Calf Supervisor Bethann Caston has been taking care of Miner Institute's dairy calves for more than 13 years. Until recently, the job involved carrying individual buckets of milk replacer or water to each calf. A new self-propelled milk taxi (actually it is a MilchTaxi, manufactured by Holm & Laue of Germany) has made feeding calves substantially more efficient. On a recent 10-degree January morning, Bethann demonstrated how the taxi works for delivering water to the calves; she even let me drive it! "It makes life easier, but it's a big investment," Bethann said.
The tank on the nearly $15,000 taxi holds 40 gallons. It has a heating element that keeps milk or water at a pre-programmed temperature. It has a mixing mechanism to mix the milk replacer, and has the ability to pasteurize, which we currently don't use, but could if needed. A hose attached to the tank with a wand and nozzle on the end delivers a pre-set amount of milk replacer or water with the push of a button. The pre-programmed settings ensure that each calf feeder delivers the same amount of milk to the proper age group of calves. For example, if the feeding protocol calls for calves age 1 day to 10 days to get five quarts of milk, you can program that into setting 1. Maybe calves age 11 to 20 days get six quarts; that could be programmed into setting 2.
The tank also has a wash cycle and can wash itself after feeding. Currently, Bethann makes one trip with the milk taxi and is able to feed all 38 calves presently in her care. Bethann says that the improved time management is one of the biggest benefits. "It frees up more time for de-horning calves, moving calves, and washing hutches," she said. She estimates that the taxi cuts the time it takes to feed out milk replacer by about 60% and is much easier on staff. "Basically, it's the best thing since sliced bread," she said.