Kent Feeds: Dairy beef feeding a profitable alternative


For the young producer starting out, one area that often gets overlooked, but can be very profitable, is raising dairy beef from calf to finish. It’s an area of production that James Grothe, Kent Feeds has perfected over the last 25 years.

Grothe shared his experience during the breakout session, “Calf and Dairy Beef Key Influencer Discussion Panel,” during the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

In addition to Grothe, the panel included Dr. Robert Thornsberry, DVM, Milk Specialties and Derrick Preheim, who operates Preheim Feedlot near Bridgewater, South Dakota. Fifteen years ago, Preheim wasn’t feeding any Holsteins steers. Now he feeds over 2,000 a year.

“It’s an operation that allows him to build and gives him something that’s not that big of an investment,” Grothe said. “Obviously, you can go buy a yearling it’s going to cost you $1,000. You can buy a Holstein calf for $100. You can have a facility for $200 to feed that calf. All of a sudden, with just $300, we can have three calves for the price of one.”

Grothe said the process allows producers such as Preheim to make a quick turnaround, earn a little money, and then continue to sell at higher weights until they can finish the entire herd. Preheim isn’t the first young producer Grothe has worked with to develop a successful dairy beef operation. He currently has five other clients that have gone from not feeding any calves five years ago to feeding 300 calves and finishing almost half of their herds now.

Because Holsteins require 12 percent more energy for maintenance than beef breeds, it often takes a different approach to successfully feed dairy beef from calf to finish.

“When you are going to feed Holsteins you really need to work with someone that knows them,” Grothe said. “You need to find resources to do it –whether you call a neighbor that’s doing it a lot or one of us or whatever company you are working with — you need to find a resource team that does that and that includes a vet, a nutritionist, everybody involved.”

Grothe also recommends following The Three C’s for feeding Holsteins:

  1. Calories- Consider energy requirements for all stages of growth, such as immune function for calves, the grouping/transition period, and finishing.
  2. Consistency- Feed at the same time each day. Feed the same ration and make sure there is proper mixing. Keep bedding type and pen grouping consistent.
  3. Comfort- Make sure there is plenty of room for cattle to lay down, the bedding is comfortable, and that things like mud and wind are not an issue in the facility. Consider lot size, the type of building, the height of the bunker, and water accessibility.

“It’s just something simple to remember every day when you go out there and you look at your Holsteins, whether it’s a calf or steer, you remember The Three C’s,” Grothe said. “Am I doing everything consistently? Are the cattle comfortable? Is my diet right for the calories they need?”

While the market is constantly changing, Grothe said the dairy beef segment is slowly growing.

“It’s just something they can grow into very easily because it is not as expensive, but it also allows you to expand in an easy way,” Grothe said.

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