Best way to raise baby dairy calves

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May 1, 2004
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I rolled some hay for a neighbor and gave him some extra that I had. He is a dairy farmer and is wanting to give me 8 -10 baby bull calves (few days old) for payment. I have raised bottle calves before, but just one or two at a time. How much stall space would they need if I needed to keep them inside? The only thing I have open is a 20x30 building. How long would you reecommend keeping them on milk replacer? Beef calves are selling for over $100.00 apeice here in KY. What do yo all think these dairy bull calves (Jersey and Holstein)would be worth in your area. I really don't want to do it but he is pretty insistant. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks
You could probably get away with feeding them milk replacer for around 8 weeks (2 months). But with that many calves you are going to spend a small fortune on milk replacer, and creep feed...not to mention if you have the time to feed them 2 times a day for the 8 weeks.
You'd probably also be better off selling them privately as freezer meat. But one thing you also have to keep in mind is that the dairy-type calves/cattle take longer to 'mature' than your average beef calf. My 2 Jersey cross steers are 1 month older than the beef calves out in the pasture & the beef calves are alot more 'meatier' (not much taller) than mine. I bet they weigh at least 100-150# MORE--and they are just on grass & mama's milk. They'll be ready to 'eat' long before mine are.
If you want to bottle feed them & then sell them; I recall one poster awhile back saying that the weaned dairy calves bring roughly about 1/2 the price of what the beef calves (same weight) at the sale barn. I doubt if you'd recoup your milk replacer & creep feed bill...or maybe break even.
I've also seen folks' advertise them for say....75 cents per pound to sell for freezer beef. Folks' not paying attention to the market think they are getting a good deal...when in fact that is more than you'd probably get for them if you took them to the sale barn. Especially when you tell 'em what the 'current' price per pound at the sale barn is bringing. ;-)
Just a few ideas for you to mull over. Hope this helps.
We pay $90/hd. for 5-7 day old holstein bull calves, but I wouldn't pay that much for holstein/Jersey crosses. If you decide to take them calves, a 20x30 shed should be plenty of room for a while. Feed them milk replacer and try to get them started on a calf starter ration as soon as possible and wean them at 6 weeks if they are eating grain well. Then just pump the grain to them, but don't forget to feed a little roughage too.
What to do with them then is up to you. It depends on whether you have the time, space, money for feed, what feeder calf prices are etc. We used to feed ours to 600-700 pounds and then sell them, but we found we can make more money by just feeding them out all of the way. At the local sale barn, finished out holsteins bring about $8-$10 cwt lower than the beef cattle do. Jersey in the calves should make them finish out a little sooner than full blooded holstein.
Whatever you decide, best of luck.
Try to get the Dairy to supply you with milk for six weeks or so. That way you would have less in milk replacer and then it might be a good deal for you.

One other thing. I have seen in the classifieds here people looking for bottle babies. Maybe you just turn them and only keep a few for yourself to raise.
I know other people do it, but every time I try to put 2 calves together where they are fed milk they end up sucking each others navels which get infected. My calves go to individual pens to be fed milk pm & am then are turned out to a group area during the day, where they have hay & grain. I know I feed much more than many do, mine get a minimum of 4-6 quarts of goat milk at Each feeding and wean around 4 months of age. If you are not into feeding calves I would either find someone who is that will buy from you, or raise until weaning on shares, or just take them to the sale for whatever you can get out of them. I would expect $40-50 for the jersey. I paid $75 for the holsteins I bought a month ago.
I just sold a 11 mth old jersey steer I had got to put on a heifer that lost her baby. I weaned him at 5 mts and fed him grain and grass for 6 mts. We were going to butcher him for ourselves but decided to sell at the auction. I only got $215 for him. I guess I should have just kept him. :(
He was quite gutty though, I didn't know that I shold have feed more grain and less grass. Anyway we lost our butt on him, no more jersey babies for me.
Dairy bull baby calves sell for over $100 ea. around here at this time.
How much does he owe you??
If the calves will cover it, just haul them to the salebarn.
For 8-10 head you should get $720-$1100.
If he wants to pay you in calves instead of money, he should give you a little extra.
Just because you take payment in calves, doesn't mean you have to raise them.
They are a pain!!

I live in ky to and we buy dairy calves right now they are selling high for calves and high at the market look into it . There is always people wanting them . What part of ky you live in.
I work on a medium size dairy farm (Wisconsin) that milks 300 registered Jerseys. I take the bull calves and raise them both for personal consumption and re-sale. I'll share a couple of thoughts and ideas that might help. I "tube" the calves with colosturm immediately then give them their first bottle feeding about 12 hours later. I keep them in alone in straw bedded pens (about 8'x10') in the barn. Usually by the third or fourth feeding they will take the bottles by themselves from an inexpensive wire bottle holder. I begin weaning @ 5 to 6 weeks by keeping a "free choice" grain and water in the pens gradually reducing the bottle feeding for about a week. When they are weaned I move them into "group" pens of 3 to 4 calves per pen (16'x16' <the length of cattle panels). Ask your dairy farmer if he pasturizes milk for his heifer calves. We do and I run the "waste" milk from our treated cows through the pasturizer and that is what I feed the bull calves in leiu of expensive milk replacer. Jersey beef is generally about 20% slower in growth rate and render lower carcass weights. On the up side, Jersey beef rates high on the Warner-Bratzler scale as far as "tenderness" because of the high levels of intramuscular fat which also leads to better "marbling" at lower carcass weights. Weaned 2 to 3 month Jersey calves are currently bringing around $180-$200 at the sale barns here. Jersey beef has a significantly higher concentration of monounsaturated fat than other breeds which is considered by some researchers to be "colesterol lowering" and is prreferable to high levels of polyunsaturated fats. Bottom line I guess...if your in it for the hobby/personal consumption and have the facilities and time....go for it. If your in it to become a beef baron you might want to look at another breed.,

Two years ago they were worth upwards of $150. Now they are cheap. If it rains this spring, cattle are going to get a bit pricey. You could make a few nickels on them.

They don't need a big pen. A forty foot coral is plenty if you keep it clean.

Get yourself some old cattle panels and cut them in thirds with bolt cutters and make yourself some alleys. Drive a T-Post at the end of each one and then you can panel them in. Tie the other end to your fence or coral. Hang bottle racks on that end. 2 feet wide alleys are plenty. Mix that replacer and call them. When each one gets in their alley, close them in with a bottle in their, in their own rack. The alleys will keep them from rooting one another off. It works good and you can feed them all at once.

When they all finish their bottles, turn them loose back into their pen. Give them some starter feed free choice, clean water, and clean hay.

Keep a shovel in the wheel barrel and shovel the poop out of their pen periodically.
I bought a 5 yr old holstein cow and put her in a 2 acre pasture with small barn....this wonderfull lady will take 3 calves any day of the week! I buy 3 at a time in rotation and keep them on her for about 12 weeks, then they go straight to pasture with the herd. I paid $600 for her ( = 5 bags of milk replacer) and never have to feed the calves. When we switch calves, we stall her with the new calves overnight and they are nursing the next day.
Man, what a difference location makes! :shock:

I was at the sale on Friday (Erath County Dairy Sales, Stephenville, Texas) and the price of babies has fallen drastically over the last month.

I saw one bull calf bring over $100 ($110 and he was an exceptional black calf), with the majority of good Holstein calves struggling to fetch $75. Smaller Holsteins and Crosses never hit the $50 mark. Jersey bull calves brought less than $20...Holstein heifers that were bringing $600-$700 a few months ago barely hit the $400 mark.

As to raising the babies...we always figure it will take one 50lb bag of milk replacer per calf. The last bag of milk replacer I bought was $49, but I have not bought any in a few months and the price does fluctuate. We feed milk until the calf is eating 2-3 lbs of starter-grower per day and as with all live animals, this varies with each calf...some take to grain quickly and wean very well, some seem to depend upon the bottle and all but refuse to eat the feed for weeks after others have given it up. We never keep babies together! If one scours, the rest will be infected before you can remove him from the group.

If these calves have been properly cared for and had colostrum then you are way ahead of the game, as many of the sale barn babies arrived without this benefit...I have actually witnessed a baby born about an hour before the auction in the pen in the back and run through the ring and sold...

We have three auctions a week here and see anywhere from 200 to 400 babies go through the ring, so you can imagine the number of people raising calves in this area. What I can tell you from visiting with everyone at the sale barn, I have heard all kinds of theories on raising babies. :lol:

If you take them...Good luck. Let us know how it goes.