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 autofeeders 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.

Top questions to ask yourself

  • What do you expect out of your calf program? How will the autofeeder 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 autofeeder 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?

“Automatic calf feeders can be immensely valuable in well managed calf programs,” Hoskins advises. “With careful consideration and attention to detail, your program can be adapted to take advantage of the new technology. Just remember to do your research and be honest about your needs and abilities before making the big decision. Consult with your nutritionist, tour other facilities and make sure the machine you get is the right fit for your operation.” More information.