Nurse cow operation

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Ga_Hillbilly
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Nurse cow operation

Post by Ga_Hillbilly » Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:47 am

Hey how are yall?

Me and my wife are thinking of starting a small nurse cow operation.... We've thought it through and decided to go with it... But still would like to get more info.

I had a uncle who had several nurse cows.. He'd buy calves off mamma cows at the sale when they get split... He'd purchase the calf then put the calf on his nurse cow... Or if a cow died or had to be put down what ever the case would be he'd purchase the calf and put on the cow..

Our goal is to end up with about 15-20 nurse cows... And run a hereford bull, beefmaster or lowline angus bull on the heifers... Then purchase the calf's and place on the mammas...

Is this realistic with 15-20 nurse cows? We're figuring two calf's on average per cow... True some take more but for pencil purposes starting out this is what we're figuring


So that's mainly my question.. Is this realistic and if so... What advice could you give a young cattle farmer... Thanks in advance



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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by greggy » Wed Jul 15, 2020 3:26 am

Realistic in what sense.

Commercial, or just for fun or learning....

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Ga_Hillbilly » Wed Jul 15, 2020 4:02 am

greggy wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 3:26 am
Realistic in what sense.

Commercial, or just for fun or learning....
To make a profit... My uncle did it with his... And he picked up a extra 10-15 steers a year... And a few young heifers... I figured I could do that on a bigger scale

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by cowgal604 » Wed Jul 15, 2020 7:51 am

I’ve had many bottle calves at a time many time’s. But I’ve never successfully had one fed
exclusively off a nurse cow. Economically I have no idea but that would drive me crazy. There was a time here I could get an angus x Holstein for $80 at 3 days old. I’d buy them in the truck load.

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Logan52 » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:36 am

2015 was the hay-day for nurse cow operations here in central Kentucky. Calves were easy to obtain and still relatively affordable. Buyers would run bids high on almost calf weighing 400 pounds or so. A three quartered Jersey could easily raise 4 calves to this weight if given good care. Do the math with calves around $2 a pound. It was time consuming but worked for some willing to do it right.
The price of baby calves went up in response. As the market for feeders and stockers dropped the buyers became more discriminating against dairy cross calves. All of a sudden, this was not as good an enterprise as it had been. Nurse cows got cheap and baby calf prices (especially dairy cross) came down as a result.
All this to say the time is not ideal for a nurse cow operation. If feed and dairy cow prices stay low, who knows? it might work again in the future.
I dabbled in this but the aggravation and scouring calves made me glad to get out, Also, the Jerseys would really get pushed around by my beef cows when they were together. Pushed away from the feed, they could get thinner than I liked to see them.

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Buck Randall » Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:00 pm

Like most things with cattle, it's a lot of messing around for little money.

I'll preface this by saying that I live in dairy country, and not Georgia, but I think keeping the cows year round and trying to breed them back is a sure way to lose money. Cows that are capable of feeding four calves at a time walk through the cull market for slaughter price every day. Use them up and trade them out when they're done. Consider what it costs to purchase and keep a bull, what it costs to feed a dry dairy cow, and the value of the half dairy calf. Not worth it.

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by bird dog » Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:01 pm

<<<What advice could you give a young cattle farmer... Thanks in advance>>>

Don't go hog wild at the start. Buy two or three and see how it goes. Some nurse cows are easy to work with, some aren't. Some calves are easy to get going, some aren't. Nurse cows are sometimes cheap, often times they are not.

Like everything, their is a learning curve on what type of cows to buy and what type of calves to put on them. Keeping them healthy will try your nerves at times.

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Ga_Hillbilly » Wed Jul 15, 2020 4:16 pm

Thank yall gentlemen for the information... It's really appreciated

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by bulldog04 » Wed Jul 15, 2020 5:43 pm

The only thing I've heard about this operation is you need to have a steady stream of calves coming in in order to keep calves on them. If not you will be out there milking them or you will have problems

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Ky hills » Wed Jul 15, 2020 6:07 pm

I raised calves on nurse cows for several years. The most cows I had was 12 with usually 6-8 in rotation at a time. At that time there were still several dairy farms around but now they aren’t many at all. It is a challenge and a lot of physical work. I started out bottling calves and switched to some cows, then after a few years of that finally went back to bottling as I wasn’t physically up to working with the calves and cows, when it came to starting new ones. For a while I had a pretty good thing going. I was getting all the calves from one dairy and all the bull calves from another. I would have 3 or4 calves per cow and wean them at 2-3 months and start another group on the cow. The cows cooperate much better when they have their own calf. Some are better than others at letting calves nurse. The calf has a lot to do with how the cows respond too. If the calf is forward and takes to nursing right off the cow is more at ease than if it’s scared or slow to start nursing. It takes a lot of trial and error to get it going both in terms of getting calves and keeping them healthy and also with the cows. I had a mix of older dairy cows and some young dairy heifers. The results were mixed but I would recommend trying to find some good gentle Jersey or Geurnsey heifers that had sound udders. The older cows tended to have blank quarters or big broken down udders which complicated things and reduced the number of calves they could raise.
I was fortunate at the time to know a local AI tech that could get some dairy bull semen and we had some of our cows bred to Jersey bulls. We used Angus bulls for the cows and heifers that didn’t take to AI. On the later end of it I started using Hereford bulls as they seemed to put more volume on the calves but when bred to Jerseys some of the calves would be brindles.
Sometimes the crossbred Angus or Hereford heifers could be used as nurse cows too.

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by greggy » Wed Jul 15, 2020 8:55 pm

I cant see how money can really be made, you get money when you sell, but my accounting shows a loss not including even minor property costs, let alone tractors etc....or my time at a min wage rate.

Put another way, if I sunk same time into working at a grocery store, I would be ahead.

This is all while getting cheap calves due to drough and record sales prices, maybe I am too fussy with my back of envelope accounting 😀

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Ga_Hillbilly » Thu Jul 16, 2020 10:28 am

We already have cows.. Just throwing a few nurse cows into the mix on top of the 2 we have already.. Which they turn a profit... And all we do with them is simply open the gate for them to go in 3 times a day...

I'll keep everyone posted... But if I'm making money with 2.... I should make money with more 🤷‍♂️

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by farmerjan » Sun Jul 19, 2020 10:17 pm

Just a few thoughts from someone who has also done it and am still doing it to some extent.

Everything that KY Hills said is very true. I've seen and done what he has done.

I am a milk tester and have access to calves. You get to know who does a good job of getting colostrum into their calves.... and some of the farms the "bugs" they have are not compatible with the "bugs" on your farm. I have 2 farms that I get calves off of now. They always have a good start and do good for me. One farm I have never been able to raise a calf.... our two farms "bugs" are just not compatible. They do a good job of raising up their own calves but I will never buy another calf from them. Doesn't work.

Since you have a few and are making some money at it, you have a feel for them. The thing is when you get to a certain number, it may become unmanageable as far as letting the cows in to the calves. You will have calves at different stages, and if you get a case of scours, it can go through them all in a minute.

I have one in the barn now, with 3 calves, and 2 more young jersey cows due,that have raised calves before, and 5 heifers. I wanted to do milk/cow shares and started planning this, 2+ years ago when I got heifers off a dairy. They are mostly all jersey/hol cross heifers. There are a few jersey/ang crosses that will be used just like a beef cow and just raise their own.
I have had as many as 5 cows in the barn at a time. Any more than that I did not have the space to make sure that all the calves would go on the cows and get enough milk. I normally had 3 per cow. I used to raise them for 3 months then switch them out for a second set too, when calves were cheap. Now it is not worth the time or trouble. Plus once I get a group of 3 well established, I can let them out with the cow and then just bring her in for grain once a day to help keep her production up. The calves will learn to come in and out the creep gate and I put a little grain in the bunk for them so they learn to come in and then it is easy to catch them when I need to sell, or wean or move or whatever.

My nurse cows are pretty tolerant and I will see calves nursing off a cow that is not "their momma" . But this gets into problems if there is a difference in ages as the older will drink faster and push the smaller ones off.

I do make a little money with them, but not much to justify the time and the grain I feed to keep the cows in good flesh and producing enough to feed 3. KY Hills is right about the dairy cross calves getting discounted at the sales; see it here too. One of the reasons I do it is I LIKE MY DAIRY COWS. They have to "pay their way" and raising several calves does that. We sell a little beef here and so the dairy cross calves will do okay for that.

You have to know your market... But just realize that going from 2 to 15 is like going from crossing a little creek to trying to cross the Mississippi in spring thaw. The numbers will not just quadruple or more as the complications will make it more like 2 to the 10th power..... If you get one or two more at a time, maybe you can do it. But to go all out and go from 2 to even 10 is a HUGE difference.
I am not trying to discourage you.... but don't want you to all of a sudden take on more than you can begin to handle and choke on it and do a crappy job with all of them ; when you were doing a good job with a few. It reaches a point where it just might be too many all together.

I will be farming my 5 heifers out to a dairy for this first lactation. I had my ankle replaced this past Feb., and it is doing real good. But the knees are really bad and they are next. No way can I handle them all in the barn. The 2 jerseys have done this so I hope they will take calves pretty well and get established before I do surgery so all they will need is grain daily. My son is not a big fan of the dairy animals because the calves do not bring what a beef feeder 500 lb animal will, so thinks that they are a waste of my time for more than just one or 2. I also do milk some for the house, so there isn't enough time for me to get the heifers established, tame and all that..... and he will only screw it up due to lack of patience with the dairy animals. So, I will get my physical limitations fixed and then maybe do it the next year.... we will see. But I honestly am not sure if I can handle more than 5 in the barn even if I am able to get around real well.... Maybe get them on a different schedule, so there are only a couple fresh and a couple with older calves so easy to keep them separated.....

Good Luck to you.

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Stocker Steve » Mon Jul 20, 2020 12:01 am

Some very good points made - - lots of work and dairy calf market is not great now.

An issue we ran into was nurse cow deprecation. We would usually buy nurse cows in the spring (when burger cow prices are high) and sell in the fall (when burger cow prices were low). Are buying bred jersey or jersey cross heifers a better way to go?
Stocker Steve

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Re: Nurse cow operation

Post by Ky hills » Mon Jul 20, 2020 11:23 am

Stocker Steve wrote:
Mon Jul 20, 2020 12:01 am
Some very good points made - - lots of work and dairy calf market is not great now.

An issue we ran into was nurse cow deprecation. We would usually buy nurse cows in the spring (when burger cow prices are high) and sell in the fall (when burger cow prices were low). Are buying bred jersey or jersey cross heifers a better way to go?
I got to the point where I started buying a few Jersey heifers and then AI breeding them to Jersey bulls. I was always a little leery of bringing in older cull dairy cows. I did buy a few Holstein cows from the dairy I bought calves from, but I knew they were telling it right on why they were culling and would not try to sell me something that they didn’t the ink would work for what I wanted.

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