Calf cost on a nurse cow

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Jan 16, 2006
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My nurse cow is coming six years old now. My nurse crate cost me about $60 to build including steel and wire cattle panel welded to the outside.

Aside from the initial cost of the cow and crate, it looks as tho my input to the cow is going to cost about $1.75 per day here at the house with feed, forage and hay (which the calves share). Prorated over three calves (no longer putting 4 on her) it looks like 58 cents a day. If I go 120 days until weaning, that's $210 or about $70 per calf. The three calves are getting a surplus of milk out of that cow and packing on the pounds.

All three are heifers. Two are brangus splits bought at the sale barn from aged cows that no one was bidding on as a pair. The ring man split them and sold them individually. I took just the calves. These are what I call "splits". They looked to be about 2 weeks old with no naval cord, very healthy and each weighed 115 lbs when they were bought. I paid too much. I have never paid as much for splits but I was in a hurry to get out of the sale barn. I should have waited it out and paid less than 1.50 per pound or so.

Even tho I paid too much, it still looks like I can come out ahead based on input costs. In 120 days I will cycle another group of calves on her. I may go with 4 depending on the cow. Likely I should have 4 now but I wouldn't be able to just turn them out in the 4 acre lot if I do that.

Once the grafted calves have been on her a week in the crate, they all have her scent and she is accepting them.

Do you folks feel it is worth the effort? It is very time consuming until the calves are accepted.
backhoeboogie":1gipczrl said:
Do you folks feel it is worth the effort? It is very time consuming until the calves are accepted.

Personally I do feel its worth it. But then again I used to do almost the same thing for years until I lost my 2 nurse cows :( . While I was doing that it worked out well for me. One of the 2 Jerseys I had loved babies and was not much trouble at all to graft to. The other was a little bit of effort but worth it. I did not use a 'crate'. instead I fashioned a small pen made of gates that worked really well.

The crate works great for me. It is just a simple boxed chute that I can roll around with a hand truck. The back bottom is open on the sides. The rear hinged gate is only 2 foot on the top so the bottom is open on it as well. When the calves are grafted, the whole crate is slid into the pen and the back bottom is closed. I feed the cow in it and the calves nurse from the sides. After a week, I put the crate outside the pen and feed the cow in it.

I could see running a dozen nurse cows when I retire.
Sounds like you have a system worked out. Time consuming, sounds like a good retirement venture running a dozen cows or so.
backhoeboogie":38zwje6i said:
I could see running a dozen nurse cows when I retire.

If done right, it could be a nice tidy little business.

I have yet to replace my nurse cows, haven't been able to find any at a reasonable price :( .

Workinonit Farm":ftdoy7ys said:
I have yet to replace my nurse cows, haven't been able to find any at a reasonable price :( .


I did a search on "heifers" at craigs list for Dallas/Fort Worth. There were some jersey heifers offered. I'd take another one or two if I knew anything about them.

After I cycle this group off of my nurse cow, I'll check for new borns in the next group. By the time a new heifer is ready, my nurse cow will be 8 years old.

It was 105 degrees today here. I had the water hose spraying the nurse cow. She'd walk under it and stand. She hates water on her head but likes it on her back. When I quit spraying her she'd head for the live oak trees for shade.

Calves in 105 degree weather is not good.
kenny thomas":19qy1st6 said:
Katherine, I saw some mini Jerseys on Craigslist near you. Just $3500 and they can help get the delivery. What are they thinking?

:shock: :shock: :shock:

See? Like I said.....can't find any at a reasonable price :lol: :lol2: .

backhoeboogie":1wbfwvxf said:
Do you folks feel it is worth the effort? It is very time consuming until the calves are accepted.

If you are asking me about this financially, my answer is "NO" is not worth the effort. If you pay $150 a calf and they wean at 550 lbs and bring $1.10 in this down market the spread is only $455. Throw in feed, shots, tags, hauling, commission, pasture costs, etc and you can EASILY spend $200 a calf. The spread then is only $255. Three calves x $255 is $765. If you spend 4 hours at the sale barn and 2 hours a day for 4 weeks, messing with them you spent 60 hours of labor on this project. At the new minimum wage of $7.25, your labor is worth $435 at McDonalds so you really only clear $330. IF the market is like it was this November those heifers might be worth only $.88, in which case you lose $33 versus your opportunity costs andthere is always the chance that one or more of the heifers DIE turning this whole exercise into a mini-financial disaster.

If you enjoy what you are doing and can take the risk of losing the money, ignore me and keep on doing what you are doing.
That is exactly it Brandom. I've got 5 hours in the calves just getting them here and two hours in the cow bringing her here from the pasture 22 miles away.

I am not spending 2 hours a day tho. It is about 5 minutes to take the feed and get her in the crate. Another 5 minutes to open the crate door and carry the feed box back, twice a day. I am doing other tasks while she's eating and the calves are nursing. (I don't stand there for ten minutes while they nurse).

They are starting to nurse the cow some in the pasture and get on with it. It may take another week before they don't need my intervention at all. The natural calf nurses and they slip in then. The cow doesn't get upset. If her natural calf is not nursing, she runs them off of her.

I usually have my grandson in the evenings and it is something for us to do together. Occasionally it is the grandaughter too. He's 3 and she's almost 3 so it is a big thing for them. They enjoy it. Honestly I like it too. That is why I am doing it.

The calves are intended to go into the herd and not to go as market calves. I still need at least another 50 head and then I am pretty much out of the selling hay business.

It is not a question of minimum wage. I could go dig some patio stone with the hoe and make much more than that. Which is probably what I should be doing instead of having any cows at all.
I'd say go for it and expand! You can't beat doing something that you enjoy, and your grandkids will ALWAYS tell stories about how their grandfather had milk cows and let them help. Money cannot buy those kind of things. Go for it, you seem like you've got a good grip on the time and money needed. For someone who has the time, raising calves this way makes sense. Doesn't milkmaid do this (or did this)?

There's a guy in south La. about an hour from me that sells dairy cows. He's charging $600 for Jersey heifers, and $800 for proven Jersey cows. He has holstein and guernseys also. My daughters are bugging me to get a milk cow :? I just don't know about milking every day.....

The first time I milked her out for colostrums she went into the crate. This is the crate if I did it right.
backhoeboogie":1f5e83xh said:
This is the crate if I did it right.

Looks like a simple and to the point set-up. I like it. It doesn't look all that complicated to make either.

Thanks for posting the picture I was trying to visualize what you described.

There is always the option of going to the gym and paying them for the exercise. Me, I like the therapy I get on the farm, though if I had to pay for it, I would probably be thinner. :nod:

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