Spring is recognized as a time of reawakening, when the weather breaks out of its cold winter shell; plants send their first sprouts up into the air; the days become longer; and many species of animals bring new life into the world. All these changes mean that spring is a busy time of year on Washington’s dairy farms, though in reality life on a dairy farm is never slow. The tractors are continually cultivating, planting and harvesting crops in preparation for the summer and fall growing seasons. Clean-up, repairs and basic maintenance from winter wear must be performed. And since a certain percentage of cows in the herd are always calving, continued attention must be devoted to ensuring that the newborn calves – and their mothers – are healthy and strong. Read on to learn just how many steps it takes to get a newborn calf from pen to pasture….
A clean, comfortable and safe environment in which cows feel secure enhances the health and well-being of the animals. Cleanliness protects expectant mother cows and their calves from harmful bacteria and other risks, facilitates growth in the calf and recovery from calving for the cow. After a calf is born, she gets one gallon of her mother’s first milk, which is called colostrum. Feeding a newborn calf colostrum helps build up natural antibodies that are critical to strengthening the calf’s immune system. Additional preventatives may include a vaccination and a vitamin pill soon after birth, and dipping the navel into iodine so as to protect the umbilical cord from bacteria. Keeping newborn calves in a separate calving area allows for closer observation, provision of assistance in birthing and avoidance of injury to animals and farm workers. Calf hutches (described by one Washington dairy farmer as “the perfect little incubator”) allow young calves to grow in an individualized environment free from contagious illnesses that may be present in the herd as well as physical injury from adult cows; they also ensure proper nutrition for hungry calves.
All of these steps are important to make sure calves stay healthy in their first few months of life, but regular nutrition and veterinary care as they get older also provides a solid foundation for some of the best milk available. There is a lot to do as we transition to springtime, but nonetheless it is an exciting season for all Washington dairy farmers. We encourage you to read firsthand what dairy farming is really like (year-round!) in Day in the Life of a Washington dairy farmer; as well as take a farm tour on one of your local dairies for a firsthand experience; more information on a tour in your area can be found below. Happy spring! For more information about farm tours near you, check out Washington State Agricultural Attractions and Yummy Northwest.