Pasture systems offer the opportunity for better health of growing heifers, the chance to put more marginal land to work, and a lower cost to rear heifers, says Bob James, professor of dairy management at Virginia Tech. However, to see good results, you must excel in both heifer and forage management.

A study by a custom heifer grower in Minnesota compared the cost of rearing heifers in a feedlot system to a pasture system. Heifers were rotationally grazed and received some supplementation between May 13 and Oct. 5. The heifers averaged 480 pounds each at the start of the study.

Rates of gain were similar for both systems, but the cost difference was huge. The net cost for heifers in the feedlot system was $1.49 per day, compared to 95 cents per day in the pasture system. The chart below details all of the rearing-cost factors.

Item

Feedlot$/head/day

Pasture$/head/day

Feed cost

0.73

0.28

Labor ($15/hr)

0.26

0.08

Machinery

0.33

0.13

Health cost

0.03

0.04

Facilities

0.10

0

Bedding

0.07

0

Fencing, bunkers, water

0

0.08

Pasture charge

0

0.19

Death loss

0

0.15

Total cost

1.52

0.95

Manure credit

0.3

0

Net cost

1.49

0.95

Source: Margot Rudstrom, 2002,
Dairy Initiatives Newsletter.