What is cuter than a cow? A baby cow, of course, which is technically known as calf.
In order for a cow to produce milk, she must first give birth to a calf. Many farmers breed their cows using artificial insemination (AI), which with proper training and technique, results in a pregnancy. By using AI, farmers can ensure the safety of their cows and employees because there is no need to house male animals, also known as bulls, which are large and sometimes feisty, on the farm.
In addition to safety, other benefits of utilizing AI instead of natural breeding methods include the ability to select the genetics within the herd by picking desirable traits, predictable results such that a farmer can better estimate exactly when the cow will give birth, which will help with planning, the minimization of disease transmission from one animal to another, and the ability to select bulls that will produce offspring that will be the right fit for the cow that is to deliver it.
Did you know that cows are pregnant for nine months –– just like humans? When a cow is two months away from giving birth, she will be moved into a special group usually referred to as the “far off dry cows” because they are “far” away from calving. In this group, cows are dried off from milking and will no longer continue to be milked until their calves are born. All in all, this “dry period” or time while the cow is not producin g milk and is instead focusing on growing and delivering a healthy calf, is more or less a vacation for the cow.
While cows are hanging out in their new group, they are fed a different diet consisting of less energy and lots of fiber.
Nutritionists work directly with farmers to plan different meal plans for each stage in a cow’s life. When cows are about three weeks away from delivering, they are then moved into a “close up” dry cow group because they are close to calving or giving birth. The close up group is fed a diet high in protein and energy. In the close up dry cow group, cows are monitored very closely to keep an eye for any new arrivals.
Once a calf is welcomed into the world, the calf gets a bath from its mom by licking it clean and dry, which helps to stimulate the calf. After the calf has been cleaned, the calf is moved out of the pen and put into an individualized pen or hutch and the mother will get moved into the parlor so she can be milked so the calf can be fed.
Why do farmers separate cows and calves? When calves are first born, their immune system isn’t fully developed yet, which means the calf is susceptible to getting sick in the maternity pen. Putting the calf into an individualized home allows for social distancing between other calves and allows the farmer to give each calf individual care. Cows are also very big compared to a newborn calf and it could be easy for the calf to get hurt. Altogether it is safer and is in the best interest of the calf.
When the cow returns to the parlor to produce milk, she will be milked into a special pail so the calf feeders can use her milk to feed the newborn calf. The first milk a cow produces after birth is called colostrum. The colostrum is thick, creamy, and high in antibodies. The antibodies in the milk help to build up the calf’s immune system.
The calf will receive vaccinations and four quarts of colostrum, ear tags (used for identification) and in the winter calves will also receive a calf blanket to keep them warm. Timing is very crucial, the calf should be fed within two hours of being born in order to absorb as many antibodies as possible. From there, calves will be fed two quarts of colostrum in a bottle for a few additional feedings and then will be taught how to drink milk out of a bucket and be given a pelleted calf grain. When they are old enough, they will be transitioned to a diet of water, hay and grain, and continue their journey as a herd member on the farm. Calves are important, they are the next generation.