How to Raise A Dairy Calf

Guide to raising a healthy dairy calf, including disease prevention, iodine dips, scours, and stall ventilation.

| May/June 1975

The milk cow shifts around the calving stall and eyes us with some exasperation. She'd just as soon we left. But we stay standing at the other end of the barn where we won't annoy her too much, smelling the good sweet smell of green hay and healthy animals. Through the gloom we see that she has dropped her calf, and we hurry forward to look at it.

Raising a Dairy Calf

There on the clean straw lies a wet little creature, weak and spangled with tissue and blood. It lifts its head, its ears back, and lets out a small blat. We can see that its nose and mouth are clear, so we stand and watch. The cow has turned to find out what in the world happened back there, and — intensely interested — she stretches her head out to the calf. Then she utters the peculiar soft moo kept only for this occasion: the bovine equivalent of an old woman's "Oh, isn't that sweet!" She reaches out her long, rough tongue to begin the grooming which will warm and strengthen her new baby.

"So what's the problem?" you say. "Let's all go back to bed."

The problem is that that dairy calf represents centuries of severely selective breeding. For generations, man has bred a high production milk cow to the son of a high-production milk cow . . . and repeated that process until we now have milk machines known as dairy cattle. And something happened to the calves along the way: They lost the ability to survive on their own.

While the beef calf can get on well outside with its mother, the dairy calf is more prone to disease. . . and in any case can't be left with its mother for more than a day. She produces far more milk than the baby needs, and the overfed youngster will soon be sick with scours (diarrhea). Nevertheless, the little creature is a valuable animal and worth the extra attention it requires.

My husband has the iodine dip ready and enters the calving stall. The cow, who knows him well, lets him admire her new baby. By this time the calf is trying to stand, with the mother's tongue alternately helping it up and knocking it down. My husband checks to be sure the newcomer's nose and mouth are clear, raises the baby to its feet, discovers that it's a heifer (female), covers the navel cord with iodine dip to prevent infection, and heads the critter in the direction of its first meal.

3/13/2007 12:46:56 AM

I was just sitting here tonight with my husband talking about cows. And I was just wondering if you could tell me how much milk comes from each squirt from the tit of the cow. I was guessing about 1oz. and my husband says about 1.5-2oz could you ar do you have a answer to this question? Thank You very Moooooooochly. lol.

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