Inventive solution to keeping calves happy

SUE FRANCIS
Last updated 06:30 19/06/2014
Marketing manager Felicity Handy, left, and inventor Alvin Reid, right, with the automatic calf-feeders they have been making.
JOHN BISSET/Fairfax NZ

INNOVATIVE FEEDING: Marketing manager Felicity Handy, left, and inventor Alvin Reid, right, with the automatic calf-feeders they have been making.

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Good technology on the farm won't replace people, but makes everyone's lives easier says inventor and dairy farmer Alvin Reid.

He and his brother, David, designed an automatic calf-rearing system using computers to ensure young dairy stock are fed just the right amount.

The automatic calf-feeding system allows calves to feed when they want, and farmers can remotely monitor what their animals are doing.

"I guess it just happens when you see a need for something," Alvin Reid said.

"We helped (Hunter dairy farmer) Ray Eden build a prototype - I made some software and Ray had a wee pump built and we had four bales. I'd hook onto the internet at midnight and see the calves lined up from midnight to 2am ... you get one slurping away and the rest of them are lining up."

Marketing manager Felicity Handy said there were now about 75 of the South Canterbury made feeders being used around the South Island.

"The calves feed when they want to, and you know from the computer what each calf is getting."

The feeding regime for each calf is entered in to the computer, and can be adjusted for frequency and amount.

Each calf has an electronic identification tag containing a reader on the front that bounces data to the computer, smartphone, or laptop.

"If they're shy calves and getting bunted off the feeder, we find they feed more at night time."

The system also had an option of a heating unit, which warmed the milk to 23C.

"For the young ones that are learning, it's nicer."

Reid said the company also tapped into the skills of Timaru software developer Hadley Rich, who fine-tuned the system.

"He's got the software displaying so that the calves at risk are always at the top of the screen."

These are calves that may not have fed, or haven't drunk all their allocation.

"At home we have 100 calves on three feeders. By eight in the morning there are only half a dozen or so calves to feed. You still need clever observant people in the shed to keep an eye on things."

Reid said he had no idea of the cost and time spent on getting the automatic feeders to market. The third generation of Handy Calf Feeders is being built in the Reids' workshop near Temuka.

"David designed all the stalls and steel work, and that's manufactured in Christchurch. The rest of it's built in our shed, all the electronics, everything."

Alvin and his wife Judith farm at Winchester, north of Timaru. Together they are involved with 2500 dairy cows on four dairy units. Reid also holds a number of company directorships, including on the Livestock Improvement Corporation.

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