Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gotta love those sweet baby calves

It's no secret that baby calves are my favorite. They are SO adorable and sweet. Many go through what I call the 'angry heifer' phase somewhere near what would be considered their teen years, but they are just so sweet and cute before that.

A lot of people ask me about baby calves, so today let's take a glimpse into the life of the youngest girls on the dairy.

Calves are fed colostrum as soon as possible after being born. Colostrum is the first milk a cow produces after giving birth and it contains antibodies to help boost the calf's immune system. It's very important calves get colostrum ASAP. Their navels are also dipped with iodine to prevent any potential bacteria from getting in there and causing an infection.

Snapped this cute pic while visiting WSU last fall and reliving my college dairy days for a weekend
Unlike beef calves that continue to stay with their moms for an extended time after birth, dairy calves and cows are separated so dairy farmers can provide the best care for each and ensure each receive the attention they need. For cows this means making sure the little darling is adjusting to life as a milk cow, that she is eating, and overall that she's healthy. For the little calf, he or she receives colostrum and is monitored closely to make sure he/she is healthy. This also ensures that the calf receives the quality and quantity of colostrum that they need. When they nurse the cow, it's really hard to tell if the calf is getting enough to eat. I've heard a lot of people outside of agriculture say that farmers separate cows and calves to be mean and because they 'just don't care,' but quite the opposite is true. Farmers separate them to keep them healthy because they do care. A lot.

This little girl was so excited for dinner time. She's currently living in a calf hutch.
Cows are generally kept in groups, but we keep the baby calves in separate pens. Just like how human babies are kept separate in the nursery at the hospital, we want to make sure the calves get the best start possible. At this stage, their immune systems aren't that strong yet (just like humans), so we want to minimize any contact between calves that could make sickness spread (quickly!) between the calves. As the calves age, they are put into small groups and eventually larger groups to socialize them. They can be shy at first, but eventually they will adjust. Some quicker than others.

Milk for the calves
While calves are  being weaned (usually anywhere from 6-8 weeks, depending on the farm and their calf management procedures), they receive milk twice a day. As they get closer to the end of that time period, it generally moves to once a day. As milk decreases, they tend to start eating more grain and hay.
These sweethearts follow me around for most of the feeding time. They are so cute!!
Friends and family think it's hilarious that whenever I get away for a weekend, it usually involves a cow show, dairy conference or a visit to a friend's dairy farm. I just can't get away from those sweet mini moos, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I took most of these photos while visiting friends a couple of weeks ago. Great people and awesome I a lucky gal or what!

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