In part 3, I wanted to share with you what life is like for bull calves born on a dairy farm.
I read on social media quite often that people believe all or most bull calves born are slaughtered as veal. They believe that once a bull calf hits the ground, he is going to be sent to to the butcher, ASAP. While there are calves sent to a processor at an early age, there are still other options for these calves.
Not every farm is the same. Every farmer has a different method as to how animals are raised, but I have contacted multiple farmers around the United States and Canada about what they do with their bull calves.
Below I have created a list and even some behind the scenes looks into farms and how their bull calves are raised. Take a look and I’ll bet you’d be surprised as to how many different options there really are! Attached in each portion is a farmer you can contact for more questions.
*Bull calves born on a dairy and sold within a week:
It’s very common for dairy farmers to have interested buyers for their bull calves and to sell them quickly. On our dairy in Nebraska, we raise all of the females and sell all of the males. The bull calves are typically with us from a day old up to a week old. It all depends on how many calves are born at a time and how many interested buyers we have. Typically calves are sold to people who raise them on a calf ranch to be later processed, to those who need calves for a nurse cow or to ranchers that have lost a calf and need to put a new calf on their beef cow, also known as a draft calf.
Still have questions about selling calves as quick as they come? You can find me at @wiscowsingal on Instagram or Crazy Calf Lady on Facebook. You can also look up @melissagaul in Iowa, or @busyb2234 in Wisconsin on instagram or Minglewood Inc. and B. Kurt Dairy on Facebook to answer your questions as well.
So how are bull calves raised on a calf ranch? One of our buyers, Laura, will fill you in with the details.
“Hi, I’m Laura. I’m a mother of 3 children. My brother, Tyler, and I own and operate Central Nebraska Calf Farms. Our business was established in 2012. We raise bull calves and free martin heifers.
At our farm, we feed our calves milk replacer and grain in an individual hutch for an average of 45 days. Around 3 weeks of age, we will castrate our bull calves. We use a small cheerio sized band that cuts off the blood supply to the sack and it will eventually fall away a few weeks later. We then move them to a group pen of 6-8 calves for the next 60 days. At this time, they get fed a mixture of corn, oats and a custom dairy pellet. (They continue on this diet until they weigh 400 pounds.) After those 60 days, the calves are moved to our feedlot, where my brother cares for them. Once they have reached the goal weight of 400 pounds, they are fed a TMR (total mixed ration) of corn, cracked corn salt and a feedlot balancer mineral. We feed them for 400 days from the time they are removed from their individual hutch. They will then go to market as a fat steer or heifer. Typically they weigh around 1250-1350 pounds. We do NOT raise veal or adult bulls.”
*Bull calves are sold at the sale barn:
It’s quite common for farmers to send their calves to the sale barn. At the sale barn, they are up for anyone to buy. It could be a person who has a calf ranch, a farmer that lost a calf and needs a replacement or they could possibly be sold to a processor. There are multiple options when brought to a sale barn. Some farmers choose to send their calves to the sale barn because it brings in more money and some send them to the sale barn because they have no other interested buyers near them and do not have room to house them at their facility.
*Bull calves are born and raised on a dairy. Later sent to a grower:
A friend of mine from the Instagram world raises her bull calves and their heifer calves together. She goes by Becca and you can find her on Instagram as @reb_hilby or on the Facebook farm page, Weigel Dairy.
Here’s Becca with some background as to how their bull calves are raised.
“Hey everyone! I’m Becca, and I’m the calf manager and co-herd manager on a 350 cow dairy in Wisconsin. We raise all of our calves on the farm – both heifers and bulls. At birth, calves are vaccinated, have their navels dipped with iodine, and they also get a gallon of high quality colostrum. We raise all of our calves in hutches. In the summer, we use sand or sawdust bedding to keep them cool. In the winter, the calves get to bundle up in straw to keep them warm. The bulls and heifers are all raised exactly the same. They get milk twice a day, and always have access to fresh water and grain.
We wean the calves starting at 6 weeks old. (Meaning they slowly get taken off milk.) Around 8 weeks old, they are all moved into group housing in our calf barn. At this point, we still keep the bulls and heifers together. At 12 weeks old, we castrate the bull calves and vaccinate them once again. They will then continue on their diet until they’re around 4-500 pounds. Once they reach that weight, we will then sell them to a steer raiser who finishes them out.”
Another dairy farmer that sells calves after weaning, dehorning and castrating is Josh. You can find him on Facebook at Elhanan Farms.
*Bull calves are born on a dairy and pasture raised for veal:
A second friend of mine from the Instagram world has a small herd of Jersey cows and raises her bull calves for veal. Her name is Heidi and you can find her on Instagram as @sugarmaplejerseys or on the Facebook farm page, Sugar Maple Jerseys LLC.
Here’s Heidi with some background as to how their bull calves are raised.
“Hi, I’m Heidi and I own and operate Sugar Maple Jerseys LLC. SMJ is a small registered Jersey herd in Stockton, New Jersey. We sell our own all natural cheeses and pasture raised meats.
Rarely do I ever discuss the topic of veal, but today I would like to be informative about OUR veal and pasture raised meat in general. There is so much misinformation circling around, that I felt it was time to set the record straight. I’d like to be specific about what “pasture raised” meats means to us on our farm. Pasture raised simply means the animals are not confined to indoor pens on concrete, but raised outdoors on grass with shelter, fresh food and water. Our animals are fed a small ration of grain, which makes up less than 10% of their diet.
Our rose’ veal is raised on pasture and fed whole milk from our milking herd. Their diet also consists of grass hay and grain, which turns their meat a light pink color.
The biggest misconception consumers make is on the age of these animals. Our calves are typically processed between 6-8 months old, which is the same age as a lamb. Pigs are typically 5-6 months old, turkeys are 4-5 months old, and chickens are 5-7 months old. Most consumers eat young meat daily yet criticize the veal industry for processing young animals…
All of our processing is done in an USDA inspected facility @lehighvalleymeats to ensure that all of our animals receive proper treatment and humane handling.
Any questions, just send them our way and we would be glad to answer them for you.”
*Milk-fed and “bob” veal calves:
The Farmer’s Wifee traveled to veal farms in Indiana and Pennsylvania back in May. Here is a short paragraph from her blog post on Ag Daily on “milk-fed” and “bob” veal calves.
“Milk-fed veal calves are on average 20 to 22 weeks of age with some farms raising up to 26 weeks. The average weight of these calves are anywhere from 475 to 500 pounds, depending on the farm. While their diet is mostly milk replacer, they are also fed grain. It is incredibly important that they receive a well-balanced diet. Many of the farms monitor the calves’ iron. A common myth I have read was that many of these calves are iron deficient due to poor nutrition; that is simply not the case.
Bob veal are bull calves that go directly from the dairy farm to the processing plant. They are not raised in small dark boxes like many would have you believe. They make up less than 10 percent of the U.S. veal industry.“
Be sure to check out the full blog post for more details digging deeper into the veal industry.
Other options for bull calves:
*Bull calves are sold to local kids for a 4-H project. @nicolewallinga‘s Grandfather sells a few calves to local kids.
*Bull calves are sold as roping calves for rodeos. – Courtney Farms Registered Jerseys located in Oklahoma sells their Jersey bull calves as soon as they hit the ground for roping calf purposes.
*Farmers raise bull calves into fat steers on the farm.
*Selected for breeding purposes.
Another farm a friend of mine I met from the Instagram world works on, raises some calves to finish out and they also raise some for breeding purposes. Here’s Jessie with more background on those two subjects.
“Hello everyone, my name is Jessie and I work at Paradise-D Holsteins LLC. Its a small family farm located in Lancaster, WI. We milk around 130 registered Holsteins two times a day in a tie stall.
We house all of our bulls and steers in buildings and have two different ways of handling them. They will either be castrated and made steers to finish out or they’ll be kept intact and sold as breeding bulls.
In order to determine if we will band a bull calf or not, we need to take a look at his genetics. By evaluating his dam, sire and sometimes a DNA test, we can tell if he has many highly desirable traits. If he does, he gets a name and an orange name tag. If he doesn’t, then he gets a numbered yellow ear tag, and is castrated with a band around 2 months of age after being weaned off of milk.
After being weaned and moved out of our calf barn our bulls and steers are moved to a building where they are fed a grain and hay diet. Once they all get a bit older, they are separated. The bulls are sent to our bull pen on the home farm, where they receive a roughage diet, consisting of haylage or silage. The steers are sent to our other farm where they receive a grain diet. We keep our steers until they weigh around 1400-1500 pounds. They are normally around 15-16 months of age when they reach this weight. After they reach that weight goal, they are sold to be processed.
As you can tell, there are many options available for bull calves apart from just raising them for veal. Every farmer works with what they have been given to use. Those who have the facilities and time will raise them up to a certain age of their choosing. Those who don’t have the facilities and time will send them to others who do have the ability to raise them.
Even though they live a shorter life than the females, they are still given a great life by those who care for them. Every farmer, rancher and care taker strives to keep their animals happy, healthy and thriving.
Hope you enjoyed this read.
The Crazy Calf Lady, Jenna