WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. -- Dairy heifers are an investment. Farmers can invest an average $2,505 per animal by the time she enters the milking herd.
Robert James is the founder of Down Home Dairy Solutions and professor emeritus of dairy science at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. At the recent PDPW Business Conference he highlighted the costs involved with raising calves; he cited findings by Jason Karszes, a dairy-farm-management specialist with the PRO-DAIRY Program at Cornell University.
Karszes had conducted a cost analysis of replacement heifers on 26 farms. He found that farmers invested from $2,094 to $2,607 per heifer. That included the value of the animal when it was born. The heifers studied had calved at about 22.5 months of age and weighed an average 1,340 pounds. They averaged 1.87 pounds of gain per day, at a total raising cost of $3.45 per day per heifer.
Feed costs were the most significant cost, followed by labor. Those two costs represented 59 percent of the total cost to raise a replacement heifer. Considering those costs, farmers should optimize their feeding programs, James said. Calves should be fed 4 quarts of clean colostrum with a small bacteria count as soon as possible after birth. They should be surrounded by a clean calving environment to prevent disease.
Calves should be gaining weight by the second week of life. Feeding transition milk to meet their requirements for growth and maintenance will help them achieve their potential, he said. Calves don’t eat much starter until they’re four weeks of age; rumen development isn’t a priority before then. But at the four-week stage their maintenance requirements are greater than older or bigger animals. Smaller calves have proportionately-greater maintenance requirements.
The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association has set gold standards for calf growth – calves should double their birth weight in 56 days. There should be a focus on average daily gain. James cited an article by Robert Corbett, which was published in the May-June-2018 edition of Dairy Herd Management.
“Average daily gain is directly correlated to milk production, so it’s to the advantage of the producer to maximize the average daily gain to receive more milk when the animal enters the milking herd,” Corbett wrote.
The research compares the cost per pound of gain of a calf that weighs 120 pounds and had a birth weight of 85 pounds –
• when fed 2 quarts twice daily,
• when fed 3 quarts three times daily,
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• when fed whole milk and
• when fed various milk-replacer formulas.
In each case the cost per pound of gain decreased when calves were fed 9 quarts total per day versus 4 quarts total per day, even though the total cost of the milk per day increased, Corbett found.
When calculating the cost per pound of gain with calf starter, the same is true, he wrote. When comparing the cost per pound of gain of a 25-percent-protein starter to an 18-percent-protein starter, the feed efficiency improved when using the product with more protein. That reduced the cost per pound of gain, even though the 25-percent-protein product was more expensive per ton.
When determining whether to feed whole milk or milk replacer, farmers should consider a few points, James said. Whole milk should be comprised of 30 percent fat and 26 percent protein on a powder basis. Milk should be pasteurized before fed to calves.
“You need to pasteurize; waste milk isn’t free,” he said.
If feeding a milk replacer, farmers are advised to buy human-quality-grade ingredients.
Using paired or group housing of calves may prompt calves to begin eating starter feed sooner, he said. Calves in those types of housing show better response to new situations than individually housed calves. That includes introduction to new feeds.
James presented “Rethinking calf nutrition – optimizing your return in calf programs” during the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Business Conference, which was held March 16-17 in Wisconsin Dells. He writes a blog on calf-raising.
Visit calfblog.foerster-technik.com and pdpw.org and calfandheifer.org for more information.
This is an original article written for Agri-View, a Lee Enterprises agricultural publication based in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit AgriView.com for more information.
Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.