If there’s one age group of beautiful bovines that seems to receive the most attention from people it’s the babies! I, for one, think few things are cuter than a bunch of baby calves. They’re always so happy and soak up what ever attention they can grab. It can make you feel like you’re the most popular person on the farm to walk in to our calf barn at feeding time. All these little black and white (and one brown) face pop out to greet you!
You may be wondering how does one take care of a baby calf, what all is involved?
Baby calves, like baby humans, are very high maintenance animals. They require lots of care, patience and love to reach maturity as a cow. This blog I’ll go over what happens from when they born until they reach their “teenage years”. Yes, heifers (cows that have never had a baby) can be very hard to handle sometimes just like human teenagers. Definitely have minds of their own, so we’ll just talk about them while they’re cute!
Baby calves are born in what is called our close-up pen. This pen is where the pregnant momma cows live the 3 weeks prior to calving. It has lots of room and they are put on a ration that helps to prepare them for re-entering the milking string. When the babies are born the momma cow cleans them off and gets them ready for life.
Once the mother has them ready to go, she’s milked the next milking. We milk the momma’s right away to make sure the baby, regardless of gender, receives at least a gallon of colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk the mother produces after birth. It’s packed full of antibodies that will help the calf fight off diseases for it’s entire life time. Kind of amazing when you think about it.
When the calf receives their colostrum they also have their navel dipped with iodine. This helps the umbilical cord dry as well as prevent a navel infection. No one wants their belly button to get infected!
This where care between the genders begins to differ. This does not mean our little bull calves (boys) are not cared for, but they do not receive the other management procedures as heifers. Our little bulls remain on the farm until they go to a calf buyer, generally around 1 week of age. From there they will go on to be steers and eventually make it to your dinner table.
Heifer calves receive a pill along with their colostrum that helps protect them against a possible E.Coli infection. You might be asking yourself, how does a calf swallow a pill? We use the help of a “pill gun” which helps to push the pill to the back of the calf’s mouth. This does not hurt in any way, but ensures that the pill is swallowed. E.Coli is a nasty bug and can easily kill calves if they catch it. With the newborns not having much of an immune system this is a way we can help protect them.
At this point in time the heifer calves leave the close up pen or calving pen to make the journey across the drive way to the calf barn.
Once they get in to the calf barn, they will live in an individual pen for the next 7 weeks. They will continue to drink their mothers milk the first 3 days of life. During the first few days after birth the calves will get an ear tag for identification (no more painful than having your ears pierced) and a intra-nasal vaccine for respiratory diseases. Think flu mist for calves.
After 3 days of their mothers milk the calves are switched to milk replacer. This is formula for calves. Each calf drinks 3 quarts of milk replacer twice a day along with having free choice water and starter (baby calf grain). While on milk replacer the calves will gain 1 1/2 to 2 pounds a day. The babies are fed twice a day for 6 weeks. At the end of 6 weeks they are only fed in the mornings to prepare them for being “weaned” or taken off of milk. This helps them increase their intake of water and starter to make up for not having the milk. A gradual wean is less stressful on them than making them go cold turkey.
In the summer months the calf barn has all its windows open and lots of fans running to keep the babies cool and have good air flow. Here is what we do in the winter so the babies stay nice and warm!
After being weaned at 7 weeks old they go in to group pens. They are housed with other heifers of similar ages. Each age group receives a ration that has the nutritional requirements to meet their needs and free choice hay. They are on the starter, or baby grain, until 3 months of age. They then switch to a feed with slightly less protein. This will be their feed for the next 3 months. At 6 months of age they then switch to the ration that they will eat until 60 days of pregnancy. The heifers reach puberty and begin to be bred at 12-14 months of age. Then they are in waiting to have baby calves of their own and start the process over again!
**For the month of June, if you have any questions on the dairy industry please leave them below in the comments. I will try my best to get them answered quickly for you 🙂 **