The Future of Dairy Begins with Calving (Part II)

Calving and heifer management is the future of dairy farming and the story of Buttercup and her calf is the future of my dairy.

The fact of the matter is that our milk cows will most likely not continue to be a part of our herd in 10 years. Just like people, cows get sick, retire, and die. In order to guarantee a future herd, we, as dairy farmers, must place high importance on our calves and heifers. Value must be placed on these life stages of a calf:

  • Birth to weaning (The items on this list will be linked to future blog posts)
  • Weaning to six months
  • Six months to breeding
  • Breeding to pre-fresh

For now, I want to focus on some of the important factors that go into taking care of a calf in the first couple days of life. These other life stages will be discussed in depth in future posts.

First though, it’s important to check the maternity pen throughout the day. Some cows will have more problems calving than others. That’s why it’s important to be aware when a cow begins to calve. For instance, one of the things you need to keep track of is whether you should pull a calf or not. In deciding this there are several things to consider. Here are some of the signs that tell a dairy farmer it’s time to intervene.

If the water sack has been visible for 2 hours and there has been no progress

  • If the cow has been trying for 30 minutes without progress
  • If the cow has quit trying for over 15 minutes
  • If cow or calf are showing signs of fatigue
  • If there is a possibility that the calf is in a abnormal position (ex. coming out backwards)

The other important thing to know in terms of the calving process is the importance of colostrum. This is vital to the life of the calf. Good colostrum, like I gave to buttercup’s calf, needs to have the right quality, the right quantity, and be given at the right time. That’s one of the reasons I sat with buttercup and her calf for that hour, so I’d be there to give the calf its colostrum.

But maybe you’re asking what exactly colostrum does. Well, good colostrum allows for several things:

  • Calves are born without any immunity. Colostrum provides this immunity.
  • As I indicated in my first post, colostrum ensures the calf gets the antibodies needed.
  • Colustrum must be given quickly after birth to allow the calves’ digestive tract to absorb these antibodies.
  • If the calf can get quality colostrum in the correct timing, the calf will have better disease resistance and will perform better once she is a mature cow.

All that to say, calving stories can be kind of cute, but newborn calving protocols are more than just a bunch of cute stories (the cuteness and the licking are just bonuses!). A dairy farmer must be on top of her game in order to provide the best care for the calves, starting on day one.

Dairy Vocab: A place to learn more about the words you may not understand. Feel free to suggest words you want to know more about. 

Maternity Pen: A place for cows that are two weeks or closer to calving. This allows the farmer to keep a better eye on them and insures the cows will calve in a comfortable setting.

Up next: Learn about organic versus conventional dairy farming.



The Future of Dairy Begins with Calving (Part I)

November 1, 2015: The beginning of something magical, though at the time there appeared to be nothing extraordinary about that Sunday morning. I rolled out of bed at 5:00 A.M. and pulled on some old sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. My husband, Brett and I drove the 23.3 miles to the dairy and started our daily milking chores. When we got there I stopped and looked in our our cow, Buttercup.

We’d bought Buttercup as a bred heifer in June. And we were told she was about 3 months along at that time. Ever since then we’d been anticipating the day when she’d give birth and begin her milking career.

On this particular day, though, I noticed that there was fluid coming out of her vagina and she was making slow pushing movements. Which meant that today was finally the day! If I’d had the chance, I would’ve sat there all day, but since it was Sunday morning, I had to wash up and go to church (Buttercup didn’t need my help to calve. After all, it is a natural process and other people were around incase something went wrong).


When we arrived back for afternoon chores, I could hardly keep myself from bouncing everywhere in excitement. I ran into the barn and found that Buttercup had given birth to a Red Angus bull calf.

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For about an hour, I sat in the corner with Buttercup and her calf–Buttercup alternating between licking the calf and me. (Buttercup took pretty good care of me, which was generous, considering I hadn’t given birth). About half way through that hour I went and got the warmed colostrum, this is milk given in the first milking of the cow, from the milking parlor and gave the bull his much-needed antibodies.

I don’t think that words can describe how cute these two were. Here is a video that I took of one of Buttercups first interactions with her calf.

Some people might be thinking this is the most adorable story ever, while others may think that it is a little corny, and still others may wonder why this story is so important.

If you’re one of those wondering why this story—and process—are important to dairy farming, I got a fact-filled follow-up post coming up next.

So stay tuned.