Rebekah LaBerge

by Rebekah Mathews

The current agriculture climate have many worried about  income over costs. Young stock on dairies are often overlooked, and the calf operation can often be unnecessarily costly! Below are just a few areas I, Rebekah Mathews, often see overlooked in the operation and see the potential to save your pocketbook a little more.

1) Grain Waste – A newborn calf does not need more than a handful of a grain at a time! She will never start off eating a pail of grain with 4 lbs. – this will grow old, mold, and need to be dumped or will even deter her from eating, leading to weaning problems down the road. Keep a shallow pan for grain in young calves if employees have a habit of over-filling grain (See photo). Every pound of grain you need to dump costs ~$0.14!

2) Grain Waste (Part II) – Dumped grain – when milk/water pails are near the grain, or pails are located outside, often we see grain dumped due to moisture. Dump any old grain into a pail and dispose of away from calves (to avoid creating a fly breeding ground).

3) Calf “Goodies” – There are a lot of additives on the market to mix in calf milk, and most do not have any research or need approval of any sort to come to market. While some additives may be beneficial in whole milk, where vitamins/minerals are not sufficient for dairy calves, most milk replacers should not need any supplementation. A well-fed calf is given a lot of calories to convert to maintenance, growth, and fighting pathogens. There may be a place for pre and probiotics in the first few weeks of a calf’s life, but be careful! Again, most products do not have research behind their specific product, or have the appropriate levels of good bugs being delivered to the calf. Ag Partners offers two of the only PROVEN pre/probiotics on the market for calves – Calf Insure® and Liberator. Costs on supplements stack up quickly – $2.50-$12+/calf are common.

4) Labor – Wait! I am not saying to cut time for labor, but to evaluate what you have to make calf care more efficient and keep employees around longer. An average farm should be able to care for 100 calves on milk with one full time equivalent person (50 hours/week). Most Midwest dairies sit at an actual efficiency of one person caring for 50-60 calves. We do have winters slowing us down half the year, but the most efficient dairies use tools to keep employees happy and able to focus beyond feeding – and spend time doing other chores that save money (keeping calves properly bedded, vaccinated, treated, etc.). Use a bulk mixer (shown in photo) or think about ease of milk delivery (shown in photo) to help expedite milk and water feeding. Carrying 5 gallon pails of anything is the biggest time waste I see during calf chores anywhere.


5) Evaluate Vaccines – Not eliminate, but evaluate! Many times on farms this gets left out of the conversation with a vet – are my vaccinations appropriate? Are we doing them at the right time? Are they stored in a way to be effective (I have seen a surprising amount of vaccines stored in fridges that were too warm, or in the door of the fridge where temperature changes a lot!)? Are we treating too many calves – is there a way a vaccine or booster timed appropriately could help reduce costs? Treatments, especially for respiratory disease, add up quickly.

There are many more ways to gain efficiency and reduce young stock costs – and we didn’t even touch on post weaned animals! Your operation is unique and recommendations can be tailored. When was the last time you asked Rebekah to do a calf audit? Do you know your true costs to raise a replacement heifer – one of the greatest costs on the farm?