To keep track of calf starter consumption, Clark clips colored clothespins on top of the hutches. When a calf eats 2 lb. of grain a day, he attaches a green clothespin.

After she has eaten 2 lb. of grain per day in two consecutive days, he clips a yellow clothespin on top of the hutch. After she has eaten 2 lb. a day for three days, Clark attaches a blue clothespin to the hutch and he weans the calf.

“We used to house our calves in 40 wooden hutches that were rarely cleaned out in the winter, and we used to wean at four months old,” Clark says. “Our calves are healthier and doing much better in the plastic hutches we purchased in February 1998. Now we wean at five to six weeks of age and have no problem with it. Our calves are much bigger.” Adds Corbett: “Now, they are weaning calves based on dry matter intake, and age has nothing to do with it.”

After weaning, calves stay in the hutches for a couple of weeks to ease sucking problems and to ensure adequate dry matter intake. Usually, they’re eating a bucketful of grain, or about 6 lb. of starter, when they’re moved to the “calf colony” – a simple three sided, half-shaded structure with waterers, a hard-pack floor and 4′ cement feedbunk apron.

Here the heifers get a 17% protein total mixed ration (TMR) with 10% hay. As the heifers get older, the precentage of forage goes up. At wix months, they’re also getting a half-pound per day of a rumen microbial growth enhancer. The Bowns feed the TMR every two to three days and encourage intakes by pushing it up twice a day.

Free-choice water helps the calves eat more dry matter. The Bowns weren’t giving calves water during the winter months because it froze. Corbett convinced them that feed intake would go up with free-choice water and it did. “It’s like eating a peanut butter sandwich without milk” Corbett says. “You need something to wash it down.” The Bowns have found calves in hutches will drink up to 4 gal. of water a day. Sometimes, the calves drink even more in winter. They place water buckets inside the hutches and let the calfs body heat help keep the water from freezing. Heifers lagging behind herdmates are culled at 300 lb. to 400 lb. The Bowns don’t mess around with small, unthrifty animals. They sell them and pocket a little profit. Culling also helps make a group of heifers more uniform.

Overall, the Bowns are quite happy with how their heifers look and perform today.

“We used to think we were saving money by not pushing grain and hay.” Clark says. “But, it was costing us by not getting cows sooner into the milking string. Now we understand the importance of dry-matter intake in calves and we can monitor it.”