Find the Balance-Management of Calf Health Versus Cost of Production

Dairy calves in group housing. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Margins in the dairy industry continue to tighten. Dairy farms are seeking opportunities to control costs, but also maximize the health of their heifers as dairy replacements are the foundation for genetic progress and improvement of the herd.

Since 1997, University of Wisconsin-Extension has sought to provide economic information on dairy replacements with four unique replications of the Intuitive Cost of Production Analysis (ICPA) for PreWeaned Calves. In 2017, the ICPA was completed with 26 farms to provide economic information comparing automated group and individual calf feeding systems. It was determined the cost to raise a calf on an automated group feeding system to be $6.35 per calf per day as compared to $5.84 per day to raise a calf on an individual feeding system. But what management practices do these numbers represent?

To help correlate health and management practices to calf rearing costs, a Pre-Weaned Calf Health Management Survey was conducted simultaneously with 12 of the 26 ICPA participating farms. This survey defined a calf as an animal from birth until movement into group housing, or movement out of the automated group feeding pen. Individual feeding was denoted as any form or use of bottle or bucket method of feeding pre-weaned animals. Seven of the farms participating in the health management survey utilized an automated group feeding system and five utilized an individual feeding system. Operations were matched by feeding system utilized, and represented various dairy farm sizes across Wisconsin.

The health management survey represented 12,224 total cows with an average herd size of 1,321 (range 135 to 4,500) cows for farms with an automated group feeding system, and an average herd size of 594 (range 140 to 1,100) cows for farms which utilized an individual calf feeding system.

To find out more details related to the management practices related to feeding, labor and management, and health and the cost associated with those practices, please visit Find the Balance-Management of Calf Health Versus Cost of Production.

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