Those familiar with beef herds are used to hearing about calving seasons, but many dairies, including ours, prefer to keep a consistent number of cows milking and try to calve year-round. A very hot end to summer 2011 meant not very many cows got bred, though, so this spring we actually went two months without a calf. Also, we do limit calving in the worst heat of July or August because calving in the heat is hard on both the cows and calves. It has been a little interesting watching our numbers swing as we continued to dry off cows without adding back equivalent numbers of fresh cows. At the moment, we’re milking fewer than 70 cows, but all that is about to change.
Monday morning number 476, Willow (a Kuckelcow), had a heifer calf out of the bull Shamrock. She was due to calve on September 8th . Calving early is very common, and there is no cause for concern. It wouldn’t really even have been a surprise except there are 7 other cows or heifers actually due before September 8th. In addition to those 8, there are 13 more animals due in September. In fact, the craziness doesn’t stop this month – we expect 17 calves in October and 13 calves in November – that’s 51 total fresh cows in three months. For a herd our size, that’s a bunch.
I explained dry-off a few weeks ago, but what happens when a cow or heifer has her calf (or “freshens”)? After the cow has cleaned off her calf, we take the calf to keep it safe and healthy. After the next milking shift, we milk the cow separately to collect it’s colostrum. Colostrum is thicker than milk and contains a lot of good stuff meant specifically for her calf. We feed the calf it’s mother’s colostrum for it’s first two feedings. Because the cows are treated before dry-off we milk them 6 times before testing their milk for antibiotics. If the test clears, we “turn them out” with the rest of the milk herd. If for some reason the milk tests positive for antibiotics, we would continue to dump her milk until the antibiotic cleared. I don’t recall this ever being an issue with a fresh cow, but we never return a cow to the herd without testing her.
Heifers are a little bit different. Our heifers, now 1st lactation cows, are not treated prior to calving, so we only milk them 4 times before turning them out with the rest of the herd. We do this to make sure they’ve stopped giving colostrum and started giving milk and to help them adjust to milking. It’s a big change, and keeping them separate enables us to give extra attention to keeping them calm and comfortable as they adjust to their new daily routine.
As we ease into fall, we’re looking forward to fresh faces in the calf huts and fresh udders in the milk barn.