Past performance is a key indicator of future success
When it comes to raising healthy calves that turn into productive cows, nutrition is a must.
Marcie Feine has been custom growing heifers with her family at Feine-est Heifers in Rushford, Minn., for the past 17 years. Feine-est Heifers raises 750 heifers annually. Calves arrive at one day old and leave the farm once they are confirmed pregnant.
“We raise mostly Holsteins, but we have a couple of farms that raise Jerseys, a few Brown Swiss and some crossbreds,” Feine says.
In 2013, the operation transitioned from individual calf feeding to group housing that utilizes automatic calf feeders. Calves are preconditioned in an individual pen for up to two weeks prior to entering the group barn.
“The biggest thing for us as a family is we believe in stewardship,” Feine says. “I want to do as good of job with those babies as if they were my own.”
Nutrition is key to calf development. “The best nutrition you can give that animal is going to give them a better chance at a healthy future,” she says.
Full potential feeding is an important factor with young calves. Feine-est Heifers feeds seasonal milk
replacers that are designed for winter or summer heat stress to better meet the needs of calves throughout
“If they aren’t fed well to begin with, they won’t have much of a start,” Feine says. “As custom raisers, we have to get them growing quickly.”
Feine has seen calves consistently gain around 2.5 lb. per day from birth to weaning at seven weeks.
Besides the focus on nutrition, Feine also puts an emphasis on health and animal handling. As part of the farm’s procedures, everything that comes in contact with a calf’s mouth, including the auto feeders, bottles and nipples, are disinfected twice daily.
Daily, weekly and monthly protocols are written out so everyone on the farm understands what needs to be done. “One of the biggies for me is if a calf doesn’t finish its milk, temp it,” Feine adds.
She emphasizes taking temperatures immediately to deal with any potential infections. Temperatures are also written down to help monitor the health of the calf.
Pain-free dehorning has been part of everyday practices since 2008. Calves receive a shot of xylazine,
lidocaine and fluxin to help numb the horn bud prior to dehorning.
“They don’t ever have to hurt, and let me tell you, that makes a big difference,” Feine says. “My babies are never afraid to come up to me. Calves aren’t afraid to put their head through the front gate and into the bucket. I think they have an incredible memory for kindness.”