Every 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.
- On 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.
- 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.)
- 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?
- 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?
- 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!
- In 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.)
- 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.
- Lastly, 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