Over the past few weeks we have had five calves born at the dairy barn. New life is always refreshing in the dreariness of February and these downy calves are no exception.
I took a moment to speak with Wendy French, our herdsperson here at Stonewall to get some background information on the calving process and thought I would share it with you. First off, here a few definitions for you to keep in mind as you read-on:
- Cows – Females who have given birth to their first calf
- Calves – Babies
- Bull – Males
- Heifers – Females, prior to giving birth to their first calf
On the most basic level, we breed our cows because the birthing process is what keeps cows lactating. Cows who have calves make milk, which is exactly what a dairy wants. We don’t keep bulls at Stonewall Farm so when it comes time to breed our cows, we utilize suppliers to provide the sperm for us to use. The suppliers work with our farmers to choose bulls that will keep certain traits in our herd (like high milk production) and will continue to increase genetic diversity. The gestation period for cows is the same as it is for humans; they give birth approximately nine months after conception. Cows are then given ninety days to recover and are bred again.
Once a calf is born, it is separated from its mother and is bottle fed their mother’s milk for three feedings, after which we can feed them milk from any cow. It is important for a newborn to consume its mother’s milk because it contains colostrum, milk produced by the mammary glands just prior to the birthing time. Colostrum is produced by all mammals – humans are no exception! Colostrum is like a health pack for a new baby. It contains antibodies to protect newborns against diseases and also contains a higher protein than ordinary milk for a little extra kick.
We separate calves from their mothers because bottle feeding gets a calf used to being handled by people and begins her socialization with other calves. We keep all of our heifers on the farm as they will become the milk producers after being bred. Males are sold. As the calves grow, we move them to small huts outside for them to experience the sunshine and socialize with one another. Once the heifers reach an age of approximately 15 months, they are bred and give birth to a new wave of calves nine months later.
Sarah, Communications Manager
A special thanks to Wendy for the photographs and help with this post!