Why are calves separated from their mothers?

Calf in hutch

(This post originally appeared on The Dairy Mom blog Jan. 14, 2014.)

By Brenda Hastings

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

The way calves are cared for from the time they are born is very important. They are the future of our herd, so they 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.

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.

Brenda Hastings
Brenda Hastings

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.

According to Dr. Mark Hardesty,  “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, 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.”


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 what writes a nice story.

Our motivation is providing the best care possible to every animal every day.

(Brenda Hastings and her husband, Lad, operate Hastings Dairy, a family dairy farm located in northeast Ohio. They care for 650 cows, milking and dry; 550 heifers; and farm 500 acres.)

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  1. Doesn’t it seem like a contradiction that you say your job is to ‘take care of animals’ and at the same time you’re selling calves to effectively be killed? I’m sure you do care about them, and that you have to make ends meet, but surely there must be a way to do so without having to cut short their lives

  2. This is BS. This is the art of spinning (so the mother doesn’t step on her calf? Give her more room!!) (Germs? LMAO!) (Making a baby stand alone in a hutch is caring about it?) This industry-sanctioned spinning is so that we don’t need to feel guilty about keeping these milk factories in business. No calf should be taken away from its mother. That is pure cruelty. Mothers are known to bellow for days for their calves. It’s sick that humans do this in order to make money. I grew up on a huge poultry and Angus beef farm…I know how it works.

  3. I think this is a new trend where the dairy industry have females advocate for separating cows from their calves. These are mothers (perhaps) who do not honor the bond between mother and baby in the animal world. It’s just cruelty.

  4. A dairy farmer’s job is to take care of their assets in order to make the most profit and experience the least losses. It suits your financial model to seperate animals unnaturally as it is the best way to control spread of dieseases… not for their best interest but for your financial interest. These are your investments so don’t try and sugar coat it. Your ultimate aim is to make profit for you. Otherwise you wouldnt be doing it.

  5. Of course you are better than the calf’s mother …??? What absolute rubbish, never read such BS in all my life – trying to make yourself sound like you are doing them all a favour – separating a cow from its mother whilst so young is absolute cruelty, no other word for it.

  6. We humans are cruel …evil factory farms. Separating moms and babies. Insemination to create milk production. Makes me guilty to drink milk.

  7. Disgusting. I saw this first hand. Calves cry and self harm within the first hours of being separated from their mother. I witnessed a calf repeatedly ram his his head into the enclosure. The mother moo’s and grieves. It is heartbreaking. Enough to make you ant to swear off dairy.

  8. Ten years ago, I quit drinking milk and consuming dairy products after I learned about this cruel practice. Since then, I have been a vegetarian and working on becoming vegan. I’m glad supermarkets and restaurants are offering more vegan options. Humans ask for the right to be pro-life or pro-choice, but we don’t care killing other creatures’ babies. We can’t talk about love, respect, compassion, and empathy when we don’t practice them universally.

  9. I don’t even want milk anymore and I’ve always loved milk. The ark wasn’t built for humans, you know…wake up and change your cruel practices and stop your sad, sad excuses for what you do. Have a heart, please.

  10. As a mother I can’t understand taking away the baby to make more milk the smell of our children and being close helps to produce more milk seems counter productive to separate theam…


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