Compact Calving and Calf Feeding

95 calves in 23 days with 50 more to go. 2 losses (one was the c-section) but where there’s life, there’s a chance of death death! We’ve had 5 sets of twins, one set of bulls, two sets of heifer/bull, ?two sets of heifers (double bonus as a heifer born with a twin bull will almost certainly be infertile due to the male hormones in the womb – we did have one 4 years ago that was seen bulling and had calves and is still in the herd). There’s 20 in the maternity ward and the ?other 30 will be much more gradual with the last couple calving in April. It has been a busy 3 weeks! ?We aim for compact calving but it’s been very successful this year.

Feb 2013 014

95 calves probably doesn’t sound too much to those with large American farms but to a farmer on his own, it’s quite a lot. It’s not just a case of getting the calf out and getting colostrum into them and getting them drinking, it’s the monitoring of them, staying up at night, working all day (Brian had 2 nights last week when he didn’t get to bed at all) and it’s the mums that create lots of work too. ?Most of the heifers have calved so that’s been over 40 heifers to train into the milking parlour. They’ve never been in it before so they’re not used to standing in a row or having a milking machine put on them and they usually try to kick it off. ?Brian tries to prevent problems by putting a heifer in between 2 cows but trying to manage that each time in rows of ten, especially when there’s as many heifers as cows, can mean it’s a challenge.

While many calves will natually suckle their mother, using the smell to guide them to the udder, they have to be taught how to drink from a teat feeder or bucket. ?We have a bit of an old fashioned system and 2 sheds are set up for bucket feeding. We have 2 smaller sheds that have teat feeders now. Teat feeding is supposed to be better for rumen development but we haven’t noticed any difference. ?Training them to drink from a bucket can take a couple of feeds sometimes for it to click. You have to put your finger in the calf’s mouth and scoop some milk in a couple of times so it clicks in their brain that they get the milk as they suck. You then guide their mouth to the milk and after a minute or so, see if they will drink without your finger in their mouth. ?The next time, they may need to suckle your finger again for a minute to guide them to the milk as they don’t cop that the milk is under their nose, it’s their instinct to rise their head towards an udder that isn’t there. ?Training them to the teat feeder is easier but it can be a challenge to get them all lined up until they get the hang of it. ?They get a bit over a gallon a day, fed in 2 feeds. I tend to carry 2 x 3 gallon buckets of milk numerous times up and across the yard – my twice daily workout 🙂

Bucket Feeding Calves

Bucket Feeding Calves

I brought the kids to badminton this week, returning home at 9:30. Brian had to get the vet out for a cow and they were starting a c-section. All 80 calves still had to fed and the milk was gone cold! ?The first two shed were overflowing as the next 2 hadn’t been disinfected yet so there were 8 newborns in the passage. ?They all drank slower cos the milk was cold too – it was 11pm by the time I’d finished. ?The same happened last night, except it was a bit earlier – the loader had broken down which delayed the milking which meant calf feeding was delayed. Can be a bit soul destroying at that time of night but the calves are all healthy and getting the hang of it all. ?We moved the newborns into the 2 other sheds over the last 2 days and there are only 7 spaces left until all the calf sheds are full which will probably be Sunday!

Calving is usually a bit slower so the first shed of 27 are old and big enough to be moved into a larger pen in the haybarn for the last 27 and the same goes with the main calf but I’ve no idea where we’re going to put them once the stable is full. All good fun!

Teat Feeding Dairy Calves

As dairy cows give so much milk, the calf usually suckles them for the first feed (Teagasc recommends within 2 hours of birth – by stomach tube! Easy know they are sitting in a warm office rather than in a cold hayshed at 3am!) and then they go to the milking parlour. We feed the calves with milk though not milk replacer. Brian did suggest we go for milk replacer this year as it is cheaper than the price we’d get for the milk but I looked at him aghast. Processed milk replacer! Yes, I know much research has gone into it and there is a place for it, e.g for farmers who buy calves and don’t have the milk but hey, I was a breast feeder myself – I wouldn’t feed calves with milk replacer. Judging by an article ?in the Farmers Journal, the price of milk replacer is 23-29 cent compared to 33 cent that we get for the milk and they recommended the most expensive so there isn’t much in it.

I was amused to see in the IFJ too that while pet lambs would traditionally have been fed on a milk replacer made from cows milk, they have now created now made from ewe milk and it is better for them. Of course it is, it is from their own species. Humans are the only mammals daft enough to feed their offspring with milk replacer from other species! ?Can you tell I’m passionate about this subject!!

Calves having a nap after being fed

I’m often amused by the number of articles in the IFJ and other publications at this time of year about the importance of getting colostrum into calves and I wonder why on earth don’t midwives follow their example. Perhaps the reason though is that bovines are the only species that don’t pass on any immunity to its young, the antibodies are in the milk and we treat the mothers before the birth to ensure the colostrum is as powerful as it can be. It can take 3 weeks for calves to reach full immunity so if they do pick up an infection at a young age, it really can be a battle to get them to survive.

All has gone well so far so fingers crossed it continues.

5 thoughts on “Compact Calving and Calf Feeding

  • Zephyr Hill

    Wow! This is mind-boggling! We’re waiting on two calves, I’m almost embarrassed to say! Our Dexter heifer will be calving first, then her mother. I’d settle for one heifer and one bull. 🙂 Please no twins! I purposely bred her to a short-legged Dexter so she’d have a smaller calf the first time. We love our Siobhan to pieces, and I’m sure I’ll be losing sleep as her time approaches without thinking of things like twins. I think Sara will pop hers out just fine; this is her 7th, at least. I found you through Brent’s grasspunk blog.

    • Lorna

      Nice to have found you too, apologies for delay in replying – haven’t visited this blog all week!
      It’s more anxious when you only have a couple – while I miss our 2 goats, I’m not at all missing the angst we experienced each March in the lead up to the kidding 🙂

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  • Husker Cowgirl

    Hope it continues going well for you. We are just getting going with heifers. It’s snowing now and hubby went out to bring a heifer to the barn. He has the calf warming in the calf box. Cold and snowy!



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