Caring for Our Calves

I know you love all the pictures I post of our baby Jersey calves. They are pretty cute! And you probably also think you’d love to feed those babies and care for them each day like we do. But much like a real life baby, calves come with their own kinds of troubles. No not up in the middle of the night wanting to cuddle like another baby I know and love, but they do require special love and care and patience… lots of patience.

Once a calf is born we move the calf from the calving pen and the calf gets to go on it’s first and hopefully only Kubota ride to a calf hutch of it’s very own. The little “house” looking calf hutches give them the warmth and shelter they need in the winter and the ventilation and shade they need in the summer. We keep these hutches clean and dry by bedding them at least once a week or more often if needed. During the winter we put calf coats on the calves and bed the hutches with straw to keep the calves warm. These hutches are kind of like a bassinet, crib or car seat and are used to protect the calf from any harm and also keeps them healthy by keeping them isolated from other animals.

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We feed the newborn calf colostrum (which is the mother’s first milk after calving) within two hours of birth. The colostrum contains all kinds of good things such as antibodies to protect the calf against disease. We also tattoo and tag (the pretty yellow earrings) the calf to give the calf an identification and to use on her registration papers (like a birth certificate). We also give the calf a vaccine to keep them healthy, much like a baby. If you are wondering what the white stuff on their head by their ears is that is dehorning paste which prevents horn growth, making it safer for us to handle the cows later in life. And in the winter we add their calf coat before placing them in their new hutch.

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After it’s first feeding of colostrum, the calf begins to receive milk replacer along with the other calves. The milk replacer is a powder milk that we mix with hot water and feed out of a calf bottle. We feed the calves twice a day at 8 am and 8 pm. We begin to give them free choice grain and water starting at day 3 and have that available for them at all times of the time via two buckets they have in the hutches. And don’t forget that we love on them daily giving them the care they need.

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We feed the calves milk for 8 weeks via the bottles and wean them off of milk at that point to water, grain and hay. Soon after weaning they are moved into group pens in our calf coverall barn.

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This all sounds wonderful but you have to remember that these calves don’t always want to drink and if they don’t want to drink we know something is wrong and evaluate the calves to see if they are sick. Again comes the comparison to a baby, when our daughter wasn’t feeling well I first knew if she didn’t want to eat because she loved food and so do the calves! You also have to keep in mind that weather plays a part into our calf care as we are outside in the wide open without cover. Winter calf feedings are a little treacherous as we are venturing in the cold, snow and ice, and during the rain we can’t wait until the rain stops as the calves still need fed. These are the days I wish I had a desk job but don’t worry I’ve invested in a good rain coat, Bogs boots, Carhartt Bibs, Carhartt jacket and good winter boots. So I’m all set, now just to get Nora fully prepared for the winter is another adventure. She doesn’t have fuzzy hair, a calf coat or a calf hutch like the calves, so her winter coat, snow bibs, boots and the Kubota will have to do!

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