Everyone is looking for ways to save money these days. Susan Day, young animal technical manager with Land O’Lakes Purina Feed, offers tips to help you save money without compromising the health, growth and well-being of your calves and heifers. 

Birth to 12 weeks:

  • Increase the calf's antibodies by feeding good colostrum right away. Antibodies go a long way toward producing a healthy calf. Healthy calves reduce treatment costs, as well as labor.
  • Using a pelleted starter instead of a textured starter can save you money.
  • Cut exposure to pathogens. Clean maternity pens often and spread bedding as if it was free. Fresh bedding reduces exposure even before the dam has a chance to lick off the calf. Once the calf has been removed from the dam, cleanliness is still important to reduce exposure.  Healthy calves reduce labor and treatment costs.
  • Look for alternative sources of hutch bedding. Bedding should be absorbent and clean. Options that work in the winter may not work well in the summer (i.e. corn stalks will work fine in winter, sand or sawdust shavings will work better in summer). Consider ryegrass or straw in maternity pens.
  • Early response to scours. Treating with electrolytes early can help maintain the health of the calf without expensive antibiotics. Antibiotics should still be used as needed.
  • Feed milk/milk replacer 3X to wet calves. Calves fed 28:20 milk replacer 3X daily were weaned 1 week earlier (saving labor) ate 12 pounds more starter, and gained 20 pounds more at 12 weeks than calves fed the traditional 2X 28:20 milk replacer plan (Land O’Lakes Answer Farm research trial)
  • Calf starter management – Calves should be offered grain within the first week of life, but they only need small amounts. Make sure calves are eating the grain that they are provided and not wasting feed. For the first week, they may only need a handful. Week two might only mean two handfuls. 
  •  Wean calves off of calf milk replacer earlier if currently weaning at greater than 6 weeks of age.  Wean according to starter intake (at least 1.5 pounds/day for 3 consecutive days).
  • Reduce labor costs by making your calf facilities more efficient. For example, combine bedding hutches and feeding grain into one trip, or put syringes and needles in the fridge next to the vaccinations. Develop a farm-specific plan to make calf care more efficient.
  • Keep the water and grain buckets separate to prevent wet feed and dirty water as calves dribble back and forth between the two.
  • No hay! – Calves under 12 weeks of age do not need hay, especially not high-quality hay which they waste.
  • Consider using old sweatshirts and coats for calf jackets rather than buying them.
  • A high plane of nutrition for pre-weaned calves reduces the cost per pound of gain.
  • 50 pounds of additional growth at 4 months of age could reduce age of first calving by 1 month – valued at $100 savings.

Older Heifers:

  • Calve as early as possible.  Cows should be 85 percent of mature body weight at calving. Calving two months earlier will bring heifers into the milking string two months earlier.  
  • Heat detection and breeding – there probably is no better way to save money on heifer-raising than to make sure they are bred and calves according to size and not age. Heifers should be bred at 55 percent of mature size which they will hit at a young age with a higher plane of nutrition. One injection of prostaglandin to induce estrus may help improve conception rates.
  • Make sure you are feeding ionophores at the correct level. Inadequate ionophore concentration will decrease feed efficiency and potentially reduce resistance to coccidiosis. Coccidial infection will also decrease immune function and reduce feed efficiency. Heifers through 6 months should have protection from coccidiosis; the feed efficiency response can be obtained through first calving.
  • Decrease mud in heifer pens. Mud greater than 6-inches will cause an increase in energy required to maintain or gain weight.
  • Conserve your highest quality forages for animals less than 6 months of age or lactating. Heifers between 6 months of age to calving are less efficient at using quality feeds so it’s best to save them for those that can use them.
  • Consider rotational grazing for older heifers. High-quality pasture can be used in place of more expensive stored forages that could be used by lactating animals.  
  • Long day lighting – university research has shown that heifers exposed to long-day lighting reach breeding and growth targets as much as a month earlier, allowing for savings with an earlier age at first calving.
  • By-product feeds – Heifers that are over six months of age, and have achieved good structural growth as calves, provide a good opportunity to utilize by-product feed such as distillers’ grains. Research trials in which distillers’ grains were fed to heifers observed normal growth rates, normal reproduction, and normal subsequent milk production.
  • High quality forages—heifers may not need additional grain if high-quality forages are used. Provide a heifer mineral supplement to balance the ration.
  • Limit Feeding – Bred heifers who have achieved good structural growth as calves are good candidates for limit-feeding to 95 percent of ad-libitum intake.

All heifers:

  • Monitor and measure calves routinely – Measure and weigh calves periodically. If you don’t discover a problem such as small heifers until calving, it will take years to correct.
  • Know your costs – Know how much raising a calf costs each day. And don’t overlook labor costs. Perhaps a calf raiser would be a more cost-effective option.
  • Know disease identification basics and set up a protocol for treatment before the veterinarian is called.

Source: Land O'Lakes Purina Feed