Why do you separate the mother and calves?
The most important reason why we separate calves from their mothers begins with the fact that ruminants are born 100% immune deficient and only have 24-36 hours after their birth to acquire that immunity. The only source of that immunity is through the first milk, or colostrum, that a new mother cow produces but, unfortunately, not all of these cows produce high quality colostrum that a newborn calf needs to create its own strong immune system. In fact, almost 30% of mother cows do not produce a colostrum with enough antibodies for a newborn calf to effectively utilize. To compare this with a human baby, just imagine giving a child vaccinations that are only partially effective.
After a cow has calved, we milk her separately, collecting that first milk, or colostrum, for use in our calves. The colostrum is tested and scored and depending upon the quality, will be used in either the newborn or older calves. The highest quality colostrum is then fed to our newborn calves with exactly the optimum amount and timing. A newborn calf will also go through a physical exam when they are born and receive other vaccinations and preventive treatments.
Another reason why we separate the calf from its mother is because today’s modern dairy cows produce large volumes of milk, as much as 10 gallons of milk every day. A newborn calf should never consume more than 1&1/2 gallons of milk per day and, unfortunately, newborn calves will nurse beyond what is healthy for them. If they do this, they are at risk of functional diarrhea which can quickly becomes a viral or bacterial diarrhea. These types of diarrhea can cause mortality rates of 25%.
Because of all of the above concerns, it is best for mother and baby to break the bond at birth. We understand that this is one of the least appealing practices that occurs on a modern dairy farm but, without a doubt, it is the healthiest decision for the calf and the least disturbing to the mother because it is when the bond is at its lowest impact for separation. The cow joins up with her herd mates and within hours she begins a new social interaction and the baby joins the other calves and starts its bond with its caregiver who interacts at least three times per day with their baby calves.
How are the calves housed?
Our calves are housed in individual hutches so they can be monitored individually. We keep close track of how much each calf is eating and drinking, along with how much weight they’re gaining. We also do visual checks on each calf (and their manure) to ensure good health. This detailed care would be very difficult to do if dozens of young calves were housed together. Also, calves are susceptible to diarrheal and pneumonia infections as well as other transmittable diseases, so giving each calf an individual hutch minimizes the risk of diseases spreading among herds.
Each hutch is designed with an outdoor and indoor portion, to accommodate winter and summer conditions. The size of these hutches follows the industry standard for calves for their first 70 days of life. After 70 days, the calves are transferred to pens where they live together as a group.
Do your cows ever get to go outside?
The main advantage of cows living inside of a barn is so that we can control her environment. Our goal is to provide a cow’s ideal day all year round and, to her, that means having a comfortable place to lie down, plenty of available food and fresh water and a moderate climate. We humans like to picture a cow grazing on a green hillside on a sunny day with a red barn in the background, but the truth is that those days are far and few between.
Various weather conditions (high heat, strong wind, rain, hail or snow) can cause a cow to turn her back to the wind or look for shade and not eat until she can become comfortable again. A free stall barn allows us to protect our cows from the sun and utilize the fresh breezes during the temperate time of the year but it also allows us to use curtains to protect our cows from the cold wind and precipitation of winter.
Each cow has her own bed to lay down in which is made up of sand. Sand is the most comfortable and clean bedding for a cow to lie in. The free stall barns also allow easy access to food and water 24 hours per day. The cows are free to roam throughout their pen and visit other cows by the water trough or at the feed bunk. Our cows lay down in their comfortable sand beds for over twelve hours per day, at times napping and at other times just resting and chewing their cud. The cows leave the free stall barns three times per day to be milked at the milking parlor. While there, we run the manure vacuum through the walkways, make sure that their beds are clean and have their food pushed up close to the feed bunk. When they get back from the milking parlor to their free stalls, everything is ready for them to enjoy another 8 hours of peace and tranquility.
Are your cows continuously hooked up to milking machines?
Our cows spend most the vast majority of the day relaxing, eating, drinking, socializing and sleeping. Three times per day they walk to the milking parlor daily eager to be milked. They ride the milking rotary for about eight minutes and it takes (on average) four minutes to be milked. Once a milking technician ensures that she is well-milked, she exits the milking parlor, and returns to her bed of choice or to chow down some feed.
Still have a question?
We would be happy to answer any additional questions or concerns regarding our standard practices. Please contact us directly below.