Bottle Feeding Calves: The Costs

Bottle Feeding Calves-

One of our most popular posts on our blog is about calves. Taking Care of Calves is a great resource for deciding if you are ready to bottle feed a calf. We have raised and sold many calves in the last 3 years and I decided it’s time to show you a real good, behind the scenes take on what it actually costs to raise a calf. 

Whether you plan on raising a calf in the future or have raised many already, I hope the following breakdown will help you on your journey!

On our farm, since we have a raw milk dairy, we only feed raw milk. We believe that raw milk makes for a healthier and stronger calf. 

For the purposes of these calculations, we will be working off a weaning age of 3 months (90 days) and will only count those first 3 months in the scenario. Some people wean earlier and some later, so keep that in mind.

      note: The following numbers will probably come as a shock to you… remember, we are using an objective viewpoint where you would have to go out and buy raw milk to raise your calf. Your situation may be different. It’s not cheap, but this is a true breakdown of the amount of money that goes into a calf.

The Breakdown:


-Obtaining the calf: if the calf was born on your property, you can skip this part. But, if you go out and buy a calf, you will want to keep reading. Day old Holstein bull calves are going for anywhere from $120-$170 here in SC. An Angus is much more, in the upwards of $300. A heifer (especially a milk cow) can be up to $400 (sometimes more).  




-Milk: We sell our raw milk at $7/gallon, $4.50/half gallon and our calves usually get 1.5 gallons/day, on an average, split into 3 feedings. 


$11.5x90days= $1035 

     -Hay: We start offering hay to our calves as early as one week of age. We don’t push it on them, however it is available for when they are ready to start nibbling away. We buy our bales of coastal for $5/square bale. (note: this is probably the trickiest to calculate because each calf could eat different amounts & we “free feed” hay. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say each square bale has about 10 flakes (making each flake about 50 cents) and we feed 1 flake of hay a day, starting at 1 week of age. (note: again, this WILL vary and this is overestimating) 



-Grain: There are different things you can feed your calf by way of grains. We have fed a generic sweet feed, but really prefer to use a calf starter (more expensive) to give them the best start. We start offering grain at about 2 weeks of age. Again, we just put it in their bucket and let them nibble at it as they want. Once they start eating well, they get about 2 pounds a day. 
Here are two different numbers for you, based on both scenarios. Around here, we pay anywhere from $7.50-$9.00 for a 50 pound bag of sweet feed. We will average that and use $8.25 as our bag price.

$0.32x76days= $24.32

For Calf Starter, the price can go up to anywhere from $10-$13 for a 50 pound bag. We will average that and use $11.50 as our bag price. 

 $0.46x76days= $34.96

-Time: This calculation does not count the time it takes you ( about an hour a day) to feed a calf.  But, if you were working a minimum wage job here in SC, that would be $7.25 a day, equaling about $652.50 over the 90 days.


Buying a calf ($150) & feeding sweet feed over the course of 90 days (does not include your time):  $1296.42

Now, if you have your own cow and you have the extra milk- this number will obviously be a lot lower, since you will only really need the price of the calf, hay and grain. But, you do still have to keep things in mind such as how much it’s taking you to produce the milk, feed the cow, etc.

Remember: all these numbers are just estimates based on what prices are like in our side of the country and what we have experienced. Included here are not things such as medicines and vitamins necessary if the calf was to get sick. Also not included is the mere risk of mortality & loss that occurs when raising calves. 
Need calf feeding supplies? Don’t forget to check out our online store for all your calf raising needs! 

3 thoughts on “Bottle Feeding Calves: The Costs

  1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems bottle-feeding a calf is rather expensive. Wouldn't you have to sell a weaned calf at $800 just to break even? If you include time, that brings your sale price to at least $1400! (That is if your time is only worth $7.25/hr.) How can bottle-feeding calves be profitable if you sell them after they are weaned?

    ~Marcus Hochstetler

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