February: a month dedicated to love, lovers and all things red and heart-shaped. As Americans, we’ve taken the call to express our love in February to heart and show our love to our partners, our children – even our pets! But, what do you do if you have a few hundred dairy cows? As we close out the month, it’s a good time to recognize how dairy farmers love their animals all year long. Taking care of these bovine beauties is a love story worth telling.
Starting from the day they are born, dairy farmers provide around-the-clock care to dairy cows.
Calves live in their very own house that protects them from the weather and gives them a clean, warm and airy place to live. The individual house, called a hutch, also protects the calf from diseases that they could contract if they were housed with other calves. Think of it like a daycare – when a group of children are together, they pass illnesses around quickly.
Calves are fed milk to help them grow and stay healthy. After a few weeks, they are introduced to solid food – a sweet, molasses grain. This helps them wean from milk to a grain and forage-based diet. Calves also have access to fresh water at all times.
Finally, calves receive vaccinations that help to build their immunities.
Once a calf is two months old, their immune system is strong enough to join other calves in small groups. These young calves are grouped together in a “class” that they will stay with as they get older.
Typically, these young calves are housed in an open pen, with soft straw bedding and fresh food. No more milk now! These girls are eating a new type of grain and forage mix to help them grow.
At about six months, the calves are now heifers, a term used for “teenage” cows – that is, cows that haven’t had a calf yet. At each stage of growth, the heifers will receive special attention from the dairy farmer, including continued vaccinations, health checks, specially formulated food and comfortable housing.
The heifers will soon become the cows that provide milk, so dairy farmers spend a lot of time and effort to ensure they are healthy and comfortable – sort of like how people act in the dating stage! 😉
Dairy Cow Love
Once a heifer has her first calf, she is officially a dairy cow. As such, the dairy farmer treats her with the utmost respect and care. The dairy cow must be shown special care to ensure she is able to join the milking herd and that she stays healthy and fit.
The dairy farmer and his team pay special attention to these new mothers, monitoring them for several weeks for any illness, giving them a specially formulated food and often times housing them in small groups of other new mothers.
After a few weeks, the cow will join the milking herd where she’ll have access to fresh food and water, soft, individual beds (or “stalls”) and quality healthcare. Her only job is to eat, drink, rest and produce milk.
As dairy farmers walk among their dairy cow herd, they look for cows who are quiet, content and chewing their cuds. This means that the love and care they are giving to the cows is being received and reciprocated!
As we close out February, many of us won’t think about love again for many months. But, for dairy farmers, love and care is something they think about every day – their dairy cows depend on it!
Want to hear more about love on dairy farms? Check out these “Love on the Dairy Farm” stories about how dairy farmer couples met and fell in love: Love on the Dairy Farm: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.