Alfalfa the calf

A Bunch of Bull

In two weeks time we had 5 bull calves born and zero heifer calves. I don’t know why, but we always seem to have streaks related to calf gender. In fact, it’s a common assertion among dairy farmers that after a streak of one, you’re “due” for a streak of the other.

In this case, our 5 bull calves followed up a string of 6 heifers (w 3 bulls scattered in between). Regardless of the calf’s gender, a fresh cow is always a blessing, but the calf does impact our operation.

We try to raise our heifer calves as herd replacements, but bull calves don’t have much place at a dairy. What do we do with our bulls? Contrary to what some believe, dairy bull calves don’t all get sold for veal.

We prefer to sell them as soon as possible, usually within a week, after they’ve had their mother’s colustrum. They’re almost as cute as the heifers, but they cost money to feed, take up space, and don’t benefit the dairy operation. We do keep one every six months or so to raise and butcher for beef. Yes, we eat them. And the meat is very good.

There are many reasons people buy bull calves. Sometimes when a beef farmer loses a calf, they will try to give the mother a dairy bull in place of her calf. If it will take it, it’s good for the cow, and the farmer has a larger calf to sell with their others after weaning.

Other farmers will buy the calves to feed until they’re bigger and sell them as feeder beef. Dairy bulls aren’t as feed efficient as beef breeds, but they produce good lean meat and generally cost less to buy. Most beef farmers raise the calves to maturity before slaughter like we do.

The other major market for bull calves is 4H. Bucket calves are great projects for young kids to get into livestock showing. Dairy bull calves are a fairly inexpensive option for kids whose families don’t have cattle.

Previously, we would take the calves to a nearby auction on Saturday mornings. The price could vary a lot month to month, usually following expected trends. If someone inquired at the farm we would gladly sell the calf for a price comparable to what we would expect to get at an auction, but we didn’t advertise our calves for sale.

This winter, however, we reached an agreement with a beef farmer to trade our bull calves starting in June for fans that remained in the free stall barn on a dairy he had purchased for its acreage. We simply agreed on a price for both the fans and the calves, and we’re both getting a good deal that benefits our respective operations. His nephew will raise the bull calves and learn about caring for cattle while our cows stay cool with his fans.

We’re happy to be able to make good on our trade agreement, but we won’t be heartbroken if our bull streak gets broken soon! We’re due!

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