So, you may be wondering when we will start having babies (calves that is…) around East Hill Farms? After the cows and calves are what’s behind our entire business! We are not in that season quite yet, because it still looks like this here at East Hill....
But, while we are patiently waiting for our baby calves to start appearing, let me tell you some more about the baby situation here at East Hill Farms. East Hill Farms started becoming a seasonal dairy in the late 90's. Our cows have their baby calves from April 1st to the end of May each year. 25% of our herd is bred artificially – this enables us to get some current genetics. Being seasonal naturally synchronizes your herd and allows you to have all your babies within a certain, specific time frame. We raise 50 bull calves each year from the cows that have been artificially inseminated. When they are 1 year old we use them to breed our other 75% of the herd (natural service). We use a ratio of 1 bull for every 15 cows to be certain that they all get bred at around the same time.
We start milking the heifers (females) when they are two-year-olds. After the baby calves are born, they stay with the moms 6 – 8 hours, and they definitely get lots of care during that time. All the other cows want to mother the calf too, so they all lick it off. It's like the baby has 10 or 12 mothers around it! We want our calves to get up, be moving around, and strong enough to be on their own. We do not put our calves in hutches, but the reason people do this is because it's easy for the calf to get individual care and prevent disease. We like our calves to be together after they leave their mother, because we think they develop better social skills. After they leave their mom, we put them 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. This is where they get lots of colostrum – the important first milk for babies to get that is full of antibodies. When they leave the colostrum pen, they go to another pen large enough for 15 calves, where there are 15 nipples to suck milk from. At 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. When they are a week to ten days old, 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.
We sell a select number of the bull calves when they are 3 weeks old because by that time they are strong enough to go through a market. The heifer (female) calves go out to pasture after weaning and it is springtime now (it's usually the middle of May), so they can go out on the grass. The cow herd is usually turned out to pasture around the 17th of April to get their grass for the summer.
This is just the basics about calving season at East Hill Farms. When the time arrives, we will be posting lots more photos and stories. If you have any ideas for stuff you would like to learn more about, please email us and let us know. We are always looking for blog post ideas.