Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Helping Calves Find Water

We all know that calves need water. Once calves know where to find water they usually do a pretty good job of keeping themselves hydrated.

But ... sometimes we have to help calves FIND the water. When livestock producers move older feeder calves into large pens they often help feeder calves find water by either placing waterers perpendicular to the outside fence or let the waterers run over for a couple of days.

In a recent farm visit we talked about an idea for helping young dairy calves find water during the first two weeks of life. These calves are group housed and fed with an automatic computer-controlled milk feeder. The pen has a water basin attached to the same wall of the utility building as the stalls for the automatic feeder. 

It takes three to five days to fill the pen with about fifty calves. All the calves segregated and fed with a bottle for the first three days. Then they are introduced to the group pen and taught to use the feeder nipple. The staff noticed that very few calves used the waterer during the first seven to ten days in the group pen. 

An idea came up to help these young calves find water. The bottom foot of a 55-gallon barrel was placed in the pen near the entrance to the autofeeder stalls. It was filled half full with water. Amazing! Calves were observed repeatedly exploring this THING that was in their pen. And, they discovered they could drink water. The barrel is placed on a concrete apron near the feeder stalls where it can be dumped daily in an adjacent floor drain.

Right now by observing how much water disappears from the barrel waterer the staff can tell calves are busy drinking from it. The current challenge is to figure out when to remove this water source and have the calves drink from the waterer on the wall of the utility building.

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