I had a comment on one of my earlier posts where a concerned vegan had an issue with dairy farmers removing calves from their mothers. I thought about this practice and how misunderstood it actually is. So, since we had a brand new baby heifer calf born Sunday morning (which made us late for church-it was a good excuse) I thought it was a perfect example of this practice.
#663, otherwise known as Ruth Anne gave birth early Sunday morning (at about 5 am, when we weren't at the farm) to a little heifer calf, who is #814 in our records, but Ruthie to me. When we arrived at the farm for morning chores, I headed immediately to the dry cow pen, where I found Ruthie running around the pen and Ruth Anne keeping a watchful eye on her. Ruthie was making friends with the other dry cows, and needed to be moved. Healthy calves are able to stand and run at an hour old! Ruthie was loaded up in the wheel barrow and brought inside the calf barn, or nursery. Here Ruthie received an oral vaccination for scours, her navel was clipped and dipped with iodine. All 3 of these steps are done to assure that each calf born has a good start. Ruthie was placed in a freshly bedding stall, where she could be clean and free of pathogens. Just like babies born at a hospital and placed in a nursery. After making sure Ruthie was nested in, we headed outside to walk Ruth Anne to the milking barn. We walk our cows, it's the simplest way and the calmest method to move cows. Ruth Anne is a 2nd lactation cow, so she knew where she was headed. We ran Ruth Anne into the parlor and milked her. Ruth Anne then headed out to our fresh cow pen where she had free choice fresh warm water and all the nutritionally formulated feed she could eat.
Here Ruth Anne gets time to focus on taking care of herself, instead of worrying about her calf. Fresh cows require a lot of special attention. In the barn we check a variety of things every morning for ALL fresh cows, for their first 20 days. We check their temperatures (checking for infections), their rumen fill (how full their stomachs are), their ketosis level (liver health), and their bright eyes (overall health). If any of these items are off, we immediately work further to treat our cows, most of the time without antibiotics, but with probiotics. But enough about cows....back to Ruthie....
After milking Ruth Anne, we haul a pail of fresh colostrum (mother's first milk) back to the calf barn. We only feed colostrum from animals that we know are healthy and free of disease, if the mother is not free of disease we have frozen colostrum from healthy cows available to feed. Ruthie got fed over a gallon of colostrum, within hours of birth. In nature this is not always the case. Calves struggle to find their mother's milk and may not get the right amount, right quality or a timely feeding. Colostrum fed early in life increases passive immunity. Mothers pass immunity onto their calves through colostrum, but the calf is best able to receive this immunity during the early hours of life versus the later hours of life. Within 24 hours, on our farm, a calf will drink about 1.5-2 gallons of colostrum.
Another issue with letting calves suckle their mothers is an increased chance of infection in the calf and the cow. The calf can receive pathogens from the teats on the cow, since the teats are not properly cleaned. The cow can receive pathogens from the calf's mouth since it is also not clean. By using clean and sanitized equipment to collect colostrum and a clean and sanitized bottle to feed the calf we prevent pathogens from transferring, but still get the advantages of passive transfer immunity.
Other possible issues with leaving the calf with the cow are abandonment and injury. Sometimes there are mothers that are not good mothers. It doesn't come naturally. First calf heifers are some of the best examples of this. Once they deliver a calf, they may walk away, never lick off the calf and move to the feed bunk. The calf would be left to die, cold and wet. Sometimes cows, especially other cows, can hit or push around the newborn calf. They can even step on the calf. I have seen this happen, just after birth a fresh cow got up and swung around and stepped on her calf's leg. Luckily the calf wasn't injured badly.
Farmers care for their calves and fresh cows. Calves are the future of our herds-we want them to have an excellent start in life and cows are our present, and we want them to also have an excellent start. Removing calves from cows is not cruel, its actually in the best interest of both animals, both receive the best care possible. Because our cows always come first!