On our farm, taking care of our animals is the highest priority and it starts the moment a calf is born.
Our calves are born in the pasture during a three-month period in the summer and fall. During this time, we’re watching the cows to see who’s close to calving. If she needs help, we can pull the calf, but normally she has it unassisted.
After the calf is born, her mother licks her off to clean and stimulate her. When she’s ready, we take her to the calf barn, which we have specially designed for calf care. Each calf has her own individual pen. We clean off her belly button, bed her down with straw and feed her colostrum.
The barn itself has curtains, which we open and close depending on the weather. It is also fully ventilated with fans. We built it in a direction so that the natural breeze flows right through the barn, making sure it’s always nice and cool for the calves, the way they like it.
To ensure the calves are fed the correct amount, we mark the calves the first two times they're fed colostrum. It's really important that calves get colostrum right away, because it contains so many antibodies and we want them healthy from the get-go.
After a week, the calves start eating solids – grain – and drink water all day in addition to their milk. For eight weeks, they stay in their individual pens to make sure that they’re thriving. That way, we can monitor their health and make sure they’re getting all the food they need – and not worry about some bossier calf eating more than its share.
After eight weeks when the calves have received their individualized care and we’re sure they are thriving, we take out the panels in-between them and put them in groups of eight. Calves like this, because they are social herd animals.
Like all our heifers, we plan on her being on our farm the rest of her long, healthy life. Starting as a baby, becoming a mother, giving lots of milk, and having a daughter that give lots of milk, we love taking care of them! For our male calves, since we own a dairy farm (and only females produce milk), we sell them to a farmer to raise them as steers. However, we do have about 20 bulls responsible for all our little calves!
There’s all of this…but there are also calves born in the middle of the night, giving vaccinations, teaching them to drink from a bottle and a pail, hernias, stomach problems and constantly checking their manure. Really as a farmer, raising calves has many of the same glamorous details as raising babies. It’s all-encompassing, tiring and totally worth it.
Carla and her husband, Kris, are the sole owners of Evergreen Dairy in St. Johns, Michigan. She is the sixth generation to be farming on her family's farm where they milk 400 cows and grow crops to feed their cattle on 850 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture.
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