Just like a newborn baby, the first few months of a calf’s life are a crucial period in time that will have a long-term effect on how the baby calf grows up happy and healthy. That’s why at Homestead Creamery, our farmers take great care to assure that everything runs smoothly in the initial weeks of their dairy cows’ lives. From the birthing stall to calf diet, every detail is made to that ensure our calves are comfortable, protected from the risk of illness, and fully nourished. The Jamison Family, at Whispering Oaks Farm, were happy to share their experience raising calves for generations.
The First Few Days
The average weight of a dairy calf is about 90-100 pounds at birth. (Yes, holy cow!) Our farmers take great care in preparing a clean and secure environment for the mother to birth the calf. Weeks before birth, they prepare a clean, comfortable space for the mother and baby to go through the process with fresh, thick bedding and a special, nutritious diet available to the cows. During labor, the farmers stand back and let nature take it’s course unless the calf appears to be in an abnormal birthing position. Immediately after birth, the motherly instinct of the heifer takes hold and she helps to clean off the calf and encourage he or she to start moving and explore.
The heifer is immediately milked so that the baby can receive their mother’s “first milk”, also known as colostrum. For the first few days, this milk will provide a surge of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and immunoglobulins needed to build an immune system and kick-start calf growth. Like a human newborn, cows are born without any resistance to viruses and bacteria, so assuring that they get the strength and protection they need to start building up a tolerance to them is vital.
Possibly one of the Jamisons’ favorite parts about welcoming new calves to the herd is getting the opportunity to name them! Because each and every single cow born on the Whispering Oaks farm is a Registered Holstein, they all get names. With a nod to their values in tradition and family, they name the calves with the same first letter of their mothers’ name. That’s how they got Christmas and Cookie in their herd.
“A lot of them have normal people names, but if there’s a certain spot or coloring pattern on them, we usually name them after it to make it easier for us to recognize them,” says Seth Jamison, as he names off cows like Noodle and Ritz.
After the first few days, a baby calf will be moved into its own hutch to continue growing while their immune system builds. Their hutch includes both a shelter and a gated area so that they have plenty of room to lay down or get up and stretch their legs. Providing an isolated space for the calves to gain nutritional stock and immunity is the best way to assure that they grow up to lead a full, healthy life. They’re safe, secure, and fully nourished during this time with the top quality milk replacer to provide enough fats and proteins they need to start growing. Rest assured, we never feed our cows with growth hormones, just wholesome nutrition.
The First Few Months
We spend the first 7 weeks focusing on building up the calf’s immune system, under the advisement of our veterinarians and nutritionists. Once they have developed the right levels of immunity and have been given the thumbs up, we introduce them to a community of fellow growing calves. At this point, they’re healthy enough to frolic with friends in the pastures.
The biggest focus for the first few months of a calf’s life is assuring that they are getting enough sustenance to thrive and keep up with the average weight gain and growth a dairy cow needs to be a healthy cow. During this time, in addition to continuing with a strict feeding schedule of milk or a high-protein milk replacer, grains and minerals will be introduced to the diet. Our nutritionists frequently visit the farm to be sure that the growing calves are receiving a well-balanced diet. Between grazing in the pastures and regular feedings, our cows get plenty of care and nutrients.
Wishing you could meet one of our baby calves or see our cows enjoying our pastures? We’re always happy to host folks out on our farms so that they can get the full experience of farm life. Feel free to contact us to plan a visit!