessa. They farm Crovalley Holsteins, consisting of 1400 acres with their sons, Justin and Ryan. The herd consists of 80 milking cows, with a total of 250 head. Herd Classification is 42Excellent, 62 Very Good, 5 Good Plus. Crovalley has been named numerous All-Canadian and All-American nominations from a showtype herd.
  • Curtis McNeil – Heather Holme Holsteins, Goderich, ON
    Curtis McNeil is a shareholder with his parents Glen and Vanda McNeil in Heather Holme Holsteins. Heather Holme Holsteins is a 3x Master Breeder, entirely homebred and the 1st CHAH Leucosis free herd in Canada. With the slogan “Breeding the kind dairyman like to milk worldwide” they focus on producing high quality milk as well as breeding and marketing elite Holstein genetics. The current herd classification of 18 EX (2 @ 94) 33 VG, 3 GP, 94% VG or EX. The Herd average is 12,250 Kgs (2x/day) 4.4% fat, 3.4% protein, BCA 260 298 273 . They have bred numerous All-Canadian & All-Canadian nominations over the years and merchandize 60-80 embryos annually, domestically.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is not new to pushing the edge with their advertising.  This time they have plans to launch “Farmed and Dangerous,” a Chipotle original comedy series that satirically explores the world of industrial agriculture in America. (Read more: Chipotle to Launch “Farmed and Dangerous”)  When I saw this, ad it brought to light again the constant battle farmers and especially dairy farmers face when dealing with public perception.

There is no question that consumers want their food to be fresh, cheap and 100% natural.  With the emphasis being that, they want it cheap.  All consumers would like to believe that the milk they drink comes from cows that roam lush green pastures and frolic with their friends all day long.  The challenge of course is that it just doesn’t happen that way.  In order to produce the volumes of milk that is needed at the lowest cost, the need for larger “agribusinesses” or the negatively perceived “factory” farms is not a choice but a necessity. The thing is any well run dairy operation knows the first requirement for maximum efficiency and production comes down to how well you treat your cows and how comfortable they are.  Cow comfort is one of the biggest indicators of profitability on any dairy.  If the cows are well fed and comfortable, the dairy is running at peak efficiency, even “factory farms.”

That is why this new “Farmed and Dangerous” video from Chipotle offends me as much as it does.  Over the years, I have had the opportunity to walk among the cows on many large farms.  The consistent management goal found on all of them is maximizing cow comfort.  I recently watched an informative video by National Geographic – Megafactories about a 135,000 head dairy in Saudi Arabia owned by Almarai.

The problem is that messages like the one from National Geographic get lost.  Instead consumers see repeated messages like the one by Chipotle and assume that they are seeing the way things really are.  Since starting the Bullvine, we have tried to do our part to provide consumers with an accurate and positive perception of dairy farming…  (Read more:  Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country, Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture!! and TOM HOOGENDOORN- Family man, Farmer & Our Face to the Consumer!).  Unfortunately, the challenge is that the message is simply not making it through to the general consumer often enough or clearly enough.  Yes large agribusinesses do try to put a positive spin on food production and I get it that it’s not always as sweet and rosie as the image they would have you believe.  Having said that, they certainly don’t need companies like Chipotle undermining these efforts.

I have been fortunate over the years to be exposed to many different cultures and backgrounds.  This has led to a very diverse group of friends on my Facebook feed.  Since I post all the Bullvine featured articles on my Facebook wall, I often get interesting feedback from those who do not come from a dairy background.  While most often questions about arise from them wanting to understand what this whole “Genomics” thing is about, the interaction gets me thinking about the effect our Facebook feeds have on the general consumer’s understanding of agriculture and milk production.

With this in mind, I started looking through my list of dairy friends’ Facebook posts.  For the most part, it was just the same as any other groups, except there are a lot of pictures of cows.  With #felfie’s and other pictures adding a nice touch.  Then I started to see some things that most consumers would just not understand.  One such piece of content was a trend that is going viral, #necknominations.  Necknominations is a drinking game where participants film themselves “necking” liquor, then nominate a friend to do so as well.  This was not the first time I had seen these.  I have actually seen many.  After one such time, a fellow dairy industry member wondered what effect this would have on the general consumer’s perception of dairy farmers.  As I think about this, I find that, while it’s not a “positive” thing for dairy farmers, it certainly is not an isolated event for them either.  It has become viral worldwide.  Unfortunately it even lead to the death of a young man.  This really has me thinking about the power of Facebook on consumer perception.

What I have come to realize is that Facebook does have great power and it can be in a very positive way.  I have seen items like the poem (Just a cow) that highlights just how much dairy farmer’s love for their cows can go viral along with the stories that share the day-to-day challenges that all dairy farmers face in producing clean, wholesome milk.

One video that I think does a great job of  showing  exactly what it means to be a dairy farmer, is the recent video the Canadian Dairy Xpo produced called “So God Made a Dairy Farmer”.  Working off the very viral Super Bowl commercial by Dodge Ram, this video is narrated by the unique voice and great dairy advocate and legendary auctioneer, David Carson.

It highlights the daily challenges dairy farmers face and it is messages like this one that I wish more consumers would see and relate to.  Please like and share this in your Facebook feed, so that more consumers can understand exactly what it means to be a dairy farmer.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that as the world’s population grows, there is going to be greater and greater demand for dairy products.  With that comes the pressure on prices, which will lead to larger and larger dairy farms.  While I understand we all don’t have the time to take up consumer education like Dairy Carrie or Michele Payn-Knoper, there are effective  things that each of us can l do.  On your Facebook feed, be sure to post as many positive images of dairy farming as you can.  Whether  that is a new born calf (yes Jerry Jorgenson, you do this well!) and be sure to let consumers know just how much you love what you are doing and the pride you have in taking great care of your dairy cattle.  Real farmers actively sharing and communicating is definitely the most honest and effective way to give consumers a positive perception.  While it may not seem like much, every little bit helps!?”


To learn how to get your farm on Facebook download this free guide.




Bram Prins picEvery dairy family builds their agricultural legacy over time.  For Bram Prins it started in the Netherlands over forty years ago. “In 1968 our family decided to move to county Groningen. As the oldest of seven children I worked with my father to start farming 54 ha of arable land where we had 100 cows. “  

This is the early motivation that first inspired Bram Prins to look to agriculture as a career.  However, three decades later he is still passionate about dairy farming and more importantly how it can continue to grow and be profitable.  On February 5th he will share his enthusiasm, experience and insights as a keynote speaker at the 2nd Annual Canadian Dairy Xpo in Stratford Ontario.  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).

Bram Prins: Lifelong Learning and Worldwide Classroom

Despite his early involvement on the Groningen farm, Prins, now sixty-two, doesn’t consider himself to have an agricultural background.  However he provides further explanation. “I do not have an agricultural background, but as farmer I do have a wide scope of interests.” This compelled him to lifelong formal and informal expansion of his studies.  “Until last year I undertook training every year and earned minors and training at Nyenrode Businesss School.” A further source of agricultural edification came through many years of involvement with agricultural interest groups. “From 1985 till 2002 I was member of different boards, mainly feed and milk, in the agricultural sector.”

Prins Consulting

From this growing background Bram was prepared to set up a business group. “In 1990 I was the founder of European Dairy Farmers and in this position I travelled a lot around Europe and collected different data, information and knowledge.”

Twelve years later, Bram decided to leave as President of EDF and started working for Wageningen University.  “I began by developing and giving training in a team of Entrepreneurship.” Since that time, he has given trainings in more than 6 different European countries in Interactive Strategic Management.” His interest in problem solving kept him busy too. “I worked also as advisor for individual farms in special topics including mediation, succession and financial management.” His growing expertise became sought out and he has expanded outside the private sector.  “More and more my work includes governments in supporting or coaching farmers in special situations such as outplacement, solving difficult situations etcetera.”

Global Dairy Farmers

In 2005, this intense building of expertise was the foundation for Bram to start Global Dairy Farmers In 2004 he was joined by another colleague and started one year later GDF  In 2009 Elise Bregman started working for Bram and  became Manager of GDF. Prins is financially responsible for 100% of the company.” Bram is enthusiastic about the need for a business such as the one in inaugurated with Global Dairy Farmers.  Here is someone who is unique in being eager to work on the problems faced by the dairy industry. “I am always looking for solutions to impossible situations and building relationships based on trust.” Bram outlines the core values of GBF. “We are focused on Global Dairy Farmers, rural development and entrepreneurship.” He points out the international growth that has taken place. “This has led to coaching farmers both inside and outside the Netherlands.”

Facing Challenges. Feeding the World.

The challenges faced by dairy producers have a special place in the heart of the President of GDF. Bram sees feeding the world as the number one challenge facing the dairy industry. At the same time, the industry itself is facing globalization. This raises the reality that today milk prices are becoming more equal worldwide. Dairy producers need to become excellent managers. After that, the biggest challenge facing the industry is the one of fulfilling the wishes of the consumer. The producers must accept and deliver what the consumer values.

Think Like An Entrepreneur

As Prins watches the changes that take place internationally, he is especially convinced that dairy producers must think more like entrepreneurs.  Worldwide the influence of farmers as a political group is declining.  The industry must face the reality that there is much less financial support from governments. Having said that he recognizes that farm business operation is evolving. “In some places dairy farming is just like normal business already. Especially in the new upcoming milk regions where backward integration is usual already.”  Prins sees further globalization of milk production including, “in the long run in Canada.”

Bram Prins has 3 children and 14 grand children

Bram Prins has 3 children and 14 grand children

The Future Marketplace

Bram’s global perspective sees new ways that will differentiate dairy producers since eventually it will no longer be by price only.  He sees that culture, climate and growing conditions will have an impact on competitiveness in the dairy marketplace.  Infrastructure will be of prime importance to the sustainability of the dairy industry of the future.

Best Advice for 21st Century Dairy Producer

Prins encourages dairy producers to think big and see the total picture.  “You must look beyond the farm gate and be aware of what is happening worldwide in dairying and in other agricultural sectors too.”  Bram has personally observed, trained and advised dairy stakeholders on the necessity of being market oriented, thinking value-added and dealing with price fluctuations. “If you look at the increasing influence of the market, I believe the next major challenge will be the creation of added value; in my eyes, the step towards sub-flows within dairy production is a logical next step.”

Always Pro-Actively Moving with the Changing Times

When confronted with the issue of globalization, many of us sit back and stress out asking “How bad are things going to be?” Bram Prins urges the dairy sector to pay attention to three evolving areas. “Dairy producers must address the issues relating to sustainability, animal welfare and pro-active communication. “The latter issue especially causes Prins to urge “It is a necessity to build bridges between producers and consumers.” Unfortunately, another of the trends of the industry one that Bram points out.”There is a lack of farmers and qualified labor.”  While this is a reality, he also sees the potential solution. “We will see growth of the size of our farms with the help of automation.”  Expanding further on this side Prins also sees it applied directly to cow management. “We are coming to a cow approach based on ICT in the growing herds.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Bram Prins is a dairy industry futurist and is dedicated to serving the dairy sector and looking for innovations, trends and new farm systems. Global Dairy Farmers is committed to identifying problems and finding solutions through discussion, research, projects and strategic studies. Bram Prins recognizes that “Developing future scenarios is one thing: implementing them is another matter.”  Bram hopes to share and inspire a value-added vision of the dairy industry on Thursday, February 6th at Canadian Dairy Xpo 2014 where he will speak on the creation of Global Dairy Farmers and the top 4 insider global dairy trends that every producer needs to know. “It’s the perfect place to get leading edge feedback and encouragement about dairy perspective in the 21st Century and the challenges and opportunities that await us. Be inspired by Bram Prins at the Maizex Dairy Classroom and you could go home from your “day off” with a solution that’s “right on!”

Want to learn more about the top 5 insider global dairy trends? Bram will be presenting at Canadian Dairy Expo on February 6th.


Valedoorn Farm in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley is a family farm.  Tom Hoogendoorn is proud of that designation and how it motivates their family’s business philosophy. We put a great deal of effort into quality of life for our families and employees.”   

This passionate dairy ambassador is set to share his enthusiasm and expertise as a panelist at the 2nd annual Canadian Dairy Xpo in Stratford, Ontario on Thursday, February 6th.  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).

This Family is Positive about Moving Forward

Tom and Gail Hoogendoorn own Valedoorn Farm with Tom’s brother John and his wife Lan. For the Hoogendoorn brothers it was a logical progression. “My brother and I were born into the dairy industry. Our father died while we were still in high school. At that time I was 17 and John 15 and we worked on the farm with our mother from 1979 till 1987 when we purchased it. We have slowly expanded our land base from 47 to 200 acres and rent another 110 acres making corn and grass silage and currently have 260 cows and 260 young stock.  We employ 3 fulltime staff including my nephew Alex. We also have several part time staff.” The sadness that touched their family in the end has had a positive effect on how they live their dairy lifestyle. “Having our father die early made us realize that every day should be meaningful and enjoyable if possible.”

Optimal Care. Optimal Efficiency. Open Doors.

High standards are also applied to every area of the dairy operation. All of the Valedoorn cattle are registered and classified. “We optimize efficiency in every area of our farm whether it is getting heifers pregnant or getting the most out of our crops.” The benchmarks they have reached record their success at targeting measureable goals.  “Currently  BCA’s run between 245 to 255.  Pregnancy rate runs around 30 percent year over year. We ask our cows to milk a lot of milk but try not to push the grain too hard relying on our forages to do the job.”  There are many fine details of cow management that must be optimized and when it comes to herd health, they can truly be said to be aiming to put their best foot forward.  “Hoof care is a huge part of our management practice. We want our cows walking comfortably and happily to the feed bunk! This is huge!”They also ask a high level of commitment from themselves and staff. The doors are open to everyone. “We have a modern dairy setup that is camera or visitor ready every day or night.  This “open door” policy is opening minds too as people come to Valedoorn. “People are always very surprised on how well the animals get treated.”¦It’s a real eye opener, when they come to the farm, to see how clean it is. We’re really proud of that fact and that’s why we never turn tours away.”

Both Cows and Bulls Must Meet Strategic Performance Parameters

The philosophy of consistent improvement also applies to the dairy genetics of the Valedoorn herd. “Our breeding goals are to have every cow classify 80 pts or higher. We want average sized cows with a will to work standing on great feet and legs with pleasing udders. This has resulted in 75 percent GP or better with us having bred 5 Excellent cows in the last number of years including a Throne who just calved for the 8th time who is 5E 92 Pts. We love good cows who give us no trouble. We work with Alta and Derek Flaman who picks the parameters and chooses the bulls. All breeding is done with their breeding guide. We do use some sexed on heifers and choose bulls for health traits udders and legs. We also like dairy strength.”

The view from Tom's kitchen window

The view from Tom’s kitchen window

Canadian Dairy Farming from the Global and Local Perspectives

Tom`s interest in dairy farming spans local, national and international issues. Locally Valedoorn must always be alert to changing pressures. ““Challenges currently facing me are getting enough land in our area to farm and the start of succession planning.  In Canadian terms he recognizes the unique challenges. “Dairy farming in Canada is different than other parts because of quotas. We are well organized as an industry and can affect change for our own well being. That is a two edged sword as it sometimes breeds complacency and an attitude of entitlement. We have to work hard to keep our system and be responsive to consumer demands. In the industry it’s trying to keep our Supply Management system whole and working for every farmer large and small in every region.

RELATIONSHIPS: Run the Business.  Grow the Business. Transform the Business.

The first priority and one that’s harder and harder to meet is a personal one, “For me it’s getting enough time to spend with the family.” Having said that Tom acknowledges that all the time spent is a main reason that the family farm has been in the family for 34 years. “That’s a great accomplishment arising from constantly expanding our land, cows, quota, and barns.” The family, the farm and the business is constantly changing with three main priorities. “The family working together. We are always meeting the goals we set. We continually set new goals to move us forward.”

Tom has seen many changes in the dairy industry and it has affected his approach to dairying. “Over the years the biggest change has been the size and efficiency of the farms. All our practices and methods are improving at least in the Fraser Valley where I live.” Looking back he is amazed at the progress. “There is a huge change in the quality of our cattle and the efficiency of our farms. It would have been unthinkable 30 years ago.” Once change that Valedoorn farms embraces is genomics. “Genomics for us mean better faster genetic improvement. Simple story. We are getting more info on cattle sooner and can use that for faster improvement. “

The proAction Initiative

Tom doesn’t shy away from the issues impacting the dairy industry. “We must acknowledge that the consumer and government are trying to get more involved with how we produce food in this country. We can’t ignore their questions and expect support from the broad public. People are curious about food since they are getting more and more removed from rural and farm life.” This has led to Tom becoming a spokesperson for exactly those concerns.  The proAction Initiative is a way of showing our customers and consumers that we have improved the management of our farms over time. That we take responsibility for our on farm food safety, quality of milk, care of our animals, and care of the environment. We are doing things to enhance biosecurity to limit or prevent diseases from coming onto our farms. It’s going to be a way of not only telling our consumers that we are doing a good job but we will have a way of measuring and proving that claim. It will be a way of defending our best practices that we are implementing on our farms. Showing is better than just telling all the great things we as Canadian dairy farmers are doing in the area of sustainability.”

Classical music being played for the cows at Tom's farm for the  website

Classical music being played for the cows at Tom’s farm for the website

Opportunities Ahead. Raise Awareness. Hold office.

Tom encourages and in fact urges all farmers to get more personally involved and suggests that communication is the first step. “Farmers should be involved in social media just as they should be involved in their communities. It raises awareness and profile of our industry and hopefully creates a positive link to our consumers. Farmers can no longer sit at home thinking a few select people will move them forward. I always urge frustrated young farmers to organize and get involved and take a run at leadership in whatever form they think they may be effective or like.”

Tom endorses all forms of communication, including digital and once again doesn’t expect others to do something he doesn’t do himself. “Social media for me started as a way to connect with the running world. I run marathons and so on for a hobby and it was a good way to learn and interact. Soon I learned that it is a good tool for farmers to tell our story as long as it is done properly. While I was a Dairy Farmers of Canada board member, I started concentrating on that side of it. Social media for me has been a fun positive experience. You get out what you put in as most things in life.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Tom Hoogendoorn is fully aware that there are many different ways for farmers to set and meet goals whether it’s running a dairy operation or running a marathon.  However, there is one characteristic that he urges everyone to embrace. “Never stop changing.” For Valedoorn Farm and the Hoogendoorn family that means working to move forward.  Tom hopes your forward looking plans include Canadian Dairy Xpo.  If you do nothing more than find an answer to a problem you’re working on or a make a new contact or get an onsite review of a piece of equipment,  Canadian Dairy Xpo might  solve or begin to solve your biggest dairy challenge and that means you will be move forward in 2014.  Catch Tom Hoogendoorn`s enthusiasm and you could go home from your “day off” with a solution that`s “right on!”

Want to learn more about Toma nd the proAction Initiative? Tom will be presenting at Canadian Dairy Expo on February 6th.


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.


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