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!
I’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.
Shortly 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.
Once 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.
- Individual calf pens inside a calf barn
- Automatic calf feeders.
On 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.
While 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.
Once 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.
A 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!
When 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.
Fireball 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.
Her 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.
And 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.