January 25, 2009

Cattle farm husbandry - calf rearing costs

Cattle, farming, husbandry, rearing calves, costs involved, budgeting

By Dr Clive Dalton

Do you want to make money?
  • There is surely little point in rearing calves if you are not going to make any money? Plenty of people do this however every year, and generally never realise it.
  • When they do realise it, they swear not to rear any calves again, but next spring, they are back at the sales bidding far too much again.
  • In theory, everyone should think about costs before they start, but that sounds too much like dry boring theory. For many folk, it seems to take the fun out of the job.
If profit is important
If you are serious about making a profit or even covering costs, then you must do a partial budget to see how things will work out. Here is a list of items to put in the budget:
  • Calf price. If you bred it, then at least include the insemination cost or bull charge.
  • Colostrum
  • Milk
  • Milk replacer (eg two bags of milk powder)
  • Hay
  • Meal (concentrates)
  • Bedding - shavings
  • Vets – drugs, vaccinations and visits
  • Disbudding/castration
  • Ear tags
  • Deaths. Plan to keep these below 2-3% (Higher rates will kill all profits)
  • Transport
  • Selling commission (6%)
  • Bank interest
  • Power
Note that labour appears at the end of the list because this is where many calf rearers put it! It should be at the very top of the list.

People say they don’t include labour as they feed the calves themselves, or better still (or worse) – their partner feeds them. If she/he is worth nothing then don’t forget to tell them!

Feeder calves at sale waiting for buyers.
How many will have done a budget?

  • In one year for example, calf rearing cost from Meat and Wool New Zealand and On-Farm Research Limited carried out at Poukawa added up to $240/head.
  • This is the “fixed” cost that you have to face up to and cannot skimp.
  • The largest items in this total were milk powder at $65 and labour at $80.
  • On top of this has to be added cartage and commission at point of sale which may vary a bit, and the purchase price of the calf which is the critical issue, especially when you saw that year, enthusiastic buyers paying $200+ for 4-day-old calves.
  • That makes a very expensive dairy weaner that you could probably buy at 12 weeks for $350 having saved yourself all the work!
  • So based on cold costings, in most years buyers should only be paying half of what they do to make a decent profit.
  • An initial treatment for scours can cost at least $20 and if you need a vet visit you can add another $100.
  • Experienced calf rearers stress that it costs the same to rear a bad calf as a good one, so make sure you do the job right and realise what it’s costing you.
Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

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