It has recently been brought to my attention some people have negative opinions of how we take care of our youngest herd members. That it’s mean they don’t live side by side with their mothers their entire lives and how our care cannot possibly match up to that of a concerned momma cow.
Why do our calves not stay with their mom? One common misconception I have heard is that we steal the calves from their mothers in order to “harvest” their milk for human consumption. The average cow on our farm gives almost 11 gallons of milk a day. I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of milk for one calf. With our current calf care program the calves drink a little less than 2 gallons of milk. They could nurse off of Mom and there would still be plenty to go around.
Maybe we just like to be big bullies? Far from the truth. Cows can hurt calves. We like to envision rolling green fields filled with pairs of cows and calves. Today most dairy cows live in free stall barns or on bedding packs. This is quite comfortable in a cows eyes. Lots of space, clean dry bedding, no flys and not being out in the weather. I, personally, don’t want the sun beating down on my back!
Free stall barns are not ideal for cow/calf pairing. The babies need fluffy straw to give them a warm and comfy bedding pack, where as Mom likes to lay in deep sand so she can hunker down and rest. Each has a different housing need. On top of that, the flooring in a free stall barn is grooved cement to allow for easy cleaning. While cement is fine for Mom, babies legs are too wobbly and they will struggle with footing.
Let’s face it, some dairy cows just aren’t good mothers. It’s easy to assume every cow has a calf and wants to care for it. Some do, but some don’t. I have seen plenty of cows lay down, go thru labor, only to get up and simply walk away. Mothering traits have not been bred in to dairy cows as in beef cows. Humans have taken care of dairy calves for many, many years. Calves can be stepped on and suffer devastating injuries. I have even seen the after effects of a less than careful cow lay on her baby, squishing it. Babies have separate housing to keep them safe.
Dairy cows and calves have different nutritional requirements. Cows need access to plenty of feed geared to make them produce lots of quality milk. Calves need the nutrition to help them grow quickly. Their nutritional needs change every few months at first. We have rations for each stage to maximize their health and growth.
Our herd is regularly vaccinated just like you or your pet are. This ensures we keep some nasty diseases at bay. Calves, like any other baby, are born with no immune system. This sets them up to be a magnet for germs. Most diseases can be vaccinated for and prevented against by taking small preventative steps. Some simply cannot and are easily passed from older cows to calves. A calf’s health and wellness for their entire lives can actually be set up very shortly after birth.
We don’t take baby calves away to be mean. We don’t take baby calves away to “steal” milk meant for them. We house baby calves separately because years and years of observation have told us it is the safest option for the calves.