Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why are calves separated from their mothers?

People are very curious about calf care. I regularly get questions about why calves are removed from their mother or what happens to bull calves born on our farm.  

A calf born at our farm yesterday with her mom in the maternity pen

The way calves are cared for from the time they are born is very important. They are the future of our herd so deserve special treatment. Calves are moved to an individual house, called a hutch, within a few hours after birth. Individual calf housing ensures each animal gets personal attention in a controlled setting. 

This housing gives calves the freedom to be inside our outside

It’s vital for calves to live in a clean and disease-free environment. Individual hutches provide a comfortable and healthy home. They allow each calf to have her own milk, grain and water to ensure she gets the nutrients needed to be healthy. Hutches also protect calves from each other’s germs. Heifer calves spend about two months in a hutch, then are moved to a pen where they can interact with animals their own age.

We only have female animals on our farm because only girls produce milk. Bull (male) calves born on our farm are sold at the local livestock auction where they are purchased by someone who will most likely raise them for beef production.

Experts agree, individual housing is the best way to give calves a good start. Hear more on this topic from veterinarians in this video “Calf Care: Where a Lifetime of Caring for Cows Begin”.


According to Dr. Mark Hardesty, DVM, “The biggest risk to newborn calves is manure. So it’s important we get them to a clean environment. Calf hutches increase calf survivability.” Dr. Amy Benham, DVM, shares why calves are separated from cows shortly after birth, “We don’t want mothers to step on their baby or to harm them in any way. Calves need to be in a clean environment.”

Read stories from other dairy farmers explaining calf care practices:

Orange Patch Dairy blog “Why do you take the calves from their mothers?”   

The Farmer’s Wife blog “Yes we take calves away from their mothers”. 

The Adventures of Dairy Carrie blog “A bull calf is born”.   

Two Maids a Milking blog “The Circle of Life with the Real Farmwives of America”. 

How baby calves are raised can be a sensitive topic. Our job as human mothers is to nurture our babies, so it’s difficult to understand why it’s best to remove a calf from their mother. I assure you this is done for the benefit of the calf and cow.

A dairy farmer’s job is to take care of animals. The reason things are done a certain way on our farm centers around what is best for each animal. Not what makes people feel good or writes a nice story. Our motivation is providing the best care possible to every animal every day.

17 comments:

  1. I understand and total agree with you that calves need very good care after birth.

    But I cannot agree with you that moving calves to a hutch is good idea.

    Why?

    Because cows are herd animals. They live, eat, move, play.. together... They need friends to be in sight to have a feeling safe.

    Now, a calve is kept in a hutch and live there alone for two months without friends. I don't think it's fair enough for the calve to trade their feeling safe for the food. I mean, food is not enough, they need friends also.

    In my view, the bottom line why calves are keep in a hutch is just for convenience for human to take care their calves.

    Have you ever try to keep calves at same old age in a herd?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cows are herd animals, that’s why they are raised in groups with herd mates their own age starting around 2 months old. The calves are safe and comfortable in individual hutches the first months of life. When they are housed individually they won’t transfer sickness to one another.

      You say calves are kept in hutches for human’s convenience, but the opposite is true. It would actually be easier to put all the calves in one pen together. It would be easier to clean one big pen instead of many small ones and it would be easier to give them food and drink as a group. But that’s not what’s best for their health and well-being.

      Did you watch the video on this blog? Veterinarians recommend calves be housed in hutches their first months because it gives them the best start in life.

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    2. I have raised hundreds of calves in groups and it does not work well, bullying is very prevalent,there are always a couple calves who get pushed out of the feed, then their immune system declines or they get injured, disease runs through the group due to licking of each other and being around other calves feces with a undeveloped immune system. I have never raised calves in hutches, but i hate raising them in groups. When calves are raised in hutches, from what I have seen, hutches are placed right next to each other, they can hear, see, and moo at each other but can not touch each other.

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  2. Thank you for this post! It helped me give a clear headed response to someone attacking my twitter post supporting JuneDairyMonth.... @AbbyInAg--if you want to contribute some input as well :)

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  3. What is your opinion on goat farms?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I support goat farmers. I'm not familiar with the specifics of goat farming, but imagine there are some similarities to dairy farming. Raising and caring for animals is hard and important work. I commend people willing to make that commitment.

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  4. I cannot believe you're passing this total manure off as "care." Is it caring to separate a baby from its mother hours after birth and force it to live in isolation. You need to make money on your cows; this is the bottom-line.

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    Replies
    1. If you visited our farm to see how comfortable, healthy and happy the calves and cows are, you might change your opinion. I’m glad you’re concerned about the best care for calves, we are too! I assure you we pamper our animals from the first hours of life though maturity. We do what is best for them and no expense is spared when it comes to feeding, housing, bedding and caring for our cows and calves.

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  5. This sort of bothers me, because I only see arguments for separation for dairy cattle. None of the beef cattle farmers I've spoken with or worked with do this. They keep the calves with the cows until they're weaned, as opposed to separating them at birth. Honestly, this looks like a case of sacrificing the calf's welfare for money. Yes, infection rates may decrease, but taking the calf away from its mother and keeping it in such a tiny pen seem incredibly inhumane. It's been proven to be mentally harmful for the calves to keep them isolated, too (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226174540.htm).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I appreciate your concern for our animals. I assure you we provide better care to our calves them some human babies receive. For the first few months of their life, they are housed in comfortable, dry houses with plenty of room to move around inside and outside. They are served nutritious food prepared specifically for them along with cow’s milk and water. Our calves are pampered and coddled.

      As a result, they emerge from their individual houses around two months of age as strong, healthy, and well-adjusted animals. They spend their youth and adulthood with herd mates of their own age. We don’t have issues with animals learning to eat, drink or getting used to the milking routine. Dairy experts and veterinarians agree the way we raise our calves give them the best start in life.

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    2. I don't see many of the detractors giving examples of their dairy cows methods of care from birth to maturity. Could it be they're nothing more then armchair warriors who haven't heaved a single bale of hay over a 5' wire fence in their life?

      Most likely.

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  6. I agree with The Dairy Mom. I raise dairy goats in much of the same ways she does with her calves. I do not sell my milk it is use by our family. I do make goat milk soaps that are for sell. I have left my baby goats with their mama and I have taken them away on the 1st day. I prefer the latter. The babies that are taken away on the first day turn out to be more gentle and easier to handle. They learn faster about getting on the milk stand and are much more fun to be around. The babies that stay with their mamas are not as interested in human interaction. They are harder to work with and you have to chase them to do most anything that needs to be done. I sell a lot of my baby goats. The people who have gotten baby goats that were bottle babies experience a happier relationship with their goats. When I take away a baby goat who has been with their mama for 3-4 months; this baby is very unhappy and cries for their mama. So now baby, mama and you are stressed. Baby goat wants nothing to do with you and only wants its mama. Babies also tend to not eat very well during this transition. But in time the baby will come around but it isn't easy to do. So in my way of thinking, "Would you want to buy a goat that is happy to see you or one that runs away from you?" The selling price is the same no matter which way the goat was raised. Doing the extra work at birth makes better sense to me for the goat, the new owner and myself. With bottle baby goats you have hands on from day one. You can easily see if there are any problems right from the start. I bought a couple of goats raise by their mama... I will tell you it took over a year to get those goats be comfortable enough to be handled with ease.

    I would buy a calf from The Dairy Mom verses a calf raised by its cow mama for sure! I appreciate all the extra you do for your calves. GREAT JOB!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your reply. It is the best one I have read while researching this issue. Finally, I understand and am put at ease about calf separation.

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  7. How does the calf gets it milk and what kind? What happens to milk production of mother?

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    1. The calf drinks cows milk from a bottle or bucket. Calves also receive a grain mix made specifically for their age. The cow goes into a pen with other milk cows where she eats a balanced diet made just for her age group and stage of production. She produces milk for 10 months and then will take a 2 month vacation which is called a dry period when she's not producing milk.

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  8. Hello! I think that it's great that the cows are given expert care and are well treated. I have heard stories that it is a traumatic experience for calves to be separated from their mothers and I wanted to know if this is just a myth. Thanks!

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  9. So enjoyable informative. I love your attitude and perfect manners even when presented rude questions. May I suggest posting your video with your cow demanding a good ear scratching on YouTube? I would do all I can to make it go viral. Countering myth with truth! My grandmom always kept a cow or two. They were so gentle, a good sign they were treated perfectly.

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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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