Home Dairy Cows How the Baby Calves are Treated at the Dairy Farm

How the Baby Calves are Treated at the Dairy Farm

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The most important job at the dairy

Taking care of the babies is one of the most important jobs on the dairy farm. In fact, dairymen have a lot of incentive to take care of baby calves, and treat them proper. The baby calves are essentially the future of the dairy farm. If they are treated poorly, it will ultimately affect their future productivity. Financial incentives aside, it’s also the right thing to do. Dairymen are animal lovers. If they didn’t love animals, they wouldn’t be taking care of animals.

In order to prove that dairies take great care of the babies, I thought I would just talk about how we take care of the babies at our farm.

The babies get a new home

Baby CalfHome sweet home

After the babies are born, they are separated from their mother, and get their very own playpen. Some would see this as cruel, but really it’s for the well being of the baby calf.

Some mothers are very careless, so separating them protects them from any physical harm. They could be stepped on by other cows, or the mom could lay on the baby. So separating keeps them safe from physical harm in their cozy little hutch.Babies going home

Their playpen also protects them from disease. During the first few weeks, the babies have a very weak immune system. At that point in time, they are very susceptible to diseases. So keeping them separated from one another, keeps them safe from contagious diseases.

We have a little trailer that the calves ride on to go to their little pens. In the picture, my brother is bringing the newborns to their new pens. The pens are filled with straw to make them warm and dry. The pens also have roofs that flip up and down depending on the weather. Flip them down, and no rain gets in. Open them up, and the refreshing breeze blows in.

Feeding the babies

The babies are fed milk two times per day. The newborns get colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk produced by the cows after they have their babies. It’s some of the most nutrient dense milk you can find. It’s filled with beneficial immumuglobulins, growth factors, and antibodies that promote a healthy immune system, and also oligosaccharides that promote healthy bacteria growth in the calves digestive system. We feed them colostrum for the first couple days; it helps jump start the calves immune system.

Colostrum

**A bucket of colostrum, you can tell its much more thick and creamy than regular milk**

Calf Milk Pasteurizer

**The pasteurizer, same type of system is used to pasteurize the milk you’ll find in the store**

After getting colostrum for the first few days, the calves then get milk. The milk we give them is pasteurized just like the milk you would buy in the store. We have a pasteurizer on the farm to make sure the milk is clean of any harmful bacteria. The last thing we want to do is to expose the babies to any bacteria that could make them sick. If the calf gets sick, it dramatically affects their growth for the rest of their lives.

   Feeding the babies

**The milk trailer we use to feed the babies**

We have a little milk trailer that we use to feed the babies. Each calf gets a gallon of milk twice a day. The trailer is pretty handy. The tank has a hose that extends to fill each bucket with milk. Each baby has their own milk bucket.

We teach the calves to drink from the bucket as soon as we can. Surprisingly, many of them catch on quick, however there are some slow learners. For these, we use a nipple bucket to feed them while they are learning. Any calf that doesn’t drink by herself gets help. That’s where my sisters come in and help them out.

Feeding the baby calves   Calves

Growing Up

The babies also get some grain. The grain has a lot of nutrients, and protein to help them grow strong. The grain also helps stimulate the development of their rumen. When calves are born they have an esophageal tube that allows the milk to bypass the calves rumen, and go directly to the stomach. With time though, this groove closes and the calf is then able to eat grass and other forages. This usually takes a few months. It’s at this point that the calves stop drinking milk. Then they get a grown up diet of hay and silage.

The calves usually stay in their pens for just a few weeks, then they move to a group pen so they can play with their friends. By this time, they have very strong immune systems, and are very healthy.

Waiting for food

Everything we do at the dairy is done for a reason. We treat the babies very well; the future of our dairy depends on it. I’m planning to continue this series so you can see how the cows are treated throughout their lives at the farm. If you have questions about any of this stuff, as always, feel free to post them below!

The calves grow into heifers! You can read about heifer care at the dairy farm here.

27 COMMENTS

  1. How many cows do you calve – it looks like a lot, Speaking as someone who carries buckets of milk to 130 calves in a season, you look to have a fairly efficient system 🙂

    • Haha ya it definitely keeps us busy. We have anywhere from 10 to 20 newborns each day. Our little milk wagon is a lifesaver though. I can’t imagine carrying milk to them everyday. I give you props for that haha 🙂

  2. I live in Chandler, AZ & drive by a baby cow operation all the time. I noticed that there is always standing water in the newborn pen area. This doesn’t seem like it would be healthy for the little newborn calves. I presume it is from hosing out the pens with water to keep them clean. I was wondering how you keep the cows/young bulls hoofs healthy when they are basically standing in their own wet dirt regularly urinated on. It seems like ammonia would form and other nasty chemicals that would be bad for their health in general–it seems like even their lungs would be affected by breathing these fumes, & especially their hooves and even their skin when they lie down to sleep at night which they all do? Also to me it seems so awful that the only place they have to lie down and sleep at night is in that nasty wet excrement covered dirt. That’s the fate of the cows I see near my house in AZ. I don’t know how they can keep the cows healthy. Also are you legally allowed to feed them back their own poop after it is put in those piles with the plastic tightly covering it? It seems like parasites, bacteria, & viruses would become a problem. For some reason dairy farming has always been interesting to me–please fill in this “city girl’s” long- time questions & curiosity😊🐂

    • Christine, on no, there shouldn’t be water in the newborn area. If they are cleaning the pens the water may be outside but, they probably keep the actual pens clean and dry. We put fresh bedding 1-2 times per week using sand or straw. We like sand in the summer because it’s cooler and straw in the winter because it’s warmer. The goal is to keep the environment clean and reduce the calves exposure to bacteria. The first 1-3 months the calves immune systems are still developing so it’s important to give them the best care during that period. The corrals are actually cleaner than you think, the sun composts the manure and the hoof action stirs and accelerates the composting process. Composting actually kills bacteria. The cow’s hooves are quite hard and resilient. If you’ve ever walked in the corrals, you would notice how soft the compost is to walk and lay on- much better than hard dirt. Oh no, those piles with the plastic are actually feed – not compost. Farms will harvest the grass and pile it up, pack it tight, and cover it with white or black plastic usually held down with tires. The grass begins a fermentation process that keeps the grass good all year long. The absence of oxygen keeps the mold and harmful bacteria from growing. And the farm will have feed all year long then

  3. I can see the water in the newborn area even in the winter I think I’ve seen it. It is definitely in the small building where the little pens are– I’m sure of that. It may not be in the actual pens, but in the aisles– which would be weird as the workers would have to walk thru it, etc. How would they be using hoses and water without it affecting the little newborns adversely? Something seems not right. Also it doesn’t seem like what you describe as composting would occur where the cows are as I think they scrape that out with front loaders,etc. I just don’t see how that wouldn’t affect their skin and overall health– esp. the urine just all over the dirt. Also it seems like if we ask a question you should use first names only here.

    • It’s hard for me to explain without seeing it – some farms elevate the pens so that the waste will fall to the floor then be flushed with water underneath. For the cows, there is usually an eating lane where the cows will come in to eat and that lane will also be flushed. The flushing is usually done with recycled water. Most dairies try to reduce the amount of water they use. So sometimes these lanes are scraped mechanically. Check out this post for pictures http://www.dairymoos.com/inside-a-modern-dairy-cow-barn/. You may not see these barns in Arizona though, many of the dairies are open because the weather is less dynamic. But the same concepts but without the roof.

  4. Why do you wean right away? It would be easier to let the calves drink milk right from their mother for the first six months. They like it better, too. Also, why do you pasteurize milk for cows? There are beneficial enzymes in milk that aid in digestion – these are killed with pasteurization. That’s why there are people these days who want unpasteurized milk for their own consumption. Seems like you are doing more work than you need to.

    • It would be much easier, but the death rate is much higher because nutrition is not as good. Some cows have lower quality milk and some cows have better quality milk. Older cows, for example, have more immunoglobulins and immune factors. And while pasteurization does kill some beneficial enzymes, there has been a lot of research that shows that pasteurization actually reduces a farm’s death rate. Letting nature take care of the calves is the easier road, but by putting in the extra work to improve the health of the animals, keep them in a clean environment, and make sure they are getting the proper amount of nutrition, you can do a better job than would occur naturally. I think it is worth it to put a bit more work into taking care of the animals. Many of today’s practices on farms have been developed in universities that spent time researching and measuring best practices.

  5. I find this to be quite insulting that you call yourselves animal lovers while raising cows and stealing the milk that was actually made for their calves. Your farm is, by far, much better than most out there but it still doesn’t make it right. The fact is, milk is not healthy for humans, please research this as you will come to the same conclusion, it’s made to feed calves and that is all there is to it. We have no right to take that from them. Please do not say you love them and take care of them while stealing milk that isn’t ours to take. It’s not natural, it’s not kind, it’s harming our health, the environment, and the animals. It’s time to look into you heart and make a decision that will benefit everyone.

    • Thank you for your comment, but I’m insulted that you’re insulted about me being insulted. Milk is for mammals. You only have a perspective issue. Why do you enslave the bacteria in your gut. You force them to work for you and keep them enslaved in with your stomach lining. 100 trillion bacteria don’t deserve to be crowded in your body. Set them free, its proven that bacteria are better off in nature not your gut. It’s not natural or healthy for the bacteria. #Ifyoulovethemyouhavetosetthemfree

      • I guess you’re unaware of all the studies that show the harm dairy is doing to human bodies. I highly suggest you look into it. You are aware of the amount of people who are lactose intolerant right? The numbers are staggering, especially for something that humans “need” in their everyday diet. It’s funny you talk about my gut and all that bacteria that lives in it like you know me. I can assure you I’m as healthy as I need to be and I provide my body with the essential nutrients that it actually needs. It’s unfortunate that you’re beliefs are actually harming people’s health. I guess only time will tell until you start to open your eyes to the truth that dairy is not meant for humans. Or you’ll see the demand isn’t going to be there anymore because people can educate themselves and you’ll be forced to end the harm you are doing to the animals, planet, and the rest of us. At least you were warned. Peace!

        • I was proving your perspective issue, you are blinded from seeing things in a different light. Animal agriculture is about living in symbiosis and harmony with the natural biological life-cycles of this world.

          • I could say the same to you, you are blinded from seeing things in a different light… I was raised to think the way you do, I live in a farming community and always have, I fully understand where you are coming from because I used to think eating animals and drinking calves milk was necessary and cows were happy to give themselves to us, then I grew up, took my blinders off and realized the horrors of what we are actually doing.
            Im pretty positive you do not understand what a symbiotic relationship actually entails but I can assure you, cows DO NOT want us taking their milk. Oh but wait…you take care of them, give them a place to live/sleep, you feed them, what a selfless act of kindness… just kidding, this is what slave owners say to themselves.
            If you can come at me with some good ol’ factual evidence to show that humans need cows milk, I will continue to believe that it’s creepy to drink another mammals milk and assume that you choose to drink it for fun. And I will continue to fight for their right to be left alone.
            Anyway, it really doesn’t matter what you or I think, does it? People are already making up their own minds and are ditching dairy. 😉

          • If you lived in a farming community then you understand that farmers do enjoy working with the animals. I don’t know why you developed a bitterness toward farming and why you changed your belief system. Farmers are not evil, it is possible to love animals and eat them. Just like the Native Americans or any other culture in the history of this world is not evil for eating meat. You need to realize that it is impossible for you to have a Zero impact on the world. By not eating meat you are killing and murdering other life. Your very existence in a city means you are taking part in a system that harms Mother Earth. Not eating meat doesn’t make you better, you are still having an impact. There is evidence now that even plants are alive and have feelings. They don’t have faces or look like you or me but they are life forms nonetheless. All life on this planet is linked in ways we don’t fully understand. Everything has a purpose, including humans. Just like the human-bacteria relationship. No species can really live without cooperation from another. Everything is linked. Condemning ourselves for participating in life’s bio cycles does nothing but breed hate. Veganism is an idealist fantasy, it doesn’t follow the natural laws of this universe. To truly follow its ideals, it requires you to stop breathing. Self- imposed ideological enslavement is no way to live

    • “Self- imposed ideological enslavement is no way to live” this got me laughing! As if the the dairy and live stock industry wasnt!!

  6. I honestly found this very disturbing to read…… From curing lactose intolerance article by “drink a bit and drink some more” which absolutely not possible (speaking from experience) an is bad for the human body its self… To this article that claims that its all love and humane here….. I feel very bad for where the world is heading to. My over all review to this site and its followers; horrible.

    • How is it disturbing? Lactose is a healthy sugar, go read about some of the health benefits. Most digestive problems come from unbalanced gut micro-flora not milk

  7. Kris is right about 95 percent of the world population becomes lactose intolerant at around 18 to 20 years old. Check my Daughters senior anthropology book and you will discover that 12000 years ago during the last Ice Age in six small areas around the world a gene expressed that allows adult milk drinkers. My ancestors came from one of those areas located in northeast Germany in what was Prussia. I am over seventy and drink over a gallon of 2% milk a week my whole like. My research showed 2% is closer to human milk fat content if I am correct.
    In the past five years I have started heating the milk with one fourth coffee to 195 and let it cool.
    I have become concerned that I can’t get milk with the SCC count from that batch printed on the label. The Somatic Cell Count are dead cells that provide one measure of the quality of the milk as stated by the milk council and mastitis organization.
    I believe I can actually detect that difference in lower quality milk which on rare occasions has made me ill.
    If I were President the first law I would send to Congress is to have all milk segregated by SCC count to a reasonable extent and upon bottling represent the average SCC count on the package.
    I feel I should have the right to buy low SCC milk below 150,000 if I chose to do so.
    I might accept an ultra filtration process to refine milk that is below 300,000 by perhaps an osmotic filter to below 50,000 or even better near zero and I would pay extra for that.
    What is not addressed by the Dairy community is that introducing the dead SCC into humans causes a low level immune inflammatory response of antibodies that affects to some degree the lining of human arteries, thereby promoting conditions for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries or fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries due to inflammation).
    I try to counteract the inflammation with Omega three oils in my diet because I am not willing to give up my gallon of milk a week just yet.
    There is Bovine Tuberculosis cells which if they get in to the milk are very difficult to kill and while they may not affect humans generally , would also contribute to the inflammatory immune response. If bovine TB jumps to humans or affects someone with an impaired immune system by some quirk of nature it would be quite a disaster. So that should be tested for to a tight tolerance and don’t see much addressing that threat.
    PS my dogs go crazy and are irritable if they don’t get to go for a walk every day. Do these cows ever get a once around the pasture for a little fresh air and sunshine or just stand in a stall their whole life.
    Louis the milk drinker

    • Hi Louis, yes there is a gene but it doesn’t mean you can’t digest lactose. The bacteria in your gut can also have the gene to produce lactase. You can regrow the bacteria with re-exposure to lactose. Researchers have found that constant exposure will cause bacteria to adopt the gene. Genetics don’t control us, they just pass useful information to the next generations. SCC is dead cells but there are cells in meat.. so nothing to be worried about.
      Most milk in nature has very high SCC due to the amount of bacteria in the natural environment. Beef cows will produce milk with a SCC upwards of 600,000 – most dairy cows in CA are around 200,000 but many herds can be down to 130,000. US dairies have some of the lowest SCC milk possible. It is illegal to sell any milk over 750,000 in the US. But at some point, it becomes what is genetically possible and is less better – think our modern world less exposure to bacteria makes our bodies immune systems weaker. Your body is better at handling itself than you give it credit for. Being that our bodies have been drinking milk for millennia, milk is the most digestible food we can consume.
      Milk is highly regulated for quality. Each milk truck is tested. Bovine TB is an issue in developing countries not the US. If a case pops up in the US, the ranch is quarantined and federal and state authorities will shut down if not contained. Pasteurization of milk was originally implemented in the United States to specifically kill the bovine TB bacterium. Pasteurization kills bovine TB.
      The cows do get out and about at our farm- sunshine is essential 🙂
      Check out some of my other articles, would love to hear your thoughts

  8. After the short time that the calves are weaned, what happens to them? I have heard that the female calves will go into the dairy farm but that the male cslves are not needed anymore. It’s just true? So after just five or six weeks of life what happens to the male calves?

    • Weaning just means they are not fed milk anymore – After they’re weaned they live in group pens with their herdmates. The males are usually sold to beef ranches where they will raise them till they’re full grown.

    • I’m not sure about this dairy farm but the male calves are also sold off to veal farms. It’s incredibly exploitive for these beautiful animals. Some humans just think animals were put on this planet for our tastes buds. It’s heartbreaking. If you do your homework, you will find that milk does not do a body good and we don’t need it anymore so we are taking something extremely intimate from the cow and drinking it for our pleasure. Not sure if you’re a mother but most woman can understand why this shouldn’t be done. Milk is for babie and that’s it! Remember, this is a large mammal so their milk is very different from our own.

      • No – veal is not popular in the U.S. for obvious reasons. Most males are raised till they are full grown. Milk is for mammal and nearly the same -cows have extra milk to spare, that is the generosity these animals share with the world. They are the noble ones turning sunlight and grass into nutritious proteins and fats. If you want to drink almond milk that is fine but almonds are baby tree embryos and were created to birth new almond trees into the world. Stop killing baby trees. This is your statements logic. Humans are part of an ecosystem and living in imbalance with nature (like vegans propose) is far from natural.

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