Milk production has always been a passion for Dan and Pam Schullo of Cumberland, Wis. But when the prices they received for Holstein bull calves tanked two years back, the Schullos, owners of 750-cow Valley Vu Dairy, decided it was time to get into the beef business as well.
Rather than ship their bull calves to a local sale barn at one to four days of age, they opted to raise them as Holstein steers to a market weight of 1,200 lb. to 1,400 lb.
“When we started the dairy in 2002, we were getting about $200 for a bull calf,” Pam says. “But then the price nosedived. We were lucky to get $10 or $20 per calf. At $200, we figured we were at least covering breeding fees. At $10 to $20, it was like we were giving them away.”
Bull calves start out on the same feeding regimen as heifer calves. Along with pasteurized waste milk, the young calves also get a calf starter/grower. When they reach 250 lb. to 300 lb., they’re moved to a two-acre lot on a neighbor’s farm. An open shed and a treeline provide protection from the wind in harsh weather.
|Pam Schullo says raising dairy bulls is a cost-effective way to diversify.
At 600 lb. or so, the calves are moved to a pasture on another farm, where only a treeline protects them from the elements. They stay on that lot until they reach 1,200 lb. to 1,400 lb.
In the lots, the young steers are put on a ration featuring refusals from the dairy herd and “a splash of corn silage.” They’re fed once a day and have access to water and salt blocks.
“Ordinarily, you can feed a steer out to finish in 12 to 14 months,” Dan says. “It takes us an extra couple of months because we don’t put them on a hot, high-grain ration. And we don’t use any implants or steroids.”
He says they may boost the acres they devote to corn silage. “Right now, our rate of gain is about 2½ lb. per day. We’d like to get up to around 3 lb. per day. For that, we’ll need a little more corn silage.”
One thing the Schullos are sure they won’t do is bring in steers from elsewhere for the beef operation. “When you do that, you run the risk of bringing more diseases on to the farm,” Pam says. “It’s not worth it. We’re more than happy just to feed out our own animals.”
The decision to retain their bull calves has worked well for the Schullos. Last year, they sold 190 finished steers in four different lots at a local auction. Average price was 82¢/lb.
“When you sell 10 newborn calves at $20 a head, you end up with enough to buy a pair of shoes,” Dan says.
Last year, the couple grossed around $145,000 from steer sales. “You can do something with that,” Dan says. “We used the money to blacktop the area around our bunker silos and for spring planting.”
“We look at it like a savings account,” Pam adds. “We already had the facilities, and it didn’t require that much in the way of additional labor. It has been a way to diversify without making a major investment.”