One of the most controversial topics I deal with as a dairy farmer and blogger is how and why farmers separate calf from cow shortly after birth. I get it; as humans, mothers, fathers, etc., we could never imagine being separated from our newborn. But, here’s the deal, cows aren’t humans.
They are unpredictable animals who require different care than you or I. Dairy farmers don’t separate a calf from its mom to be cruel or to immediately start “pumping milk from the cow”, like many animal activists lead you to believe. We do it so that the cow and the calf can both get the best care possible.
Back in the day, dairy farmers DID keep calves with their moms and the rest of the adult herd. Guess what happened? Calves got sick, some even died. There were cows that didn’t properly care for their newborns and cows that didn’t produce quality colostrum that the calf requires. Other issues such as ventilation and calves ingesting their mother’s manure occurred. Farmers realized that this method wasn’t working; they needed to do something different to ensure that their calves and cows lived long, healthy lives. Since the domestication of the cow nearly 10,000 years ago, years and years of research as gone into how to raise a healthy cow and calf.
So yes, today’s farmers do things a little differently than Old McDonald. Farmers want the best for their herd, their business, their family and your family. That is why we continue to research and implement new ideas and products. However, separating a calf from its mother isn’t a new concept; it something farmers have been doing it for quite some time.
Let’s answer some common questions I get regarding this topic. Ready? Okay, here we go.
1. Why do farmers separate the calf from the cow?
There are SO many reasons why. The generic answer I usually give folks is, “To provide the best care for the cow and calf”. Newborn calves are delicate creatures. We don’t want them to be exposed to or accidentally ingest their mother’s manure or any other bacteria/virus that might make them ill. The sooner we can get calves away from adult cows and into a sterile area, the better.
The cow also needs to be tended to. We want to make sure she eats, drinks and makes it through labor with no troubles.
2. How quickly do you separate the cow and calf?
Every farm is different. At our farm, cows give birth on a bed of straw. We closely monitor them and step in to assist the cow if it is a difficult labor. As soon as the calf is out, we encourage the mother to get up and start licking off her calf to aid in stimulation. I usually jump in to check the calf and make sure it is breathing properly. Once the calf is well and is sitting or standing up, I move the calf into our warming room where I feed it colostrum and administer the necessary vaccines. This is anywhere from 15-30 minutes after birth.
3. Does the mother miss its calf?
Honestly, no. It is hormones that cause a cow to be receptive to a newborn calf. The oxytocin surge a new momma has can make her a bit crazy. But, it definitely depends on the animal. While some mommas get fired up, others don’t seem to give a hoot. Heck, sometimes the cow hardly even notices the calf. She just starts eating and doing her own thing.
It’s not long and the hormone surge declines and the cow begins to eat, drink and relax. She is quiet, calm and happy while we love and care for her baby.
4. Where does the calf go?
All of our heifer calves are housed in a hutch for the first 7-8 weeks of its life. A hutch is a clean, dry space that has ample space for the calf to freely move about. The hutch protects the calf from other members of the herd and bad weather.
These first few weeks of life are critical for newborns and we want them to get off to a good start. We closely monitor our calves throughout the day and night, feeding them warm milk, grain and water. The are provided with plenty of TLC, because, well who can resist this face????
Everything dairy farmers do is in the best interest of their animals. It is not to be cruel, make a quick buck or take the easy way out. These animals are our livelihood and we want to give them the best care possible. We work with veterinarians, nutritionists and many others in the dairy industry to make sure we are doing the best we can. 🙂