Value Of Dairy Calves Shoots Up With Feed Costs

ST. PAUL — The higher cost of milk replacer has made it more expensive to feed young dairy calves recently. But as feed costs have increased, so has the value of young calves, with day-old calves selling for more than $500.
calendar icon 27 November 2007
clock icon 2 minute read

Trying to save money on feed costs by using cheaper milk replacer or poor quality waste milk can be rapidly offset by the death or illness of a calf. There are, however, some cost-saving options to consider. They include feeding pasteurized waste milk from fresh cows, feeding alternative plant protein based milk replacers, and weaning calves earlier.

Feeding raw, non-pasteurized waste milk may expose the calf to antibiotic residues and harmful pathogens in the milk. Plus, the nutrient content and supply of the waste milk can vary considerably on the farm. On-farm commercial pasteurizers for waste milk are available but require investments in equipment, facilities, labor and supervision. Waste milk must be refrigerated when not pasteurized immediately after milking.

A recent study at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center evaluated the use of plant protein based milk replacers (MR) in calf diets. The study included a comparison between an all-milk 20 percent protein:20 percent fat to those containing 50 percent wheat gluten (WG), 50 percent soybean protein concentrate (SPC), 30 percent WG, or a blend of 25 percent WG and 25 percent SPC as partial replacement for milk protein. All calves were offered an 18 percent crude protein texturized calf starter. The study supported the premise that with high quality calves and good daily management, plant protein sources, as a partial replacement for milk protein, can potentially save money pre-weaning given acceptable calf performance.

And finally, the best option may be to just wean calves earlier to reduce milk replacer costs if calves are being weaned beyond six weeks of age. Most calves can be weaned by six weeks or earlier provided they’re eating 1.5 to 2 pounds of calf starter daily for a minimum of three consecutive days. Early weaning requires good calf health management and a fresh water supply. Each extra week of feeding milk or milk replacer adds up to $10 per week in feed costs when fed longer than six weeks of age.

When weaning early, feed the highest quality milk replacer for the first three to four weeks to encourage early calf starter intake.

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