Dairy animals have a salable by-product: offspring. If you have dairy goats, then you have a salable crop each year, but what do you do after those kids are weaned and you still have more milk than you can drink? You can make a lot of cheese, or you can use some of it to raise other animals, such as dairy calves.
Jersey and Holstein calves make premium meat steers, and can be raised with great success on goat’s milk. Jerseys have a nicely marbled meat and although the carcass size is smaller, you can still expect 500 pounds or so of finished meat from a jersey steer. Holsteins are bigger, and are usually butchered at about 1,300 pounds, for about 600 pounds of finished meat. Jerseys and Holsteins make a nice market animal for your own consumption, or for sale at the animal auction.
The calves can usually be purchased from a local dairy farmer at variable cost. The cheapest calf prices are in fall and early winter, when you will be feeding them over the winter. Because you will have to provide hay and grain to the calves the price is lowered considerably. If you have plenty of pasture to graze them on, then it is an easy thing to just supplement the calves with a creep feed or high-quality hay. So, even raising a calf in late autumn or early winter can be profitable if you have the right setup. The prices are lowest at this time—we bought ours for under $50 each.
Your calf will need two or three days on colostrum, usually the farmer who breeds them will keep them around for a few days to make sure they get a good start. If the farmer wants them gone sooner, then you will need to make sure to get some colostrum from the farmer to feed them for the first few days. Once they have had the colostrum, you can switch them to whole cow’s milk, goat’s milk, milk replacer, or a mixture of all three. The calf will need to be fed a milk diet until they are eating well on their own, usually at least six weeks, and preferably eight weeks.
You can raise the calves on the goat’s milk if you have plenty and for us, this was a considerable savings. It will cost about $50 to $175 per calf at current prices to raise the calf to weaning. This is just using milk replacer, at the most inexpensive rate. Milk replacer, besides being expensive lacks the natural enzymes and proteins that keep calves more healthy. Calves raised on replacer can get scours or diarrhea so badly that they die of dehydration very quickly. The good news is there are plenty of medications available and scours are usually treated with success. Avoiding scours and cutting costs is always a great idea, so with a little extra elbow grease, you can increase your earnings considerably.
We had three ways to raise calves: totally on replacer, on replacer mixed with goat’s milk and on goat’s milk alone. We have seen that using replacer alone can rack up expense quickly and also has a greater chance of scours. Using goat milk to supplement your replacer or raising calves completely on goat milk is an extremely economical way to rear up some calves. You can raise a calf to weaning on goat milk for as little as $35 dollars per calf. That is a savings of $15 to $140 over milk replacer. The most economical way to feed the calves is with a dairy goat to produce your milk for you.
Dairy goats can on average give 8-15 pounds of milk a day, depending on the time in the lactation curve. Lactation curve indicates when the doe freshened and when she will need to be dried off before birth. Usually at least two months prior to birth a goat is dried off, to allow her to give all her reserves to the developing kids inside her. Once the doe freshens, she will make plenty for her kids and usually even more.
If you were to milk five does, you could expect 40-70 pounds of milk per day. One gallon is about eight pounds, so you have milk for as many as eight calves with five dairy goats. That is at a cost of about $17.50 to $25 per week. That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, however, the milk replacer for eight calves would cost about $800 to $1,400 from birth to weaning. Feeding and caring for your five dairy goats would only cost about $140 to $200 for eight calves from birth to weaning. That is one quarter the cost of replacer.
Why not buy a cow to feed our batch of calves? It is true that one cow that is a heavy producer could feed the calves but when you consider the thriftiness of the goats, this too is much more expensive. If you leave out grain, one cow requires about 3-4 acres of prime grazing. On four acres of sub-prime grazing, such as woodland or brushy areas, you can run as many as 24 goats. While your one cow may yield the 64 pounds of milk required for your eight calves, we can still use that figure to show how thrifty the dairy goat is. If your cow gave 64 pounds of milk a day, the goats could give a whopping 192 pounds in comparison!
Is it any wonder that most of the world drink goat’s milk? To sum up, on the same amount of land, 3 to 4 acres you could raise 24 calves instead of five to seven calves raised on cow’s milk. Goats are just so much more thrifty and economical that you can really rack up savings raising calves on goat milk versus cow milk or replacer—up to 75%. The marvelous, thrifty dairy goat!
So, what does this mean exactly? Well if you buy when calf prices are down and sell when prices are high, then you can gather up a tidy profit for yourself in the meantime. Beef prices go from 79 cents per pound to as much as $1 per pound. That means your 500-pound calf could bring $500 at auction. At weaning a calf will be about 136 pounds, at 60 days or eight weeks. You would have invested about $25 per calf in milk for these first eight weeks. So, since a good average weight for Holstein/Jersey cross is about 70 pounds, you will have gained about 60 pounds or so of calf.
If your purchase price was $40 like mine, then your total cost at weaning would be about $65 per calf. On the high end of sales, you might spend as much as $100 for a calf, and its feed until weaning. So, unless you buy at the highest cost, and sell at the cheapest, you can turn some money around easily. At the low end of last year’s sales, at $107 per hundred-weight, you would earn $145. At lowest profit margins, you would expect to turn over $45, and with eight calves that means $360. Not much, but it is a profit. However, you could also buy cheap and sell high, and from last year’s prices, you would stand to earn $135 per hundred-weight. So, your calf would have cost $65 to buy and rear, but if you sold at the right time, you would make $119 in profit per calf, or $952 for your group of eight calves.
Holsteins are also quite popular for what is called pastured veal. Veal has a bad rap because of past practices where the calves were kept in crates, fed milk, and only had enough room to stand up and lay down. There are several methods of raising veal, but pastured veal is the easiest and also the most cost-effective, plus it is much more ethical. Holsteins and Jerseys provide an excellent means of producing a good sized veal animal of about 240 pounds. The meat is sweet and tender but is not light and flavorless like traditional veal. Veal can be pasture raised, and the meat is excellent—many say they prefer it. Prices for pasture-raised veal can be quite high and can vary with locality. In my area, you can expect about $8 per pound of finished pasture-raised veal cuts. That is an overall gross of $960 per calf. So, we just found a way to get the same amount of money for one calf as we would get for eight at auction.
You will have the cost of $65 per calf, about $106 for processing, $160 for grain/hay for a final profit of $630 per calf, or $5000 for all eight calves. You will have to find buyers. One farmer goes to farmer’s markets and hands out fliers to interested people. Many farmers report being able to easily sell all the meat they raise at premium prices. People are interested in eating pasture-raised meat, and will pay a good price for pasture-raised veal. Pasture-raised veal is a great alternative for a small farm because you can raise the calves year round, feeding goat’s milk, hay and grain and turn over a good profit in 12 to16 weeks time. That’s a gross income of over $1000 per month, taking care of eight calves.
The interesting thing about raising Jersey and Holstein fall calves is that both breeds do better than traditional beef on a pasture-fed diet, supplemented with grain, or just pasture. They can be fed on winter rye grass, for a very low investment, and sold later in the year when prices are higher. If you have a larger farm, you can raise a variety of dairy beef ages, and sell as you like for profit. So with grain prices at an all-time high, the idea of converting dairy calves into feeder steers is appealing. If you can raise your calves mostly on pasture, such as ryegrass or available pasture, and have a feeder steer by late spring/early summer, then you are looking at a selling price of approximately $650 to $910 at peak prices. The bottom line there is how much each individual farm will have to spend to provide pasture for their weaned bottle calves.
Using the natural market fluctuations can easily give you a better profit margin, although, like all investments, there is some risk. The markets can and do fall, but if you can provide your calves with pasture, you can probably wait out the lows and get a better price. Dairy beef grows a little more effectively on a pasture-based diet, with some feed supplementation and can give a similar yield to that of traditional beef breeds. Grass or pasture generally costs less to provide, especially if you can plant a winter crop, such as ryegrass or cut your own hay. Although dairy beef does not flourish or do well in the feedlot environment, it does excellent on pasture raised programs. The smaller operation can better provide this kind of environment to raise up their dairy beef calves to nice feeder calves.
My personal philosophy is why step over a dollar to pick up a dime? If you can make about $119 for your weaned calf, $630 for pastured veal and $400 to $700 for pastured feeder calves, then I would want to look at how much you can sell a finished beef. Dairy beef does not have a high amount of trimmable fat, so it has a harder time in the big marketplace. I don’t need to tell many of you, that our markets are entirely different. Thousands of small farms are making good profits on pasture raising beef, turkeys, pigs and all other types of animals traditionally raised in confinement. We know already that pasture-raised meat is healthier, cheaper (for us) to raise and yields higher profit.
With dairy beef, you have a much better chance at a prime animal, but Jerseys will be smaller, weighing out at a finished size of about 800 to 1000 pounds. Raised on pasture, with their grain supplemented, they can give you a finely marbled and higher quality prime animal, on less feed, fewer medications, and less time investment. So if you can raise a better product, it stands to reason you can charge more for it. Every person I personally know, that pasture raises any meat, can find a buyer for it in no time. I recently pasture raised 100 chickens and had people lined up to get a share of them. Others tell the same story. My question for anyone mildly interested in dairy calves, is if you have pasture available, why not keep your theoretical 8 calves, and finish them out if you can? After taking it to the processor, you can easily turn that $130 per hundredweight into three to seven times the cash with individual cuts of meat.
A local farmer in my area raises pastured chickens, and goes to farmers markets, just to hand out fliers. He reports that he always sells out. People marketing beef, lamb, pork, and turkeys also report the same findings. People are tired of eating chemicals, hormones, and garbage in their food. Even if you aren’t organic certified, you can get people to buy your beef from you. Either already processed, or on the hoof. Your profit range is going to look more like $800 to $1200 for dairy beef on the hoof at a peak auction price. (That is providing a $10 per week grain budget, but assumes a free pasture/hay budget. This would change if you had to buy hay) As a pasture-raised animal, you can get as much as twice that in some areas, and just load it up and take it to the processor for your customer. That is an overall profit possibility of $3900 or more per beef, but you will have to market your product. Your eight calves can earn as much as $31,000 if you can take the time to market them and deliver them to the processor for your customer.
But, we should at least look at the idea of selling the cuts ourselves, since we’ve gone this far. Researching I found pasture raised rib eye steaks were being sold for as much as $34 a POUND! I do not need to show you the dollars, that are flying into the pockets of other producers. Obviously, there are costs, locally it costs $.89 per pound to process beef, so you can cut $1200 or so off your profit. But with prices for ground beef yielding $7 a pound, I don’t need to tell you it bears looking into. You will have to store the beef in a deep freeze and be prepared to pay for the power to run it, and maintenance on it, and the building it is in. One dairy beef should give you from 500 to 700 pounds of meat, ranging in cuts, that are priced from $7 a pound up to $34 a pound. Even at a rather modest $10 per pound, you just upped your profits to $ 7000 per calf, minus $600 for feed/care, and also another $1000 for processing. So, you could get $5400 per calf. You can take another $1000 off for running a freezer for a full year. So we have $4400 left, at the modest prices, I found pasture beef being sold for in my local area. $4400 per calf that we started out on goats milk. So, at the end of our growing season, you could have a profit potential of $35,000 on your original 8 calves.
Of course, this is somewhat of an ideological presentation, there are hidden costs and more overhead that I am probably missing. There are no vet bills factored and probably expenses missing. But there is definitely a market, and it bears looking at. Really you can’t tell what it’s going to cost until you look at your local markets and prices. Corn here is about $14 a hundred, it could be more, or less elsewhere. The prices and speculations here are based on a middle range of prices and profits for all of these ventures.
Bottle calves can give you a great profit margin, especially if you consider raising them with alternative/less expensive methods. You can easily raise some pasture if you have land, and provided you have a tractor, you can rent a no disk planter and plant winter rye or wheat to feed your calves on over the winter. You can market your beef as weaned calves, pastured veal, feeder calves, finished steers, or steaks already packaged up and ready for the grill. The options are vast, and dairy calves are easy and cheap to buy. In some areas, farmers are literally giving them away, I found them online for as little as $10 a calf! There is a great chance that you could find a local dairy, and buy a few calves, raise them up and try some of these ideas and make a good profit. Until you look at your own area’s prices there is no way to really know the profit potential. One thing is for sure, dairy beef is an intriguing and growing business, and I think we will see a lot more of it at the local market.