On a dairy farm, calves represent the future. Healthy, happy calves grow into cows who produce safe, nutritious milk for our families to enjoy! When a cow is in the last bit of her pregnancy, she is moved into our cushy maternity pen. This area of the barn is towards the front of the farm so it’s easy to keep an eye on them, just in case they need any help. We like to let our cows give birth as naturally as possible, and most of them do this very successfully. However, we will step in if there are complications, for the sake of mama and baby.
Within a few hours of being born, we move the calf into her own “room”, away from the mother. This is an important, though often misunderstood, part of quality cow care. Here are a few points to explain why we do this.
- Size Matters. Anytime you have a smaller, weaker, animal around their larger counterparts there is a chance they could be stepped on, rolled over, or knocked into something. By moving the calf to a separate area, we are able ensure her safety as well as closely monitor her needs to see they are well taken care of.
- Sanitation. Another reason we give the calf her own area is to limit her exposure to illness and germs. These could be easily passed from one animal to another and could be devastating to a weak immune system. They are fed milk from ultra-sanitized bottles and later buckets, while their domes are scrubbed down often.
- Mother’s Milk. When a calf drinks on her own accord from its mother, it’s hard to tell right away if they are getting enough to eat. The solution is to milk the mother separately, then feed her milk to the calf through a bottle. This mother’s milk is called colostrum, and the quality/quantity a calf receives can impact her health for the rest of her life.
Some non-dairy fans will tell you calves “scream for their mothers” while they are “cruelly ripped” away. This is simply not true. The fact of the matter is cows are instinctual, not emotional, so they don’t give a second thought to their calves once they are separated. Also, I have honestly never heard a calf (or a cow) call out while being moved to a different area. If it happens at all, it is a rare occurrence. Our motives are to provide the absolute best care we can, for both mother and baby. We put hours and hours of planning, research, and training into how to give our herd the best lives possible. Not including the hours we spend actually, physically, caring for them!