Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Calf care is a pretty particular job. Much like special nurses are needed in the birth centers in hospitals, dairy calves need that "special care," too. I've heard the worst...."Calves are taken from their mothers.....Calves are deprived of their mothers love after birth....Dairy is the only sector that doesn't keep their young with the mother after birth..." If you've ever thought this, or even if you're just curious..this post is for you.
Let's take a step back. Dairy buffalo's are pregnant for 9 months, the same gestation period as humans. Dairy buffalo's have a "dry period" or a time when they aren't milking, as they prepare to give birth. This dry period usually lasts about 60 days to 90 days. As we approach the end of their dry period--mom buffalos are moved to a pen specifically designed for them to give birth in. It's called the "fresh pen." The fresh pen, on our dairy, is close to the milking barn, for a few reasons. 1. We're able to check the pen frequently to monitor labor. 2. We're able to move the mother, once she has her calf, to be milked in our milking parlor. There are a few ways we monitor buffalos to determine when they'll go into labor. - being antsy (moving around frequently, usually, moving their rear legs around as they stand) - arched back - raised tail - change in eating habit, or behavior Once the calf is born, it's important to let their mother clean them. During this time, she licks the calf, stimulating it's skin, encouraging it to breathe and stand up. Calves can stand up within 20 minutes of birth--impressive! After that, we move newborn calves to a heated (in the winter) barn- designed for newborn calves. Colostrum is essential to a calf's health. This newborn calf receives as much colostrum as they can drink. It contains antibodies from their mother.
Why do you move the calves? Calves require special care, as I said before. That special care begins with vaccinations- to keep them healthy and give them the best start possible. Our newborn barn is sanitized very frequently, and new bedding (straw and sawdust) is often given to eliminate wetness and germs. If a calf is sick- we clean out their pen twice a day, sometimes more, if it's needed. Keeping their pens clean is a step in the right direction to getting them healthy. Any amount of bacteria in the first 3 weeks of a newborn calves life can mean death. We move the calf away from their mother, for these reasons: -Calves get colostrum (their mothers first milk) within a couple hours of birth. If they had stayed with their mother--it's not a sure thing the mother would let them nurse at first. When they most need it. -In the winter time, calves need to be moved into a warm building, or they would get hypothermia. -We're able to closely monitor calf health. -At the first sign of possible sickness, we're able to diagnose and treat. -Calves suckling on their mothers teat can cause high amounts of bacteria to enter into the mother udder, causing mastitis, and serious health problems. -Manure is the biggest threat to calf health. And, buffalo's, they POOP.... a lot!
What do you do when a calf gets sick? Its most common for newborn calves to be affected by severe scours. Scouring is essentially severe diarrhea, which dehydrates the calf. When a calf has scours- we do NOT feed them milk. This would accentuate the scouring- causing further dehydration. We feed them "electrolytes" which is a powder with vitamins mixed with water.We closely monitor calves--at the first sign of sickness, ( a change in attitude, behavior, drinking) we're able to diagnose and treat them. Sometimes, dehydration so severe, calls for an IV. We were trained in calf IV practices. We insert a needle into their neck vein and put them on an IV drip to re-hydrate them. Sort of like being at the hospital--for humans. Within hours we're able to see a change- for the better- in their behavior/attitude. We do EVERYTHING we can to keep a calf healthy and happy. Sometimes, it doesn't work. I've been there-holding a calf's head as you watch it take its last few breaths. I guess, some would say "it's the circle of life," it truly never gets any easier. But, it happens. Our motivation is caring for all animals, in the best way we can. We work hard to ensure our calves and buffalo's are healthy and well cared for. When they feel their best, they produce the highest quality and quantity of milk...which provides us with milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter.
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