The Importance of Calves

Too many farmers ignore the important role the calf plays in the farm economy–increasing milk supply, improving health of their mothers and providing the farm with the finest quality animals in years to come.  Rosie (above) is an example of a beautiful, healthy, pure-bred Jersey heifer raised on our farm without any care from us.  Rosie will be bred in August 2012.

Note:  Everything said below is also true of dairy goats, for which we practice the same methods. 

On our farm, we milk our cows once per day, around 9am.  We get 2.5-4 gallons of milk per cow.  Our cows are fed 12 lbs. of corn, 6 lbs. of soybean meal and whatever grass, hay and water they want throughout the day.  They raise their own calves who grow up beautiful and healthy.   We don’t spend time bottle or bucket-feeding calves.  We don’t spend time trying to get every last drop from the cows at milking time.  We don’t use milking machines.

How do we do it?

1.  At 7pm, we put our calves into pens in the barn and separate them from their mothers.  The cows are fed richly and then set out into a small, dry pen area.  They are left with a ring full of hay and plenty of water for the night.

2.  At 9am, we bring our cows in for washing and leave them to dry while we attend to the other animals.  There’s no crazy 5am work schedule here.  We have to pray in the morning and we’re up late working in the office–I’m up until 2am usually.  We milk when it’s convenient for our family, farm an business.  Our cows love being washed–they even lift their legs for us when we brush their udders.  When dry, we feed them richly and milk them–by hand.  I stress this manual washing and milking because it is impossible for any serious problems to develop in our cows.  We have our hands and eyes on them every day and when ANYTHING looks off, we take care of it before anything serious develops.  Most of the illnesses and infections you will hear about with cows are caused by the cows being served by machines–which don’t check to see if they’re healthy.

Their diet (at each feeding) consists of 6 lbs. corn and 3 lbs. soybean meal, for a total of 18 lbs. of grain per day at about 25% crude protein.  The mill charges $8 per bag for corn and $15 per bag of soybean meal, we can buy high quality hay at $3-5 per square bale.  If feed is purchased, it costs about $2 per feeding to feed each cow plus about $4 for hay per cow per day as we do, which can be compared to the value of the milk, manure and calves provided.  So, $12 of feed for $20+ of milk, garden manure and a calf that will be worth over $1000 whether female (future cow) or male (future meat).  As you produce your own feed the profitability continues to increase with time.

3.  After the morning feeding/milking, the calves are released from their pens and spend the day with their mothers at pasture.  They drink all they want from 10am to 7pm, when they are separated again.  We put the calves in pens and leave the cows outside because it keeps the cows cleaner than keeping than in stalls overnight.  This is an important part of the dairy because the calves strip all of the mother’s milk that is left after milking and place a high demand on the mothers for milk throughout the day.  Milk production increases with demand and, after the calf spends all day calling for more milk, the mother spends the evening preparing it…for us to collect in the morning.  The calf gets the gallon or two he/she needs and we get the rest.

That’s how we do it…and it’s very pleasant and productive.

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4 Responses to The Importance of Calves

  1. Diana says:

    Sounds like a very reasonable way to go about it! I was wondering about a few details: 1) do you wash the cow with a bucket of water & sponge, or with a hose, and 2) do you wash the udder area or the whole cow? 3) what is a “ring full” of hay?

    • wmclaa says:

      Hello, Diana.

      We wash every area of the cow that affects milking. usually, this is the udder, the legs and the belly. I use a hose and a 2′ long brush. Usually the cows is dirty where it sits down–legs, udder and belly. We give a milking cow 1/3 to 1/2 of a square bale of hay in the evening, which when spread out (don’t throw the clump in there or she’ll pull it out and waste a lot) fills up the hay ring which is out in the pen. -WM

  2. Frank Rue says:

    William – Your blog articles have been very hand for me today, as we’re going to look at a bred Jersey from an Organic dairy farmer 10 miles away.

    We’re trying to determine the best way to house and feed our future dairy cow when winter sets in. I have recently purchased and will be seeding a good-sized plot of land (still determining my final measurements) with Giant Yellow Eckendorfs (mangels/large sugar beets). This has been a practice in several areas for several centuries, I’ve read.

    What are your experiences for your Winters? How bad *are* your Winters in NC (we’re in Upstate NY, and ours are pretty significant in comparison, I’d assume). Can you relate your routine for the Winter?

    • wmclaa says:

      Unfortunately, I can’t help you with winters…in NC we get–MAYBE–one snowfall per year and can garden year-round. The grass stops growing from October to April and we feed hay (fescue and alfalfa mix). It’s really not a big deal at all.

      As far as mangels go, I know that William Cobbett wrote about mangels in his book “Cottage Economy” which might be useful to you. In England, it was too wet for hay and, before they began producing “silage”, they used mangels (rutabagas) and turnips.

      You really don’t need to worry about the cold. They are cows, born with leather coats on, and they don’t mind the cold one bit. I’d be more worried about how YOU are going to handle the cold–milking especially. I’ve milked one time when the temperature fell to 15 degrees and my hands were FROZEN. We bought a little dairy barn heater that sits on the floor next to the milker and automatically shuts off if it gets knocked over.

      Anyway, I’d be happy to help…just ask me your questions as they come up.

      God bless,

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