A Cow Calves, Now What? Part 2.

Welcome back to part 2 of A Cow Calves, Now What?

This post will cover what happens when a cow has a heifer (girl) calf.

So let’s get started & I apologize in advance for how long this post will be. You may want to get yourself some popcorn before you settle in!

IMG_4957.jpgI’m going to tell you the story of Fireball’s life. Fireball is one of the two full Jerseys on our dairy farm. The rest of the herd are all Holstein, except for one uh-oh cow that’s a red & white holstein-jersey cross!

So lets take it back to the summer of 2015. It’s a warm July day and 919 aka Cinnamon is 9 days overdue with her fourth calf. Usually when a cow is overdue it means she’s carrying a bull (boy) calf, but it was just our luck, she calved out a healthy and BIG heifer calf. Fireball was born in the evening on July 30th. Weighing 83 pounds! A typical jersey calf weighs around 60 pounds at birth, so she was a bit bigger than normal due to her being 9 days late.

IMG_4953Shortly after she was born, we moved her into a little pen where we keep all of our newborn calves in. It’s right next door to the calving pen. (If you’re wondering why we separate the cow and the calf, be sure to go back and read A Cow Calves, Now What? Part 1.) I then warmed up two 2-quart bottles of colostrum (a cows first milking that is rich with antibodies) in a bucket of hot water. Once those were at the perfect temperature around 104 degrees, I fed them to Fireball. She drank her full gallon of colostrum down very quickly. It is very important for the calf’s immunity that they consume a gallon of colostrum within the first 24 hours. On our dairy, we also feed our calves a second feeding of colostrum 12 hours later, but only two quarts instead of a full gallon.

It was then time to give her two earrings, a vaccine and out some special dip on her naval. The first one was a pink tag that just had her identification number on it, 2732 and the second one was a little round electronic button tag (RFID tag). The vaccine she received is called Inforce 3 and it is a nasal vaccine, so it just goes up the nose. It is a vaccine that helps the prevention of a respiratory disease. Many dairy and beef farmers use this vaccine at birth.  The special dip I put on her went on her umbilical cord. It’s called iodine and it prevents her from getting an infection in her naval, which is just like a belly button. The iodine dries up the cord quicker than letting it air dry would. The faster it dries, the harder it is for it to get infected.
Side note, I gave her those tags and the vaccine because all of the heifers stay in the herd. They are NOT sold as veal calves or raised for beef. They are strictly raised to later produce milk as a dairy cow. 

IMG_4988.jpgOnce Fireball had eaten, received her eartags and was given her vaccine, it was time to weigh her with the weight tape and move her down to the individual hutches. Which is where we keep our calves from birth to around 2 months old. I kind of think of them as a crib for calves.

There are a few different styles to house calves in. 
Some farmers use:

  • Hutches with a wire panel around them.
  • Hutches with a tethered chain.
  • Polydomes.
  • Individual calf pens inside a calf barn
  • Automatic calf feeders.

IMG_4982.jpgOn our dairy, we use hutches with a tethered chain and we have individual calf pens with a roof built over the top due to them being outside instead of in a calf barn.

IMG_5289.jpgWhile Fireball was living in her individual hutch, she was getting fed whole, pasteurized milk twice a day (Yes, you read that right. We feed milk from our cows to our calves!) with access to water the rest of the day. She also had access to calf starter. It’s a type of grain mix that is specifically made for calves. Heifer calves are typically on milk for 6-7 weeks and then start to get weaned onto water. Usually when calves are getting weaned, they get fed milk in the morning and then only get fed water at night for a week straight. Once the week is up, they are switched to only water.

[On some farms, calves get fed milk THREE times a day and when calves are housed in a barn with an automatic calf feeder, they also have a limited amount of milk they are able to consume, but are able to drink at any time of their choosing!] 

Along with getting fed twice a day, calves also get bedded frequently depending on the weather. Most farmers use corn stalks, straw, shavings or sand to bed calves with. Calves are also dehorned in this phase. On our dairy, we USED to just use an electric dehorner around 5 weeks old and burn them off, but a year and a half ago I decided to switch to dehorn paste due to it being more humane to use and it’s much easier to use. I use it when the calf is a newborn or up to a week old. Just depends when I get time to apply the dehorn paste. Lastly, we vaccinate with a few different vaccines and weigh our calves again just prior to them leaving the hutches. The weight tape is helpful to us, the caretakers, because it helps us compare the calf’s birth weight to her current weight and that tells us if she’s growing at the correct rate we want or if we need to watch her a little more closely. Fireball had weighed in close to 200 pounds when we moved her out of her individual hutch.

IMG_6073.jpgOnce the calves have outgrown their hutches after 2 months, we will then move them to super hutches! Super hutches are a great way for a calf to socialize. We house 4 calves together in one super hutch at a time. A super hutch is just what it sounds like. They are a giant hutch that has panels around it and also a feed bunk in the front! In the super hutches, we introduce the calves to hay and the calves will continue to get fed the same grain they were getting fed prior to moving. Here, they have access to water 24/7. [No milk is given to calves in the super hutches, they are all completely weaned at this stage.] We keep our calves in them for 2-3 weeks depending on if we have a lot of calves to move one week compared to another.

IMG_6520.jpgA few weeks went by and Fireball was then ready to move into an even bigger pen with MORE friends. The bigger pens are where she will live for the next few months, until she is ready to head to the heifer growers. She was also weighed again when she moved up there and given a second eartag.

So let me explain a little bit more.

Once calves outgrow the super hutches, we move them up to our lots/pens. There are currently 3 different pens we house calves in. The first two are small and can house up to a maximum of 16 calves at a time. Calves are fed the same grain and hay diet as they were receiving in the super hutches, only a little less grain and a lot more hay! The third is our big pen. We can house up to 80 calves at most in that one. When calves are housed in there, they have access to a round hay bale, TMR (total mixed ration) and just a smidge of grain. The TMR they are fed is the refusal from the cows. Meaning that it is the food that the cows didn’t finish from the day before. The girls seem to love it!
IMG_8767.jpgWhen the calves are in the upper lots, they have a lot of room to run around and a lot of room to just nap. I mean, it’s hard being a calf..
Eating, ruminating and pooping takes a lot of them.

IMG_7407.jpgFireball spent her days in those pens rejecting every treat I tried to bring her, such as Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers. She’s not a fan of sweets, unlike my Holstein calves who attack me with kisses until they get what they want. As Fireball got older, it was time for her to move on to the next chapter of her life. We sent her and 30 of her closest friends to her new destination in February of 2016.

15094491_357293921286722_8584865737250671999_n.jpgHer new destination was at the heifer growers,  where she would live for the next year and 2 months. Some heifers are there longer than others depending on size or if we can’t get them bred to AI (artificial insemination).  (I’ll make a blog about our heifer growers later.) For now, I’ll just explain it this way. We don’t have enough room on our dairy to house all of our animals, so we send them to people who can take care of them for the next chapter of their lives. Once the heifers are old enough and big enough, they will then get bred. After they are confirmed pregnant and have been carrying their calf for at least 7 months, it will be time for those girls to return to the dairy where they will live for the rest of their lives.

18033932_10213109086659220_8471758639248935340_nAnd just in luck, Fireball’s year and 2 months were up just last week. She came home on Friday! We are patiently waiting for June 1st to roll around as it is her due date. Once she calves, she will be moved to the barns where she will eat, sleep, poop, ruminate and get milked. It is where she will stay for the rest of her time with us. If she has a heifer calf, she will then go through the same cycle Fireball went through growing up. If she has a bull… well I’ll just wait and explain that in Part 3 of A Cow Calves, Now What?

All in all, heifer calves are raised with the kind of care that will make them a great cow one day. A lot goes into making sure they are happy, healthy and thriving animals. The more times an animal has to be treated for sickness, the more her milk production in the future will decrease and that’s not what we strive for. We do our best, so they can preform at their best. Our misson statement on our dairy is … Happy, healthy people caring for happy, healthy cows profitably producing quality dairy products and genetics for the public … That is how our dairy is run.

The Crazy Calf Lady, Jenna.

PS. Please enjoy these few other pictures of Fireball growing up.

IMG_8657.jpg IMG_8062.jpg IMG_6567.jpg IMG_4994.jpg

A Cow Calves, Now What? Part 1.

IMG_7350Every single day, new calves are brought into this world.

You’re probably asking yourself, what happens to those calves and the cows?

Are they separated from their moms? Why? What happens to the heifers (girls) What happens to the bulls (boys)? What happens to the cow?

Well I am here to answer those questions, but bare with me. I plan on doing them in 4 different parts, so this post will just go over part 1. Part 1 will discuss reasons as to why we separate the cow and the calf. Part 2 will discuss what happens to the heifer calves. Part 3 will discuss what happens to the bull calves. Finally, part 4 will discuss what happens to the cow.

So sit back, relax, and learn a little something new today.

Part 1: Why we separate the calf from the cow.

  1. IMG_7512.jpgOn average, it takes a newborn calf one hour to stand on their own. Some of my calves have taken up to 24 hours to stand on their own. In order for a calf to drink from a cow, they need to be able to stand. When a calf drinks from a cow, we are not able to determine how much colostrum (cow’s first milking that is rich with antibodies) they have received. Colostrum is important in a calf’s life because it is crucial for their immunity, and in order for the colostrum to be beneficial, calves need to consume a gallon (for a 90 pound calf) within the first 24 hours. On our dairy, we feed a gallon of colostrum within the first 2 hours to the calf and then feed them another 2 quarts (half a gallon) about 12 hours later.
  2. Cows may not give enough or have a high enough IgG (immunoglobulin) level of colostrum for it to benefit their calf. Some cows give a lot of colostrum which we are able to save for a calf in that situation. (I’ll go into further detail about this in another blog post.)
  3. Calves don’t have an immune system built up yet. Which is why we want to keep the spread of bugs to a minimum and why we want to give them a high enough IgG level of colostrum to get them off to a good start. Just like a newborn baby, you wouldn’t let a sick person handle them, would you?
  4. Cows are not gentle giants all of the time. They can be dangerous to their newborn. Just the other day, my friend Kayla, told me about an incident where a calf was born and not even 5 minutes later, the cow had stepped on the calf’s leg and broke it, just like that!

    Are you starting to understand why yet?

  5. Dairy cows DO NOT have the same maternal instinct as a beef cow does. There have been many instances where a cow calves and they don’t care to lick off their newborn. When a cow licks off her newborn it helps stimulate them. You can gently glide your fingers on a calf’s back by the spine (it would act like a cow tongue) and they will feel the need to stand. Neat trick, I know!
  6. IMG_6670.jpgIn the winter, it’s especially crucial to get the calf in a warm area so they can dry off and stay warm. We normally separate the cow and calf within 15 minutes in the cold winter months. Think about getting out of a hot shower and going outside with just a towel when it’s 0 degrees outside to dry off. Would you rather have a warm and dry place to dry off rather than standing outside with just a towel to use? On our farm, we have invested in calf warmers (blue domes with a heater attached). With those, we are able to keep the calf at a desired temperature of our choosing and it usually dries them off completely in a matter of 4 hours. (Keep a look out for a blog post about that as well.)
  7. Dairy cows nowadays produce more milk than a single calf can consume. On
    our dairy, a cow produces a little over 11 gallons of milk in a single day. Do you really believe a calf could consume all of that? We feed no more than 2 gallons of milk to a calf in a day. Which is why cows need to be milked out fully. It’s the same concept as women pumping milk after they’ve had a baby.
  8. IMG_5028Lastly, Calves are born with teeth! Teeth hurt and dairy cows don’t have an udder that can handle that sort of stress like a beef cow’s udder can. When calves are hungry, they head butt the udder to let the cow know to let down their milk. Do you really think that sounds comfortable when they head butt and then suckle with their teeth? I’m sure all the moms out there that have breastfed can understand that feeling.

With that being said, I hope you can understand a little bit more as to why separating calves from cows is beneficial. If you have any questions, feel free to send them my way!

The Crazy Calf Lady, Jenna

Why I Farm.

When you hear the word farmer, what do you think of?

DSC_6223.jpgDo you think about a person who tends to livestock such as cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, etc.? Do you think about a person driving tractor? Do you think about an older gentleman wearing overalls? Do you think about a person who is a part of feeding the world?


Do you think about a person who would give you the shirt off their back like Katie does? Do you think a farmer is one who is not confined by a time clock, but rather by his love, ability and the job? Dani thinks about a person who has faith, is a hard worker and is committed.

What comes to mind to you?

Do IMG_0336.jpgyou think about those videos you see on Facebook showing an animal being abused? If so, do you think to yourself, why didn’t the person capturing that footage step in and stop it? Why did they let it continue to happen? Was it just so they could get some footage to make a video about it? Do you truly believe that abuse happens on every farm?

I can assure you that you would be wrong if you believe that abuse happens everywhere. The only way you’re going to have a healthy, thriving and happy animal is if they don’t have to endure stress or if you can keep it to a minimum, such as being quiet as you’re moving cows around.

I can assure you that livestock are respected.

Livestock are treated with the utmost care.

Livestock are given the best possible life.

Livestock do love their caretakers. Believe it or not.

Livestock’s needs come before most farmer’s own needs.

That is why I farm. This is why I am an AGvocate. To share the truth. To share who we IMG_0370.jpgare. I may only be a few years into my dairy farming adventure, but the places I’ve worked and the people I have met along the way have made me want to continue. They have made me want to share my story and share about life on a farm. There are SO many misconceptions about food and I am just one of the many voices that is trying to share the truth. If you have a question about life on a farm, where our milk, meat, corn, wheat, etc. go, just ask a farmer, a rancher, a gardener. Whomever sells products to the market has an answer for you. Come to us first before running to google.

The dictionary definition of a farmer is a person who owns or manages a farm.

I can reassure you that we are much more than just that definition. We are caretakers.
We are dedicated. We are respectful. We have faith. We are providers. We are united. We make our living to provide for our families and yours. We buy our food at the grocery store just like you do. We are people too.

If you want an answer you have to be willing to listen. Listen to understand instead of listening to just reply.

To us, farming is more than just an occupation, it’s a lifestyle.

Thanks for reading.

The Crazy Calf Lady