East Hill Farms and the Burley family have been buzzing with baby excitement! We started having our first baby calves on the 21st of March this year, and we have also welcomed two new human babies to our growing family as well! We are the proud grandparents of a new grandson and new granddaughter---our future generation of dairy farmers, and maybe even cheesemakers. Since baby season is in full swing around these parts, we thought it would be a good idea to talk babies today.
We have a seasonal milking herd. We have been having 15-20 calves a day during this time of year, which we refer to as calving season. The girls will be the future suppliers of raw milk to East Hill Creamery to make our cheese, so we take our baby season pretty serious around these parts. After the baby calves are born, they will stay with their mom for around 4-6 hours, where they will get licked off, and get up and start moving around. When a baby is first born, it seems to have 10 or 12 mothers around it, because all the other momma cows who haven’t had their babies are feeling quite ‘motherly’ and nurturing as well.
We want the babies to get up and start moving around and be strong enough to be on their own. We do not put our calves in hutches, but the reason people do that is so that the calves get more individualized care and disease is better prevented. Because we have a seasonal herd the disease cycle is naturally broken by not having calves year round. Our calving facilities are only used in the spring and this allows the barns plenty of time to dry out when we are finished using them. We choose to put our calves in pens together because we think they develop better social skills. After they leave their mom, they go in a nursing pen with other newborn babies, and we have an employee who spends time with each calf, feeding and taking care of it. They get lots of colostrum in these first 24 hours, which is the important first milk that is full of antibodies. After they leave this nursing pen, they go into pens of 15. These pens have a nipple bar, where they all have a nipple to suck milk from. It’s quite the sight to see—all those babies in a line getting their milk together!
During this feeding time (2x day) we rely on the strongest/oldest calves in the pen to teach the other calves to get motivated to get milk from the nipple bar feeders. They learn from others plus human assistance. Within a week, they go to another barn with pens large enough for 30 calves and they stay there until weaning at 6 – 7 weeks of age. We begin to introduce grain to the calves while they are still drinking milk so that they have some extra nutrition and rumen development. At weaning they go on rotational, premium pasture and grain. They are co-mingled as boys and girls (bulls and heifers) until they are about 4 months old when we vaccinate them and separate them according to sex. We select a certain number of bull calves to raise each year to become future herd sires to maintain herd sustainability. The rest of the bull calves are castrated (it is important to do this, because male calves could become aggressive and dangerous to people and each other if they were allowed to become mature bulls). We will call these “Okies”. The Okies are sent to Oklahoma to be raised on wheat pasture through the winter and then on to a feedlot to be finished as dairy beef.
As far as the momma cows are concerned, after they calve, they go to the milking herd where we monitor them. We check their temperatures and monitor them closely for anywhere from 3 days to a couple weeks. If a cow's somatic cells (white blood cells) are too high then her milk can’t go into supply. We keep her very first milking separate because it has all the colostrum in it that goes to the nursing pen baby calves. Right after a cow has her baby, she is referred to as a ‘fresh cow’.
This year, we have had a number of twins. When a cow gives birth to a bull and heifer twin, the heifer calf is actually sterile. It is just how nature works. We keep track of things like twins, cows that need assistance during birth, stillborns, and backward calves. We also try to calve everything inside of a barn because calves are very susceptible to hypothermia. The cows get sorted daily, and the ones that look close to calving are put inside.
We hope you enjoyed learning about calving season here at East Hill Farms. These are the future generations of milk suppliers for our cheese, so we want to tell you a lot about them, starting at birth! Please ask us any questions if you need further clarification or want to know more. We love hearing from you. Thanks for reading today!