Food Dialogues Blog

Who we are, how we work, and why we love what we do.

How we Take Care of Pregnant Cows and Newborn Calves

We take care of our cows and they take care of us. Their health is the focal point of everything we do; every management decision has their best interest in mind. To achieve this, prevention is key in helping alleviate the signs and symptoms of disease or illness. As the animal health specialist on our farm, I focus heavily on the wellness of “fresh” cows, i.e. cows who have recently calved or given birth. Because of changing hormones and the birthing process itself, calving can be stressful for the animal. In working closely with our nutritionist and veterinarian, we implemented a fresh cow protocol to insure the transition process after calving is a smooth one.

After parturition (the act of giving birth) cows can be dehydrated, so this “Gatorade for cows” quenches their thirst and replenishes lost nutrients.

Keeping Cows Healthy after Pregnancy
Keeping pregnant cows content and comfortable is a priority for us. After parturition (the act of giving birth) cows can be dehydrated. To quench their thirst and replenish lost nutrients, we give them five gallons of water filled with electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals. I refer to it as “Gatorade for cows.”

Any cow who has given birth three times or more receives a packet of calcium boluses. These boluses provide slow releasing calcium to boost their metabolism and keep their bones healthy and strong. For the first seven days after birth, I visually monitor the cows and take their temperatures. To check for disease in fresh cows, we take a small blood sample underneath the animal’s tailhead (base of the tail). Cows are tested using a meter similar to what reminds me of testing for diabetes in people.

Ensuring Calves Get a Strong Start
Just as important as the cows, calves represent the future of our herd and require great care. Similar to human infants, calves are born with a weak immune system. We bolster their immunity by following an important routine to ensure a healthy start to life. Navels are dipped in a small amount of iodine to kill bacteria entering the body through the umbilical cord, and a vaccine is administered to prevent respiratory infections. Most importantly, colostrum (mother’s milk) from the cow is tested for quality. One gallon of colostrum, or liquid gold as I like to call it, is fed shortly after birth to the calf.

To bolster calves’ immunity ensuring a healthy start to life, navels are dipped in a small amount of iodine to kill bacteria entering the body through the umbilical cord.

These management practices play an integral part in preventing disease and illness in our fresh cows and newborn calves. As farmers, we have a moral obligation to help each our animals reach a high level of wellness. We want them to strive, and like I said – we take care of our cows and they take care of us.

Katie Roth and her husband TJ farm with their partners John and Luann Shea in the southwest corner of America’s Dairyland in Wisconsin. They milk 260 Holsteins and all of their feedstuffs are grown on the farm including corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. Katie serves as one of USFRA’s Faces of Farming & Ranching.

All opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.