Seperate Is Not Always Bad

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.

Baby Dorothy looking for her breakfast.

Baby Dorothy looking for her breakfast.

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.

A view inside of our free stall barn.

A view inside of our free stall barn.

A baby hanging out in a calf pen. This shot was taken in the winter, the jacket is meant to give her an extra layer to stay warm.

A baby hanging out in a calf pen. This shot was taken in the winter, the jacket is meant to give her an extra layer to stay warm.

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.

Calves are housed with other calves their own size.

Calves are housed with other calves their own size.

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 strive to keep our babies healthy and content.

We strive to keep our babies healthy and content.

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.

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6 thoughts on “Seperate Is Not Always Bad

  1. I always smile when I see one of your posts in my in-box. This one was wonderful.
    I wish all the people who don’t like dairy farming could read it. Have you considered adding #farm365 to your tweets? You’re just the kind of voice the hashtag needs. 🙂

    • Thank you! I did use it for a while but it was when it was getting attacked like crazy! Then I laid off for quite awhile. I do use sporadically, but not on a regular basis anymore. Glad you enjoy the blog!!

  2. Thank you for writing about this when people are constantly talking about how bad calves are treated the need to be shown how well they are actually treated. I’d love to have something like this on my site theagrithink.com keep up the great agvocating work

  3. I have just a few thoughts in regards to this post. I do not say these things to be rude, or disrespectful, but just thoughts on how things could/can be different.

    You say a cow on your farm averages about 11 gallons of milk today, and I agree, that is way more than a calf needs starting out. You say a cow could nurse on mom and there would still be plenty to go around. So why don’t you milk share? The calves could nurse and you would still have plenty of milk.

    Although I imagine there are times your cows enjoy being in a free style barn, I would venture to say it’s not an ideal situation. Cows are grazing animals, then to put it simply, aren’t they happen when they are out grazing?

    Not all animals are good mothers, I agree 100%. However there is still a large portion of cows that are, and do want to raise their calves.

    I personally wouldn’t think the nutrition requirements would cause the need for cows/calves to be separated. Couldn’t they just be fed separately? Most animals, even small, thrive on schedules.

    As to the immune system, I agree, all mammals are born with no immune system. That’s why mothers milk is so important for them.

    Again, I don’t want to be rude, but honestly sometimes I wish large dairy farmers would just be honest. You separate calves from cows because it’s better for the bottom line, it’s easier, it’s now considered impractical to do it any other way.

    I have dairy goats. They give birth to their kids, and after two weeks I separate them at night and milk their moms in the morning. They grow up alongside their moms, even though they have different nutritional requirements and no immune systems at birth. I get less milk than I could, but I have very happy goats, who you can tell love their kids.

    • Most cows are no longer grazing animals. We have, over a long period of time, selected them for production. Our dry cows go out on pasture. Some of them throw a real fit and don’t waste much time hopping on the trailer to leave. I’m not saying there’s those who don’t enjoy it, a lot of them do.

      I’m not sure how we would feed together. I would be worried about the cows pushing calves out of the way to get their grain. Resulting in calves being stepped on and hurt.

      It is better for the bottom line. It results in healthier calves which go on to become more productive cows. I personally don’t want to worry about unnecessary injuries or illnesses.

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