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Success with automatic calf feeders relies on many components – one of the most critical is nutrition. Planning one’s nutrition program will help maximize investment for the long haul. Here are four steps to build a dairy-calf nutrition plan for automatic calf feeders.

Choose a dairy-calf nutrition plan. There are two main types of nutrition plans for automatic calf feeders – restricted and unlimited.

Restricted systems allow one to set the total volume per calf per day and the maximum amount each calf can drink in one feeding. If a calf doesn’t drink its full allotment at a given meal, it can drink more at the next meal until it consumes the maximum total daily volume.

Unlimited systems allow calves to drink as much as they want. Calves are only limited by a maximum amount per meal to prevent over-drinking. Unlimited systems allow calves to drink what comes naturally and helps maximize intake for better growth rates.

Whether choosing a restricted or unlimited system ensure calves consume 8 liters to 12 liters or more of milk or milk replacer per day. Make sure to pick a milk replacer designed for that feeding level.

Set meal allowance. A common myth with automatic calf feeders is that calves should drink several meals per day. That’s not always the case. Automatic calf feeders allow calves to have a more natural consumption pattern. That usually means fewer, larger meals especially as they age.

Allow calves to drink 2 liters to 3 liters per feeding to help maximize intakes and improve growth. Smaller meal sizes can leave calves hungry and cause them to gather at the feeders. That often prevents other calves from drinking.

Adjust solids levels. Automatic calf feeders allow for precise mixing of milk replacer by adding a pre-selected amount of powder per liter of water. But it’s up to you to program the machine to deliver proper quantities. Routinely calibrate the feeder to assure proper delivery.

The ideal solids level for automatic calf feeders is 140 grams to 180 grams of powder per liter or 12 percent to 15 percent solids. Reduced levels of solids force calves to drink a high volume of liquid to achieve the same amount of dry matter intake.

Check the calibration of automatic calf feeders once a week or whenever a new batch of powder is added. That helps to ensure accurate solids levels.

Monitor starter intakes. It’s critical to monitor starter-feed intake. It can be a challenge to determine exactly how much starter to feed compared to individually fed calves. Not enough starter can cause competition issues. Too much starter feed can lead to waste.

Provide the minimum amount of starter needed so the bunk is nearly clean at the end of the day or half day depending on how often you feed. Gradually increase starter-feed amounts as calves grow to prepare for weaning. Calves should be eating at least 3 pounds of starter per day before beginning the weaning process. Visit for more information.

Tom Earleywine is director of nutritional services for Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Solutions.

This article originally ran on Content Exchange