Pregnant cows and heifers within 2-3 weeks of their due date live in the pasture closest to the dairy. When it’s raining or extremely cold, we’ll bring the pregnant ladies into the barn next to the house, for their comfort and ours. Most of the time, though, they’re better off with more space where they can go off on their own and calve in peace. In this pasture “off on their own” is still easily visible to us. We keep a close eye on them and get involved when necessary. It’s better for the cow, if she can, to deliver the calf unassisted.
After a calf is born, the mother (dam) needs to get up to clean the calf off. Often this is where we come in, reminding her she needs to get up. We will also check the calf and make sure its airways are clear of mucus. We typically leave the pair together until the calf is cleaned off, and usually until it can walk. It will start trying to stand within the first hour, and usually the calf can walk within 2 hours of its birth. Check out my first video of the calf in the first 2 hours of it’s life, trying to stand and taking it’s first steps (set to great music: Stoney Larue – “Travelin’ Kind”).
We then bring both the cow and calf in from the pasture. The calf gets her very own cozy hut, bedded with straw in the winter or sand in the summer. The cow heads to the barn, where we milk her for the first time. Her milk this first time is actually colostrum, a thicker version of milk with tons of good stuff meant just for her calf. (Read about cows freshening here.)
We collect the colostrum in a stainless steel bucket and feed it to the calf by bottle. We feed 2 quarts at its first feeding and save 2 quarts for its second feeding. We also give the calf a probiotic to help its immune system get started. Finally, we give the calf an ear tag with its number, and sometimes it’s name. (Read about our naming practices here.)
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