Preweaned calves are the most expensive young stock to feed as measured on a day-to-day basis. According to Bob James, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, preweaned calves consume $3 to $6 of feed per calf per day.
Although this is true, James shared in a recent Virginia Tech Dairy Pipeline article that these young animals are not the place to cheapen feed costs.
“A 2012 study of 17 New York dairy farms revealed that although cost per day was highest for preweaned calves ($3.13), the cost was only 8 percent of the total growth or 15 percent of total rearing costs,” noted James.
Look at cost per pound
That being said, if tight margins and poor heifer prices have you considering cutting costs in your calf rearing program, James recommended evaluating your calf program on a cost per pound of gain basis.
Firstly, producers must meet calf needs from a maintenance perspective. As winter approaches, this is especially pertinent as nutritionally robust milk and milk replacers need to feature fat and protein percentages that can help calves thermoregulate and continue to grow.
James critiqued calf raising programs that cut costs by limiting the amount of milk fed or utilizing less expensive milk replacers. “Under these low milk intake conditions, the cost per day may be low, but the cost per pound of gain can become infinitely expensive,” he warned.
Rather, James suggested feeding milk or milk replacer liberally for the first 45 days. He also emphasized selection of a high-quality starter, especially for calves 30 days of age and older. That starter should be 20 percent protein, highly palatable, and texturized or pelleted with minimal fines.
Instead of shaving off dollars per day in preweaned calves, James urged producers to focus on capitalizing on pounds of growth based on the investment made.
“Excellent early growth will result in higher feed efficiency and a lower cost of growth per pound of body weight, improved health, and development of a more productive cow,” James concluded.