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