Cows come first on a dairy farm. That’s because farmers know that well-cared for cows are healthy cows that give safe, wholesome milk. To make sure that their cows are healthy as can be, farmers go to great lengths by providing nutritious feed, safe housing and individual care to their animals throughout their lives.
On a dairy farm, calves represent the future, which means they deserve special treatment, according to Ohio dairy farmer Brenda Hastings on her blog, The Dairy Mom.
That special treatment begins before the calf is born. When a cow is ready to give birth, farmers make sure that her maternity area is clean, dry, well-lit, and well-ventilated to ensure comfortable, safe and hygienic conditions.
Within a few hours after the birth, the farmer usually moves the calf to its own safe space, called a calf hutch. The space includes an individual house and fenced-in space.
This best practice can be confusing when people don’t understand why it’s best to remove a calf from its mother. This practice has become an essential part of animal care on a farm for a few reasons:
One main reason has to do with protecting the calf from harmful germs. Germs can be passed on from the environment or other animals; a hutch allows a calf’s immune systems to mature. Just like newborn babies, calves need to live in a clean and disease-free environment.
Calf hutches also allow farmers to watch each calf closely in a controlled setting. By giving each calf its own hutch, a farmer can provide individual care and better track exactly what its eating and monitor overall health.
To make sure each calf is off to a great start, the farmer will milk the mother cow after she’s given birth. The farmer will then put that milk, called the colostrum, in a bottle and feed it to the calf. The colostrum is important because it is high in fat, protein and natural immune-boosting elements.
After two or three months, the farmer will move the calf to a larger pen where she can interact with other calves her own age. Typically male calves are raised for veal or beef, and female calves join the milking herd around the age of two.
To learn more about how farmers care for their calves, visit our Animal Care section.