Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Newborn Calf and Fresh Cow Care

This is one of the calves at our farm in her hutch
A recent comment on my blog inquired about why newborn calves are housed separate from their mothers. This entry describes how we care for our newborn calves and fresh cows (cows that just calved).

Cows have calves on our farm every day. When calves are born, their navel is dipped in iodine to dry the umbilical cord and prevent pathogens from entering the calf's body through the cord, and then they are fed colostrum (the first milk from the mother).

Shortly after birth, they are moved to an individual hutch where they receive personal attention in a controlled setting. The first months of life are critical for the calves health and well-being. It’s important that calves are born and raised in a clean environment. Their hutches are filled with clean, dry straw to keep each calf comfortable and healthy. Individual hutches allow each calf to have their own milk, grain and water without competing with other, possibly stronger, herd mates. Hutches provide a healthy setting protecting calves from each other’s germs. They are housed individually for about two months then they are moved to group housing.

Jessica, mother of three, manages the calf program at our farm. She is wonderful with the calves and we are fortunate to have her on our team.

According to the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, “The greatest mortality and morbidity period for dairy cattle is the first 6 to 8 weeks of life. Management goals should be to minimize disease and mortality by providing a suitable environment, establishing a quality nutritional program, and implementing a preventive health care plan. Individual pens separate calves and reduce the spread of communicable diseases and make it easier to observe behavior, feed consumption, and fecal and urine production. Changes in feed consumption and fecal consistency can be early indicators of disease.”

According to Cornell University, “From a health aspect, recommendations are to raise newborn calves in individual pens, since calves need individual attention and observation during this time. Also, isolation from other calves minimizes the potential of disease spreading, and access to feed and water takes place without competition.”

Fresh cows are more susceptible to illness or death after calving, so our focus is getting that cow to eat and drink to keep her healthy and strong. Once the calf is moved, the fresh cow can focus on eating and drinking to get the nutrients she needs to stay healthy. After calving, fresh cows transition into the milking herd with their herd mates. Here they receive a feed ration prepared by a nutritionist, can rest in an individual bed in our barn and receive the care they need to thrive. Cows do very well in this environment. Only comfortable and content cows produce milk.

There is a purpose for everything we do on our farm. It’s based on experience working with cattle, scientific research and best practices with the end goal of animal comfort, health and well-being.

23 comments:

  1. What a great post! Thanks for sharing the "reality" of life and care on a dairy farm! :)

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  2. Hi. I am on the fence about comments read recently. I do drink/eat milk products but chose not to eat beef and have not since age 18. I am 40 now. I was at your website do read about how you treat your cows. I live in the Fort Worth,TX area and was just researching dairys to see which ones treat their animals the best. I do plan on continuing with dairy products, I just want to purchase them from a humane dairy. Do you have any recommendations for dairy's you feel are humane in their practices? I feel that treating animals the best way possible should be rewarded by consumers. Why support a dairy you know runs inhumane practices. Much like eggs. I will not buy eggs unless they are free range. I chose to consume eggs, but want to support companies who do not house chickens the way mass producers do. Thank you for any recommendations. I do not like the fact that you slaughter cows for beef, but applaud your humane treatment and housing of your animals. Thank you.

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    1. Jonathan HillenbrandDecember 16, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      Lavon Farms, Lucky Layla Farms in Texas treats their animals really well and they are pasture fed during the season.. Check out their website at http://luckylayla.com/ It's a family run business near Dallas.. Great people and products. Not sure what stores it sells in TX, but the website may explain more.

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  3. Thanks for your comment and for supporting dairy. I grew up in the dairy industry, have seen many dairy farms and know lots of dairy farmers and have yet to see a dairyman that treats cows inhumanely. Many dairy families have operated their farms for generations and the way to sustain a successful operation is treating cows well. Comfortable, well-fed and healthy cows produce quality milk. There are about 51,000 dairy farms in the U.S. and almost all of them are family owned and operated so you can be confident that all dairy products you purchase in the U.S. contain milk from family farms.

    Family farms come in all shapes and sizes. I don’t believe its right for others, especially those who are not experts in animal care, to dictate how livestock should be housed and managed. Management practices may vary from farm to farm but there are many ways to treat cows well, one size doesn’t fit all and that’s ok. For example, some dairy farmers bed cows on waterbeds, some us mattresses, some use sand or sawdust or corn stalks or recycled dry manure and so on. There is no one solution for bedding, but many good alternatives. In my experience, I’ve found the people who know best how to treat cows well are the people who care for them daily.

    When you read negative comments about dairy, please consider the source and their motivation. Many anti-agriculture groups are not concerned about animal care they are only looking to push a vegan agenda. I agree that treating animals the best way possible should be rewarded so I hope you’ll continue buying dairy with confidence knowing dairy farmers do their best to care for their cows 365 days/year.

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    1. I don't know of any dairymen who *think* they are mistreating their livestock, but 40 minutes from where I live there are/were (not sure if they are still there as I no longer drive that route) Dutch dairymen who cut off the cows' tails to a length of maybe six or 8 inches. I inquired about this practice (asked one farmer directly) and was told it was so that the cow could not swat her udder with the dirty switch on her tail. I saw these same docked tailed cows with flies all over them, standing out in dry lots. Not pasture, just pens with no grass, and, of course, fresh poop - which attracts flies. Oh, and they did have hay. I am by no means condemning Dutch dairymen as a whole, just explaining what I saw, and the explanation I was given. Since cultural practices vary so greatly I thought it was important to include that nationality detail. These cows were also uniformly thinner when compared to milking cows from non-docked herds at the same time of the year. Which could have had to do with their feed quality/quantity, but weight also could have been affected by stress from the biting flies. Incidentally, this would have been around the mid nineties when I saw and inquired about those particular cows.

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    2. As the dairy farmer you spoke to said, tail docking is done to keep animals cleaner to improve milk quality. Some dairy farmers utilize this practice and some don’t. All farms with livestock are going to have animal manure which attracts flies during warm months. We scrape our barns several times each day to keep them clean. We also have a fly control program to help keep the animals comfortable. It’s not possible to totally eliminate flies on a livestock farm.

      Regarding housing, there is more than one way to properly house animals; freestall barns, dry lots, or seasonal grazing are all good practices. Cows can be just as comfortable inside, sometimes even more content, than they are outside. There is more than one way to care for dairy cows properly.

      All the dairy farmers I know strive to provide good care to their animals because it’s the right thing to do. There is more than one good way to manage a herd of cows. What works well at one farm might not work at another. Dairy farmers examine animal behavior, scientific research, advice from trusted professionals (veterinarians, nutritionists, etc.) and experience to provide the best for their animals.

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  4. What happens to the bull calves born on your farm?

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  5. We sell our bull calves at the local livestock auction weekly. Most dairy bulls are raised for beef production.

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  6. Thanks for the wonderful work you are doing with caws. I wish all dairy producers could follow your example. I hate the way large commercial dairy farms treat the animals. Why can’t they raise and slaughter the animal in a humane manner. I wish I could do what you are doing, working with animals brings such inner peace. Good luck…
    Paulo (Tulsa, OK)

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  7. I appreciate your compliment. I agree humane treatment and harvesting of cattle is important. I know many dairy farmers who own and manage dairy farms of all sizes and find they have one thing in common; they enjoy being around cows. Some would say we have a large farm and others think our farm is small. Either way, it's not fair or accurate to say small dairy farms treat animals well and large farms treat animals poorly. There is no incentive, moral or financial, to treat cows poorly. Dairy farmers strive to provide good care to their animals daily. I'm sure there are some bad apples out there, but they are the exception, not the rule.

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  8. Thanks for this site,we have a dairy show cow. She just gave birth,she is gone to dairy,we now have a new calf to raise. Thanks the site will help-

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  9. Is it not true that the mother cows cry after their babies are removed?

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    1. No, they do not cry. Cow's smoothly transition into the milking herd after calving.

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  10. I have heard cows cry. Why can't you keep calves with their mothers for at least a month?

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    1. To someone unfamiliar with caring for dairy cattle, it might seem like removing a calf from his/her mother is a negative action. In reality, this is a positive for the care of the cow and calf. If calves are left with their mothers, their chance for infection and injury increase dramatically. Our calves receive special care to get the best start in life. This special care involves placing them in individual houses for the first months of life.

      For another dairy farmers viewpoint on this topic, check out this blog about why calves are removed from their mothers. http://orangepatchdairy.blogspot.com/2010/02/why-do-you-take-calves-from-their.html

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    2. You should, to give a more valid argument, provide a source to the opposition as well. Especially considering the sources that are out there showing mother cows "crying" as they follow their calves, as they are taken away. They may not show emotion as humans do (ie tears), but the sound they make when their babies are taken is not a sound they routinely make. Anyone who has spent any time with cattle knows this is true.

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    3. The information I’m sharing is based on experiences at our dairy farm. That’s my source. Is the “opposition source” you speak of your personal experience or something you saw online?

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  11. I think your farm is very humane and accurate on how you should treat your cows. But do you AI and why I hear some people saying that its because we have manipulated their genetics that they cannot breed naturally.

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    1. Thanks for your question Tristan. We use artificial insemination (AI) on our dairy because it improves the quality of our herd. Using semen from genetically superior bulls creates better offspring. Bulls are large, heavy animals that can injure people and cows, so safety is a concern when there is a bull on the farm. Cows and bulls are able to breed naturally. Some dairy farmers keep a bull for breeding. We choose AI for the reasons I mentioned.

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  12. You said "a calf inside her cozy hutch"....don't you keep that calf in there so it's muscles don't develop so you can sell it as "white Veal" so you can get more money at the animals expense?

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    1. No. Our calves are the future of our milking herd, they are not raised for veal. They are housed in calf hutches to keep them healthy and comfortable in their first months of life. I'm glad you visited my blog to get accurate information about dairy farming.

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  13. Where I live if a dog was left outside in the snow in a plastic box it's called animal abuse but for farm animals it's called cozy...go figure.I was actually told by a major Organic Milk company about the hutches and white Veal so I think they have accurate information.What do you do with the male calves? I actually came across your site because I was looking to see if I could find a humane Dairy farm since my kids drink milk.Then I saw your remark about the "cozy hutch" and realized your site was not what I was looking for. I guess some people tell themselves over and over again that they're doing the right thing that they come to believe it to be true even when it isn't. Thanks for your time :)

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    1. Taking care of animals is our #1 priority. We’ve just experienced one of the coldest winters on record here in Northeast Ohio and all of our calves are healthy, happy and thriving. They have excellent body condition and look great. Our calf death loss this winter was zero. Dairy farmers and veterinarians who have experience with livestock know hutches are the best way to care for calves. The environment created by the hutch, along with straw, keeps the calves warm and cozy.

      I believe some people use dog houses as a way to provide shelter for their pets. I don’t think dog houses are considered abusive.

      If you still have questions about calf housing methods, I recommend you seek out a food animal veterinarian who deals with dairy animals to ask.

      Our male calves are sold to producers who raise them for beef. Male dairy animals, conventional and organic, produce beef.

      I’m not familiar with raising veal calves, because we don’t do that on our farm. If you have questions about veal, I encourage you to get in touch with a farmer who raises veal calves.

      We do a good job taking care of animals on our farm. If you are looking for a humane dairy farm, you don’t have to look far. The majority of dairy farmers are salt of the earth people who dedicate their lives to caring for animals.

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Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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