“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” I often lean on this Ralph Marston quote when working with dairy farmers. As a calf and heifer specialist, I firmly believe each day is a new opportunity to make a difference and help calves maximize lifetime performance by improving their nutrition and care. From a calf’s first breath to her introduction into the milking string, my job is to help dairy farmers raise strong, healthy animals that increase profits—all by simply doing the little things right.

With 2020 behind us, what are you going to do differently to make sure 2021 is a better year, maybe even your best ever? Here in the Southwest territory, I cover the Texas Panhandle and Northeast New Mexico. Just like any other territory, we had our share of challenges in 2020 and many farmers are looking for ways to start the new year fresh. Whether it’s expanding or exploring markets, maximizing efficiencies, or concentrating on the basics, I encourage you to set performance goals to improve your calf and heifer business in the year ahead.

Consider options…

We’ve witnessed a lot of expansion plans and an influx of producers from other states to this area. Farmers appreciate the land values here, along with lower input costs and milder winters. This new growth has strengthened our infrastructure and encouraged new market opportunities.

The beef-on-dairy market is booming here. Many dairy farmers are utilizing beef sires, and then feeding out or selling dairy bull calves. The reward is there, as a typical $20 auction calf can now become a $150 beef cross. But the process requires careful, forward planning. Having grown up on a beef operation, I’m really excited to help develop this market and find ways to help these calves reach market weight quickly and efficiently. Our holistic approach, and complete product and service offerings, help our customers capitalize on this popular trend. By looking at their entire operation and utilizing all that Cargill has to offer, we can also help them improve non-nutrition elements that play into profitability.

Maximize operational efficiency…

One of the challenges in this territory is finding good help. It seems like everyone is looking for additional skilled, experienced labor. With the shortage of qualified employees, one of my goals is to help dairy farmers operate more efficiently. Whether that’s checking feed inventories or talking about milk versus milk replacer, we focus on making things simpler and more cost efficient for you. Our holistic approach helps us provide better, more complete solutions for all of your challenges: labor shortages, animal health and business model sustainability.


We also can evaluate specific farm data to help you find ways to reach and maintain animal performance goals with less input. Many dairy farmers focus on cost per ton or cost per bag of feed for their calves and heifers, but we believe a more efficient gauge is cost per pound of gain. We focus on efficient growth, maximizing ROI and getting more for your dollars spent. We’ll develop a strategic calf and heifer plan with specific performance goals in mind. Our insights are backed by the Nurture Research Center (NRC), a facility dedicated to understanding and promoting best practices in calf management and nutrition. The NRC starts a new trial every five weeks and the Journal of Dairy Science often publishes the results. This work gives our industry research-backed value that goes beyond feed needs.

Back to the basics…

There is no cookie cutter approach to balancing the financial demands of a business with the nutritional demands of calves and heifers. It’s my duty to establish a program that works best for your goals, animals, employees and overall operation. While these programs are unique to each operation, they have one thing in common—do the little things right.

Here are some basic, yet critical tips to a few areas I troubleshoot most often:

Keep the maternity pen clean and dry. Focus on thoroughly cleaning out old, wet bedding and laying down new dry material. On one farm, we recommended that they scrape the maternity pen clean more often and provide fresh bedding. It made a huge and immediate difference in decreased bacteria loads and calving ease scores due to improved cow comfort.

Provide enough clean, fresh water. I can’t stress this enough. Calves need more than one bucket. It should be offered free choice, beginning on the first day calves are moved. When in doubt, change it out.

Monitor cold stress. A common misconception in our location is that calves don’t need protection from the winter elements because the sun always shines bright in the Southwest. There are many days in January where we see a 40° temperature swing, and that’s not healthy for calves. It does get cold here and farmers need to protect their calves by providing warm bedding in hutches and pens. In the winter, I recommend straw bedding; deep enough so calves are able to nest for warmth. Also during cold weather, I position hutches so the door faces south/southeast. This protects calves from the wind, yet they still receive warmth from the sun. Just as important, we need to make sure calves receive their appropriate maintenance requirements, especially during the winter. This sometimes requires scheduling an additional feeding or feeding more milk at a time.

Here’s to a brighter, more profitable New Year. It’s often hard to make changes, but remember that focusing on the little things can lead to big rewards. Please feel free to reach out to me. And find more helpful calf and heifer management tips online.