It’s no secret today that some people have a sour attitude against farmers. If I had never been on a farm, or was never educated about agriculture, I would possibly be in the same boat. With that being said, I want to give some answers to a few of my readers who don’t understand why certain things happen on dairy farms. I hope to answer more questions in later posts!
Why do we separate calves from the mother cows?
1. Safety. The transition lot (where the pregnant cows live) has other cows in it. If a baby stays there too long, there is a risk of it getting stepped on or trampled by other cows. Mother dairy cows may not even claim the calf. They make sure they lick the babies clean so they get the scent off of the calf (so predators do not smell them) and then the mother cows are often seen at the feed bunk, appearing to have forgotten about the calf. With cows that calve for the first time, it’s common to see the calf in one corner of the barn alone while the mother is eating, never getting licked off or cared for. Some cows just aren’t good mothers and we can’t risk letting a calf be alone outside wet and cold left to die.
2. Sanitation. The baby calf is kept in a cleaner environment in our calf barn. The calf gets his/her own stall with fresh bedding in it. If the calf stayed with the cows, they would be around manure which could cause illnesses.
3. Health. We feed our babies with a sterile bottle and nipple to ensure to keep them healthy. This is much more sanitary than the calf drinking from the mother cow who lies on the ground most of the day. They are also housed indoors away from the inclimate weather. In nature, where there is life, there is also death. If our calves were to remain outdoors throughout the cold winters, wet springs, and hot summers, well over 30% of our calves would die. However, in the calf barn we lose less than 1.5% of our calves.
We milk 150 cows on our farm. It takes about 3 cows’ milk to feed ALL of our calves. We collect the milk from these 3 cows, pasteurize it, and feed it. This is a very efficient way to care for our calves. Our cows are producing a tremendous amount more milk compared to a hundred years ago. Some activists claim we are genetically modifying cows, adding hormones to the feed, using hormone shots in the cows, and keeping them cooped up all day to collect all the milk. In reality, the only change we’ve made in a hundred years is welfare. The only reason our cows can give up to 100 pounds of milk in a day is because they feel comfortable, safe, calm, and are fed quality forages. If our cows are not happy they will not produce milk, simple as that. Anybody can sell cows, a responsible dairy farmer knows how to keep them around as long as possible.
If there is one thing I want you to learn about dairy farming, it is that we are not in this industry to simply make money. My husband and I truly care for our animals and love them dearly.
Let me tell you a story:
We had an adorable little heifer calf born about 2 weeks ago. Her name was Adrian. She struggled from day one for an unknown reason and I tried and tried to nurse her back to health for about 10 days. Adrian was getting very dehydrated so my husband would tube feed her every day just so she could get some nutrients. She eventually needed an IV. We called the vet and he did a wonderful job setting her up with an IV and within an hour Adrian was doing much better. Dan and I went to check on her around 9 pm that night to switch her bags and possibly feed her if she was feeling up to it. We got to the farm and we noticed that she had been moving around (good sign!) but the tube on her IV had gotten disconnected to the catheter in her neck and she was bleeding. However, she seemed to be doing just fine and my husband hooked the tube back on and switched her bags. I was cold and tired by this point and Dan was almost done, so I went to start the truck and warm up.
About 5 minutes later, I saw my husband walking towards the truck, I could tell something was wrong. He looked defeated. He opened the door and told me that Adrian passed away. We rode home in silence. I cried myself to sleep that night. I cried when I got to the farm the next morning knowing that Adrian would not be there to greet me.
I loved that calf. I tried so hard to nurse her back to health every day. But nothing worked. I was heartbroken.
The next day the Vet came out to perform a necropsy (autopsy for the animal world), and he told us he wasn’t sure what caused it.
With all of this being said, please do not think that dairy farmers don’t care about their animals and treat them poorly. We have their best interest in mind because we LOVE them. We do everything we can to make sure our animals are healthy, comfortable, and well fed. We have to remember, cows are animals, not people. William Hoard, founder of the magazine “Hoards Dairyman”, also ran a small dairy farm. He could very well be the first man to ever put cow welfare into perspective. He had a sign posted on his farm that read:
Notice to the Help:
THE RULE to be observed in this stable at all times, toward the cattle, young and old, is that of patience and kindness. A man’s usefulness in a herd ceases at once when he loses his temper and bestows rough usage. Men must be patient. Cattle are not reasoning beings. Remember that this is the Home of Mothers. Treat each cow as a mother should be treated. The giving of milk is a function of Motherhood; rough treatment lessens the flow. That injures me as well as the cow. Always keep these ideas in mind when dealing with my cattle.
To all of my readers, if you have questions, ASK! Don’t assume the worst. I would love to answer any questions you have about modern dairy farms.