Managing a Dairy Cow With the Calf On

When we were first considering buying a dairy cow I already knew that we wanted to leave her calves on, meaning that we would allow her to raise and nurse her calves as opposed to separating them and bottle feeding them.  There were many reasons for this, including:

  • It is more natural and we like to lean that way as much as possible in our farm (hoping to have a broody hen and let a mama hen raise our chicks in the future too).
  • Milk Production (Jersey cows produce approximately 4-6 gallons a day, WAY more than we would ever need).
  • I have no desire to have the extra work of having to bottle feed a calf if I don’t need to, there is enough work around here as it is.
  • We only wanted to have to milk once a day, not twice.  Our schedule doesn’t allow for an evening milking every evening, just every morning.

I had several friends with dairy goats that left their kids on and I had discussed with them the best way to manage it.  So we decided to give it a try to see how it worked with our cow.

We left her calf with her full-time the first couple weeks of his life, doing our milkings once a day every morning.  As we entered his third week of life, and her milk production began to stabilize, our morning milking amounts began to decline.  When we would walk into the barn for milking the calf was already eating, taking what we were hoping to get for ourselves.  We knew it was time to start separating him from her at night.  My husband had already built a moveable partition (easily set up each night and folded up to the wall during the day) to make a mini-stall inside the cow stall.  With the way he built it our cow could still see, touch, and interact with the calf at night, he just couldn’t nurse.

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Calf stall set up within the cow stall

We bedded it with plenty of straw for warmth and closed him in there at about 1 am the first few nights (we milk at 6am) to get him used to needing to get a full tummy in the evening before we closed him away.  Then we moved the close-in time back to midnight, then 11pm, eventually landing on a 10pm close-in time each night.  Her milk production and his eating schedule adjusted very quickly.  They only seemed stressed the first night, and even then it wasn’t that bad.  Also, she would hold back some of her milk from us each morning so that once we were finished and got what we needed, she would then go in and have some left for the calf to nurse immediately upon them being re-united.  It worked well and all went very smoothly.

We kept his close-in time at 10pm until her morning milk production began to decline again and he began eating a little hay.  Then we moved close-in time back to 9pm.  These adjustments have happened several times over the last 4 months working back to 7pm.

In the last few weeks he has been outgrowing his little stall, we have had to move the close-in time all the way back to 6pm in order to get the milk we need, and he is eating a lot of hay and drinking water as well.  There is no milk left for him after morning milking anymore, he doesn’t even try he just goes right to eating hay for breakfast.  So we knew, with him being closed off for 12 hours a day and outgrowing his space, that we needed to change his set-up to include more space, and access to water and food.

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Charlie in his separate stall area at night back in January

We do have another full-size stall in the barn.  Ideally, we would be able to just move him over there where he would have plenty of space and easily have access to food and water.  But since we still aren’t finished building the barn all the hay is stacked in that stall.  We will eventually be building a hay loft and possibly a separate shed for hay as well (hay can’t just be outside and tarped around here because the deer and elk would devour it all in a very short amount of time).  When we get the loft built we will have access to that stall, and we are hoping to do that in the next few months (it will be absolutely necessary at some point as the calf grows to have access to that).

But for now my husband is working on expanding his little stall and adding a way for him to have access to food and water.  We will be finishing that project this weekend so that Charlie will be back in a good, comfortable set-up.

Managing the cow, calf-on, has worked out great for us.  We get the milk we need, only have to milk once a day, and the cow and calf are both happy and healthy.

6 thoughts on “Managing a Dairy Cow With the Calf On

  1. I love cows and I really admire the way you’ve managed sharing the milk with the calf with minimal stress to both animals even though it clearly has meant a lot of extra work for you. If only everyone who kept animals had your attitude towards their welfare the world would be a much better place. Well done!

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    • Thank you! I appreciate that you notice that. Sometimes it seems people think that if you raise your own animals for food (and especially if you butcher them) that you must not love animals and care for their care. And I guess in some cases that might be true, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for us. In fact that is one reason we DO raise our own animals. We could be eating milk, eggs, and meat from the store and not know how the animals were raised nor how they were slaughtered (in the case of meat). OR we can raise our own food animals and know that they are valued, cared for, all their needs are met, they are kept in a clean and stress-free environment, and that if they are killed for meat it is done quickly and humanely so they don’t suffer. It is very important to us that all our animals are cared for in that way whether they are here to make us milk, to give us eggs, or to eventually end up on our dinner plate.

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      • what a wonderful way to manage your milk cow and her calf. I have been trying to talk my husband into getting a milk cow but like you we could not use 4-6 gallons of milk a day. If we ever get a cow (hoping for a Jersey) this is how we will manage them too……Milking in the evenings is more than I want to juggle at night with all the other barn chores and cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen and getting kids into bed….Reading time ect.
        Charlie is soooooo cute!

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  2. Thank you for your updates of all going on with your farm. You do have so much to do, I know this to be true from experience, but still take time to write. And well, I might add!
    I did not live on a farm, but went there in the am on weekends, and afternoon/evening during the week. I was in elementary school, so school day trips to the farm were few and far between.
    Milking was done by hand until the milking machines came, and even then, it was carried to the cooler! Oh, were we happy when it was directly drawn to the cooler automatically. 😀
    My calf’s name was Georgia Brown (a pretty little Jersey), and my sister’s calf was Penelope (a cute little Holstein)
    The haying was much more different then it is now. The hay was cut, we followed to turn it, and when bailed, we picked each one up to toss it on a flat bed farm truck! Yes. It *was* the old days. lol
    I miss all of that. The chores were hard, but so rewarding as well. And the farm meals after a day in the hay field….. Yum! LOL
    I could write forever about how much I loved the farm, don’t even mind the smell of cow manure. And don’t get me started about riding the work horses never mind the cows. Hahaha
    Oh, and getting chased out of the bull’s pasture!!!
    Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously thru your posts, so glad I found you.
    Karen

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  3. Great information on having the calf with cow. With this set up what was the most and least amount of milk you got a day from your Jersey. I was considering a Dexter cow but I am not sure if leaving the calf on with a Dexter will give me enough milk. Also I am also curious about how much hay and grain you have to feed a jersey in the cold months. Great site.

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    • With our jersey, calf on, we got 1.75 gallons per day at her most productive and 1 gal per day as we got close to weaning. With our JLow – mini jersey x lowline angus (I would think more comparable to a Dexter) with the calf on we got 1.25 gal per day at her most productive and .75 gal per day close to weaning. This is with once a day milking in the morning, calf closed off at night and on her the rest of the time.
      Our full sized jersey ate about 30 lbs of grass/alfalfa mix per day plus 2-5 lbs of grain per day to get through the cold winter months producing milk. And by spring she was thinner than we like, but we have very cold, harsh, windy winters.
      The JLow did much better with the cold, plus was much smaller than the jersey. She ate 15 lbs grass/alfalfa mix daily through the winter plus only one month of 2 lbs grain per day right after calving. Once she was about a month out from calving we stopped graining her and she still produced well.

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