The process of developing healthy calves starts at birth.
By: J.W. Schroeder, Dairy Specialist, NDSU Extension Service
Proper care of newborn calves is always the best choice.
If recent phone calls are any indication, the high price of beef apparently has producers re-thinking the value of Holstein bull calves. The notion is certainly understandable, given the decline in feed costs and the record high prices of beef at the retail counter.
One producer mused with me recently, remembering the day when he left a stock trailer unattended at a sales ring. Back then, it was not a good time for selling, especially calves that were only a couple of days old. He said you couldn‘t give them away. Upon returning to his truck, he was surprised to find his empty trailer full of Holstein bull calves!
Knowing the humorous nature of this visitor, I am confident that he stretched the truth, but his point was clear. Not so long ago, sending bull calves to auctions that brought a price so low it barely covered the commission to sell them was common. Not so today. Bull calves often are bringing nearly $300 at auction, so why not feed them yourself?
Some dairy farmers do, but many are not in a position to add a feeding enterprise to their operation. And if you talk to some traditional feedlot managers, they will tell you dairy steers “feed different” than other breeds of beef cattle. And that they do. Nonetheless, feed yards no doubt are pushing a pencil on this one.
But before you even get to developing and growing calves, some producers may be overlooking an opportunity. Given the limited supply of market beef, dairy producers are in a position to establish an income stream from the sale of market calves. The opportunity for reward starts with the health of the calf.
Admittedly, heifers often receive the best care because they are the future of the herd. All the lessons we have learned on how to grow a healthy newborn heifer calf applies to her male cohorts as well.
The process begins at birth with proper care and nutrition, whether you have a newborn heifer or bull calf. Here are some ways to help ensure calves stay healthy:
- Dip navels within one hour of birth with a 7 percent iodine solution.
- Provide colostrum from a cow milked within one hour of giving birth.
- Use only high-quality colostrum, as measured with a colostrometer.
- Feed 4 quarts of colostrum to the calf within one hour of birth.
- Provide a second feeding of 2 quarts of colostrum 10 to 12 hours after birth.
Be mindful that with shortcuts on these practices, calves may appear healthy on the day they are sold. However, with time and added stress in the days or weeks after they leave the farm, calves from inadequate health programs will exhibit more health-related problems and increase the buyer’s animal health-care costs. Your reputation as a seller of dairy bull calves will be made or lost and quickly recognized by other buyers.
So now is a good time to review your calf health program with your veterinarian, your family members and your employees. The health and welfare of your livestock at birth is the foundation for rewards that are to come in the milking parlor or in the feedlot.