Transition to Auto Feeders - Cory Braund, Windy Ridge Cattle & Grain
One of the biggest challenges currently facing many calf raisers is labor shortages. Each farm must implement management changes to help alleviate the strain of employee shortages. Different strategies may include increasing efficiencies, simplifying protocols, or changes to the facility. One modification many calf raisers contemplate is auto feeders. Before taking the plunge to automatic feeding, do your homework and weigh the pros and cons of this feeding system.
This week Cory Braund of Windy Ridge Cattle & Grain shares his experience of transitioning to auto feeders.
Q. Cory, how did you get in to raising bottle calves?
A. Originally our farm was started by my parents in 1995. Both also worked off the farm, they raised a few beef cows and slowly grew. In 2012 my father unexpectedly passed away and my wife and I took over. We expanded and started to raise fat cattle. I soon realized I didn’t have time for the beef herd, so we decided to just focus on raising the fat cattle which were mostly Holstein steers. We had a hard time finding consistent cattle so in 2019 I experimented with raising some bottle calves myself and found that I loved it.
We made the transition to become calf raisers and currently we raise about 1800 Holstein bull calves per year. All are sold privately to small feedlot farms in Minnesota and Iowa. Most of these farms have raised calves in the past, but now would prefer to just raise them from weaning on.
My dad always told me, “Find something nobody wants to do and then you can charge what you want.”
Anyone can raise fat cattle; you have to have a passion for the calves. I have that passion and it’s a great niche to fill for those that would prefer to just deal with the older animals.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge raising calves?
A. Some of the biggest problems I have encountered I am actually facing right now.
Problem #1: Finding dependable labor. It is and hard to find an employee as passionate about calves as I am. Right now, I have nobody that works for me, I handle all the calves on my own.
Solution #1: In part, making the switch to auto feeders. In the winter of 2020, I had carpal tunnel surgery. The surgery was very helpful for about 1 year, but then I started having problems again. By the winter of 2021 I could not grab the milk bottles anymore. This was a huge issue and we had to decide to change how we ran our operation or decide to change to doing something different. We decided to try auto feeders.
It has been a learning curve. There are some things, like vaccinating, that are much more difficult for us now. Disease transmission has also been an issue in pens of 28 calves rather than single housing.
When we first got the auto feeders, I was not sold on them, so I did not make any huge investments to begin with. After Pasteurella went through a couple groups like a rocket, we made some changes to the facility. I put in concrete walls and each pen is now its own separate entity. Feed and water troughs are also separate and designated for each group.
Problem #2: the other challenge I am facing right now is that there are many pathogens affecting calf health, that are becoming antibiotic resistant. Recently, we had a bout of Salmonella Dublin, and it was a strain that was resistant to antibiotics. That really took a toll on our calves.
Other health challenges we have faced are the Pasteurella I mentioned before and mycoplasma.
Solution #2: We have a local vet that comes out every 2 weeks to work with us on herd health. We discovered that some of the calves we were getting were not getting sufficient antibody coverage from the Pasteurella vaccines they were receiving at the source dairy before coming to Windy Ridge. Per recommendation of our veterinarian, we implemented a Pasteurella booster at 7 days old, after the calves arrive at Windy Ridge. We also utilize a neck implant that time releases antibodies for common respiratory pathogens. Both changes to our vaccine program have really helped decrease the incidence of respiratory disease on our farm.
To combat the Mycoplasma, we recently started using a new product from Zoetis, called Protivity. We just received our first shipment 2 weeks ago and we are one of the first farms using it. I am anticipating some good results in decreasing the incidence of Mycoplasma on our farm.
In addition to revamping our vaccine program we have turned to alternative treatments for scours other than antibiotics. Something that has really been working well for us is drenching all calves with 30ml of Surveillance upon arrival at Windy Ridge, and then drenching again with anther 30ml of Surveillance on day 5. This has proven to nearly eliminate all our scours.
Problem #3: Getting supplies in a timely manner. I recently ordered some ear tags, and it took me 7 months to get them. The RFID tags I need for the auto feeders, I ordered 8 months ago, and I have yet to see them.
Solution #3: We must plan out 6-12 months when ordering supplies. For now, I have been reusing RFID tags from older animals that have left to farm. It is not ideal, but we are getting by until we get in a new shipment of tags.
Q. Where do you see you operation in the next five years?
A. I have 2 young boys, and my goal is to expand the farm so that when they are grown, one or both, can join in running it if they choose. In addition to raising the calves we farm 600 acres of corn, soybean, and wheat. We will continue to strive to try new technologies and diversify our enterprises as needed to grow a sustainable business.
Our supply of calves is not meeting demand right now and may lead to adding another barn. The auto feeders are making it possible for us to grow in the face of labor shortages. We could theoretically almost double in size and still manage the calves with just one person. It would be foolish for us to not try to meet that demand, we just have to work through the problems and continue on.
Cory, thank you so much for sharing your passion and insight for calf raising with us! We wish you the best on your journey of growth and sustainability for your business and your family!
Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.