CalfSMART has been developed by Kiwi engineer Ben Neal who spent five years working with dairy farmers to develop New Zealand's first purpose-built automated calf feeding system.
“Anyone who has raised calves knows that inconsistent feeding, cold milk and environmental stress can lead to nutritional problems, making calves weak and susceptible to infectious scours,” says Neal.
“The automated system is closer to how nature intended. In the natural environment, a calf will feed sporadically throughout the day. In a shed, calves feed twice a day….CalfSMART allows the calf to pick and choose, just like nature intended. However, unlike in the natural environment all calves have the chance at feeding, even the little ones."
The system uses RFID tag information and the calf’s weight to ensure that every calf automatically receives the right balance of nutrition at every feeding. A webserver interface then provides users with the ability to operate the system, as well as analyse the feeding and calf-weight data, remotely.
The system is self-cleaning, can self-diagnose blockages and cleans itself automatically. It can feed up to 200 calves in a standard four stall unit and is scalable up to 20 stalls.
Neal says that, increasingly, calf-rearing has been carried out by a migratory workforce – an expensive prospect for many farmers – and an unnecessary stress during an important part of the season.
“The time it takes to get staff up to speed, there's always the nagging thought of what your staff are up to when you're away, and nearly every season they move on and you have to start again. CalfSMART reduces labour costs and provides reassurance, taking some of the stress out of calf rearing.”
The first machines will be available for purchase in time for the calf-rearing season.