Some producers raising Holstein beef calves feed them too long, according to Jim Hogue of Agri-Basics, who has spent 27 years as a nutritionist. “Don’t go by the ‘finish’ on the outside of the animal. Most of the fat deposited in Holstein beef will be internal, and will not be detectable in the live animal,” he explained. “At 1,350 to 1,400 pounds, they’re ready for market. Both you and your buyer will be happier with the results.”
Getting started raising Holstein beef calves doesn’t take a large outlay for equipment and housing. The size of the operation is not critical. You can start on a smaller scale. Cash flow is good after the first 18 months, after the “pipeline” is full. In addition, no special feed handling or storage facilities are necessary.
On the other hand, since you are starting with calves only a few days old, they will require intensive management for the first 3 to 4 months. Also, Holsteins are less efficient at turning feed into meat than the native species, such as Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn, and they are also more cold-sensitive. Holsteins require more bedding than native cattle. “Calf market prices are currently high, so minimizing death losses is the key to success.”
Buying your calves at the auction is risky. “Your best option,” advised Hogue, “is to contract with a local dairy farmer. Work with him. Have as few sources as possible.” Find out how the farmer handles his newborn calves. What is his protocol? Talk to his veterinarian and see what he recommends. If you have a veterinarian, find out what he recommends. The important thing is to get the calves on some kind of health management system quickly.
“If you get into this business,” continued Hogue, “I strongly recommend you have a system for identifying these calves, so you know when you got each one, so you can market them in a timely way. You don’t want to find out late in the game that you still have a calf-fed Holstein in your herd when it is 30 months old. He didn’t make you any money!
Most veal growers want large calves, weighing 95 to 100 pounds or more. With the Calf-Fed Beef program, a 75 to 80 pound calf works well. Pennsylvania produces 200,000 to 230,000 Holstein bull calves a year. “Many of them go to calf ranches in the Midwest, Ohio and Indiana. Then when they’re 350 to 400 pounds, they don’t come back here. They are sent to feed yards in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Raising these beef calves is an income opportunity for Pennsylvania famers.
“Fed a high energy (high grain) diet, these calves can reach 1,350 to 1,400 pounds, the best weight for market, in 16 to 20 months. The target gain is 2.4 to 2.6 pounds per day of age. The definition of calf-fed beef is a dairy calf that has been fed a diet containing at least 80 percent grain and about 20 percent roughage from weaning to market.
For the first 10 to 12 weeks, if you are a dairyman, feed these calves the same way you would your heifer calves. Feed a high quality milk replacer and a very nutritious textured calf starter formula to get them going. “They should double their weight in the first 8 weeks.”
During this period, they should also be castrated, dehorned, and implanted. Establish an implanting protocol. “There are very few things you can do that will give you the return on your investment the way implants do. After implanting, the calves will gain faster and gain cheaper.
“I can’t stress enough that these animals must have fresh feed and fresh, clean water every day. Don’t just fill the calf bucket extra-full, because ‘I won’t be there tomorrow.’ Sweet feed doesn’t have a long shelf life in hot weather. Sweet feed can get sour pretty quickly. They’ll only eat a couple inches. You won’t get the weight gain you need. In wintertime, make sure they have clean, fresh water.”
By about 10 weeks of age, you can begin to introduce, for the first time, some hay, and start to get some roughage into them. At 12 to 14 weeks, you can transition the calves over to your own home feed. “Their diets until they go to market should consist of a minimum of 80 percent grain and about 20 percent roughage. You can incorporate some urea along with plant protein.
“Steers will want something to chew on. Your roughage can be corn silage, hay, or grain forage. It can even be straw. Straw works, although there’s not much nutrition there.” The animals’ desire to chew can be very hard on their pens. Use concrete and steel to avoid a lot of upkeep.
Segregate the animals into 3 to 4 groups. “Feeding a Total Mixed Ration helps to reduce sorting.” Market them by weight, when they reach 1,350 to 1,400 pounds, not by external finish.
If you market your animals at auction, the price may be disappointing. Using today’s feed prices ($4/bu. corn), the estimated cost of gain from 300 to 1,400 pounds is approximately $80/ cwt. of gain. Adding this to a cost of $825 for the 300 pound calf, will make a break-even price of about $123/cwt, live weight, figuring a death loss of 5 percent or less for the total period.
Calf-fed Holsteins are more uniform than native cattle breeds. They consistently grade choice or better. Their yield grade is usually a two or a three. (They have a lower dressing percent than native cattle.) A dairy-type ribeye is smaller and has less external fat than a beef-type ribeye. Otherwise, they are very similar in eating quality.