While sitting through an extra-long Catholic wedding, his smartphone allowed him to check on his calves without leaving the pew. Such is the life for today’s tech-savvy farmers like Lafayette County Farm Bureau members, Chad and Katrina Gleason.
Aside from convenience, calf health is one of the reasons the Gleasons have invested in a new barn and automatic feeder for the nearly 300 dairy bull calves they purchase annually.
“If you don’t like technology, don’t build one,” Chad advised with a chuckle as he explained the details of the automatic feeder that mixes the right diet and monitors the health of calves.
Housing the feeder and two feeding stations is a new clear-span hoop barn with great natural light and comfortable conditions thanks to a side-wall curtain system. Completed in March, it’s the newest addition to a farm that has been in the Gleason family for four generations. Chad and Katrina bought it from his grandfather in 2006. All of the crops from the 80 acres located northwest of Shullsburg are used to feed the nearly 300 steers the Gleasons market annually. Some other land is rented to grow enough feed for the total mixed ration used to fatten the steers.
After being weaned, their calves are housed at his father’s farm and a rented farm before returning home between 400 and 500 pounds. Prior to construction of the barn, the calves were raised in hutches and individual pens in an old dairy barn.
For their first two weeks on the farm, they are kept in a nursery calf shed where they are bottle-fed and receive vaccinations. From there they’re moved into the new barn; where once a computerized tag is attached to their ear, they drink milk replacer from an automatic feeder.
“They learn quick. In most cases, I show them how to drink three times the first day, and then most are off and running,” Chad said. “None have ever refused it.”
Chad can individualize each calf’s diet from his computer screen. The machine then mixes the milk for the calf. Provided they drink their full allotment, they can drink up to four times.
While standing in the feeding stall, the calf’s weight and daily rate of gain is recorded. As they grow older, the feeding system weans them by diluting the milk.
While a smartphone app allows him to check if everybody’s drinking properly from church or the combine, Chad said he still finds himself around the calves quite often.
“I’m just not mixing 60 bottles of milk several times per day,” he said. “This will feed them, so I can better manage them. It’s about working smarter, not harder.”
Calf health has improved. Before, when they were weaned individually, the calves were initially scared of each other.
Chad admits he is learning how to best use the barn with the passing of each season. His only regret since construction is that he didn’t order automatic curtains, as the manual ones need adjusting more often than he thought would be needed to block rain and moderate temperatures.
The barn was built to easily add two more feeder stations but Chad said, “I want to walk before I run, and I need more land base.”
The Gleasons hosted a barn tour in July for Lafayette and Grant County Farm Bureau members. They also participated in the Young Farmer and Agriculturist District 3 Discussion Meet in September. Their farm is insured by Rural Mutual Insurance Company and they credit their friend (and Farm Bureau district coordinator) Gretchen Kamps, with getting them more involved in Farm Bureau.
The Gleasons have two children: Cassidy, 3, and Gage, 11 months.
Chad is a 2001 Shullsburg High School graduate, who completed a welding apprenticeship from Southwest Technical College while in high school. Katrina is a 2004 Shullsburg graduate with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. In addition to helping with afternoon chores, Katrina manages the farm’s bookwork, and works from home for the federal Women and Infant Children’s program. She is a 4-H leader who enjoys horseback riding and cooking. He collects farm toys. They are active in their church and the Shullsburg FFA Alumni chapter.
Story by Casey Langan. Original version appeared in the October/November 2013 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.