Farmers take every step to make sure the calf receives optimum nutrition and care. The most crucial time in a dairy cow’s life is the first three weeks! This is the most important time to determine how the cow will produce and grow the rest of its life.
Greener Acres has an average of 10–15 calves born every month. We tend to not calve so many cows out in the colder months due to the stress it can cause on the calf. When it does get cold (below 40 degrees) all calves will get calf jackets.
When a calf is born we allow it stay with its mother for no more than an hour. Within a short half hour the calf is up and standing!
Once the calf is standing, it will start looking for the mother’s udder and want to suckle right away. This can be very dangerous! This causes the calf to start licking and inhaling a lot of bacteria into an empty weak immune system.
When the calf starts to suckle, we do not know the quality of colostrum (milk that first comes out of the mother the first couple days after birth) the calf in in taking. Colostrum is the first meal the calf gets and it is loaded with essential antibodies that is passed through from the mother. If for some reason the calf drank bad colostrum (e.g. if they mother had mastitis) then the calf who has no immune system to fight off diseases now is exposed to bacteria from the disease.
Once the calf is separated, we can milk the mother and the calf gets only its mother’s milk for the next 2–3 days. Farmers can now see the quantity and quality of the colostrum the calf is eating.
Another reason we separate the calves is that some cows are not great mothers. Sometimes the mother will not even clean the calf off and leave it there to stand and eat by itself without help. The mother can also step on and hurt the calf.
Also, after having a calf, the udder will be swelled and sensitive. Dairy calves are born with teeth and will buck, bite, and be hard on the udder. This could be a huge stress on the mother and could cut and hurt her! Our farm will milk the mother and then we rub a soothing/cooling udder cream all over her udder to help with the swelling and comfort the cow.
Now that the calf is taken away from the cow and put into its own clean, warm, thickly bedded hutch, the calf receives any necessary vaccinations as well as identification tags. At a week old the calves get free choice grain and water.
The calves stay in their own hutch for 2–3 months. At this point, they are weaned from milk and they get moved to a group pen with other calves their own age. They are fed corn, hay, and grain. Farmers make sure to monitor every calf’s weight and height to make sure it is growing properly.
At 12 months of age the heifer should be the appropriate weight and height to get bred for the first time. If it’s past 12–13 months and the heifer is not confirmed pregnant, this could alter her future production. Heifers will cycle every 21 days with a heat. When heifers and cows have a heat, they are ready to breed. If they are not in a heat cycle, they will not conceive. Our farm does all artificial insemination (A.I.).
Once the heifer is confirmed pregnant, she will be either go to pasture or she will stay in a specific pen for first time pregnant heifers. Depending on the season, our farm sends our heifers to pasture until 1 month prior to calving.
Next up: Calving! This is explained more here: Milking Cows and Dry Cows