Automatic calf feeders are popping up on many dairy operations across the Midwest. Ann Hoskins, calf product manager for Vita Plus Corp., says the new technology offers plenty of opportunities, but it also requires a refocus on management. “The decision of whether auto feeders fit your calf program needs to be made only after careful consideration of how the opportunities and challenges will play out on your operation,” says Hoskins.

Ask yourself these questions before making a decision to use auto feeders:
• What do you expect out of your calf program? How will the auto feeder help you accomplish that goal?
• What information do you depend on to consistently raise healthy calves? What kind of a reporting system do you use? How do you monitor calf performance?
• How will you adapt your current nutrition program to fit the auto feeder system?
• What are your current facilities? Will you need to renovate or update existing barns or sheds? Will you  need to build new?
• Do you have enough calves to pay for the investment in a reasonable amount of time? Will it take too long for the significant investment to prove valuable?
• What is your calf flow? How many calves do you have per week? Per month? How will that fit in the rotation? Will you use an all-in-all-out system? How will you group calves?
• What is your current labor situation? How will you train employees on the new system? Who will you go to as a resource?