Shannon Dietz and her husband Drew have been raising youngstock on their family farm outside Nashua, Iowa since 2016. In 2019 they upgraded their operation with a Lely Calm automatic calf feeder to improve their calf rearing program. Their story, however, begins roughly 60 years earlier.
The Dietz family milked cows in Iowa for over 50 years until they exited in 2011, converted their free stall barn and switched to feeding out dairy beef calves. As the operation grew in capacity, Shannon and Drew, who met while attending Iowa State University, began raising youngstock for Drew’s parent’s (Dan and Annette) beef farm.
From 2016 to 2019 Drew and Shannon raised calves in a converted hay shed they outfitted with 50 individual pens. At this point Dan was raising approximately 700 head of beef cattle and still regularly purchasing youngstock. While raising calves in-house is obviously preferable to purchasing, at the time Shannon and Drew were only able to provide about 15% of the required total.
In the winter of 2018, they set out to significantly upgrade their operation with new facilities and equipment to provide a larger portion of the youngstock required for Dan and Annette’s beef farm. In 2019 they started with a single 50’ x 60’ monoslope barn with an office to one side, and plans for eventually adding a second monoslope on the other side. Housing was only one part of the equation, however, knowing they wanted an advantage for their calf rearing program. Drew was already familiar with automatic calf feeders from the previous dairy operation, and began the process of selecting one himself. Precision Dairy Equipment out of Elkader, Iowa assisted with the recommendation and installation of a Lely Calm automatic calf feeder for their new operation. They had it set up and feeding calves in a single day.
The results have proven the Lely Calm to be a worthwhile investment. Feeding with powdered replacer, the Dietz’ report an average daily weight gain of between 1.7lbs – 2lbs. Their goal using the autofeeder is to reduce the average time to maturity for their herd from approximately 20 months down to 16, a 20% reduction, thereby shortening growth cycle and improving profits. They also credit PDE Sales Manager and Farm Management Support (FMS) Advisor Leah Lange, who also owns a Lely Calm, with helping them optimize performance. So far they’ve put roughly 1400 calves through the Calm and along the way Leah and the PDE team have helped dial in the feeding regimen, barn flow and weaning process. It’s been so successful, last year in 2022 Shannon and Drew upgraded their Lely Calm with the Quattro module, allowing the robot to feed four calves at once.
The benefits don’t end there though. Shannon says “It took me a little bit to realize why it was called the ‘Calm’, but now it makes sense. If you’re used to walking into a barn with calves that are hungry, they’re screaming at you until they get milk.
"Well, with this machine, the way we have it set up, they can come up six to 10 times a day to get little bits of milk. And they don’t beller at all. It’s quiet. It’s calm in the barn, which is kind of something you don’t think about until you’re like, wow, you could hear a pin drop in here because they’re all content."
She also makes note of the time savings. When they were feeding 50 calves in individual pens, with another 50 head already weaned, Shannon estimates it took three to four minutes of chores per calf. Now with the Lely Calm feeding 100 calves (with an additional 100 weaned), that time is reduced to one or one and a half minutes per calf. That means they’re feeding twice as many calves as before, in the same amount of time, about a 50% labor efficiency increase. A self-described, “town kid at heart” Shannon says, “I wanted a little bit of time to get away. So this system has allowed that flexibility,” adding, “It’s the most enjoyable way to feed calves.”
To learn more about the, Lely Calm automatic calf feeder check out our Calm Roundtable below: