Caring for the Future of the Farm: Calves
Calves are the future of dairy farms, so dairy farmers treat them like royalty.
That includes caring for calves separately from their mothers to give them special attention. It may seem that the mother should provide the care, but it really is best for the calf. Their care is one of the most significant aspects of managing a dairy farm.
Dairy farmers work tirelessly to provide optimal conditions for their herd. Fresh bedding, clean water, a balanced diet put together by the farmer and a nutritionist, veterinary care, and humane treatment are just a few ways they ensure a safe, nutritious food is served to your family.
Modern calf wellness practices are scientifically proven to provide the best care to newborns by preventing sickness and injury. These practices also ensure their houses are clean and that they consume the nutrients they need to grow.
Dairy cows are pregnant for about nine months, just like humans! A few months before a cow is going to give birth she is put on “moo-ternity leave” when her job switches from producing milk to growing a healthy calf.
As her due date nears, she is also moved into a maternity pen. This pen provides a clean, comfortable environment for the cow to deliver her calf. Maternity pens also allow dairy farmers to give more individualized attention during the birthing process and intervene if needed. A veterinarian is always on call in case a problem occurs.
Once a calf is born, dairy farmers take many steps:
Colostrum, or the first milk made by the cow after a calf is born, is essential to calf health and well-being. It contains vital antibodies they need to help build their immune system and fight off germs. This passive transfer is ensured by a dairy farmer in the first few hours of life, drank from either the cow or through a bottle.
After birth, time is given for the cow to lick the calf to remove birthing fluids and encourage the calf to stand. Calves are then moved to their own pen, or hutch. Farmers do this because mama cows don’t recognize their larger size. It is not uncommon for them to accidently hurt the calf by stepping on them or even lie down on them after an exhausting labor. This can even result in death for the calf. Dairy cows, by nature, also don’t have strong maternal instincts. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for them to choose to not care for their baby.
Hutches not only provide safety from other animals, but contain fresh bedding that helps dry them off, keep them warm, and minimize exposure to bacteria. Farmers have socially distanced calves from each other to prevent the spread of disease before it was the human standard!
Calves receive vaccinations to prevent disease and are closely monitored.
Exceptional cow care doesn’t stop there. These calves continue to be nurtured throughout their life and will one day join their mom as a producer of the delicious and nutritious products we enjoy. Dairy farmers are proud of their animals and give them the best care possible because in return, they take care of us.