(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.
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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