In 1993, my mother Colleen Vanderloop, started what is now known today as AVA Group Inc. She had no prior calf raising knowledge, but she had a dream and a passion to make it work, and she did. She purchased our farm, and started working on her plan right away. First, she converted the barn from a dairy cow facility, into a 640 calf veal barn. She raised veal up for a handful of years before she went on to raise dairy beef in the same facility. She then converted the barn again into a dairy heifer replacement barn in 2007.
The dairy heifer barns we raised in from 2007-2017 consist of 16 pens of 13 pre-wean calves, and 14 pens of 20 post-wean calves. Our entire facility is indoors.
We would start the calves in the barn that we called the “receiving barn”. This barn was individual housing, but they would only be there for two or three days. We started them here to have the ability to pail train. We then moved them to group housing, where they would be on tribar flooring and be fed milk in buckets that were held by mini headlocks. We kept them in the “Baby Barn”, where they were grouped in pens of 14, for about two months. We then moved them to the “Big Barn” which consisted of 14 pens of about 20 calves each.
We fed calf starter free choice in the Baby Barn, and each pen had their own automatic water cup, which allowed them access to fresh, clean water 24/7.
Once moved to the Big Barn, they were given free choice grain and TMR for the first few weeks, then they were transitioned to 7 lbs. per calf per day, and free choice TMR. They also had water cups that were cleaned everyday to ensure they had access to clean water all the time. The heifers left our farm around 5 months old to go back to the dairy to finish growing.
In 2017, we expanded to almost double our herd size to keep up with closed herd dairy we raise for. We were doing such a good job, they had also nearly doubled their herd internally. We put on another Baby Barn of 12 pens with 16 calves each, again with mini headlocks and tribar flooring. We also added another Big Barn, which is 9 pens of 14, and is now the barn for our oldest heifers. We no longer use the barn with the barn with individual housing, instead the calves go into the pens with dividers for 5-7. After that time, the dividers are removed and they are free to mingle with the rest of the group! They will stay with that same group the whole time they are at our farm, and for most of the time after they are returned to the main dairy at 8 months of age.
New Baby Barn
New Big Barn
We switched over from TMR to large hay bales in 2013. We have had an increase in ADG and heifer health because of the switch.
Some other neat features of our barn is the all indoor, heated nature of our facility. It never gets below 62*F in our baby barns, and never below freezing in our Big Barns. All barns are fully mechanically ventilated, which allows us to control everything. From the air turns per minute, to how much air we let in, how much air we let out, the temperature, and the humidity. All of our barns are cross ventilated, with air inlets on one side, and 3 grouped fans on the other. With the tribar flooring under the youngest calves being open and metal, we also have in floor heating, that is run by our wood stove in the winter. We heat our old barns with LB White LP heaters, and the wood stove, but in our new facilities we implemented a geoair system.
We are very proud of our geoair system. It consists of 21, 400 ft. long tubes evenly spaced out in the field. The air goes into the tubes and runs under the ground to either heat or cool depending on the season. They then join up to a 4 ft corrugated tube that runs into our barn. The air is distributed into the new barns via our positive pressure tubes. So far this year, the LP heater in the New Big Barn has not turned on one time this winter.
The last feature that saves us time and money is our feeding system. We feed both baby barns from one tank. We mix one batch of milk for both barns, we have valves by the tank to direct the milk to the barn that is being fed. Each barn has its own hose reel and timer. The milk is then pumped to which ever barn you are feeding, and is timed out. All the feeder has to do is make sure the nozzle is in the bucket and go down the line. The calves know to come up to the headlocks each feeding, so there is never any calf chasing going on. They all drink out of a pail from day one. They then patiently wait in the headlocks after they eat, so we can look them over for any issues. It takes us about 45 minutes to feed 200-250 calves milk.
The last fact that I am very proud of is we keep our deathloss between 1-3%!
That is just a brief overview of what we do at our farm. I would be more than happy to share more with you or answer any questions via email, messenger or by phone.
You can find my contact information on my ABOUT ME page!