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.
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.
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.