Thursday, 7 September 2017

Meet our cows

Due to the popular request of one dude on Twitter, this post is about our cows.

We inherited a mixed herd when we bought this place: quite a few Jerseys (the brown ones), a smaller number of black & white Friesan, with the bulk of the herd being cross-bred. We're not too keen on the Fresians because our farm is 25% hills and we milk once-a-day. Fresians are generally larger, less agile on hills and while they produce more milk it contains a smaller percentage of milk solids, which is what we get paid for. Strong udders are essential for once-a-day and our thinking is that it's better if cows are carrying around milk with a higher solids percentage.

The life cycle of a dairy cow begins in the springer paddock, which is where all of the soon-to-calve cows live. Here's a newborn calf taking its first drink from its mother.

They are alone because all the other cows are eating the fresh grass behind the camera that I'd just opened up. Mum was more concerned to complete the birthing process than get a feed of the new grass, so she stayed there for a while, eating the afterbirth and licking her calf clean.

Sometimes it's difficult to match up calves with their mothers. A version of the aunty problem is shown below: they're all interested in the calf but only one is the mother.

Once we've decided on the mother calf pairings, we give the calf a numbered necklace and record the cow & calf numbers together.

Then we leave them alone for at least 24hrs and often 2 or 3 days, contrary to the advice of DairyNZ who say calves should be collected twice a day and fed colostrum to ensure they get those vital mother-child antibodies. We prefer to trust nature. We do monitor things and ointervene if we see this is not happening. Some cows are shocking mothers, and some calves go wandering.

There is no good time to separate a calf from its mother. Beef farmers leave the calves on for several months, and both animals suffer when the resulting strong bond is broken. A couple of seasons ago we left all the calves on their mothers for a month or more and the pain of separation after that was just awful to behold. Now we take the calf when it is 1-3 days old. The high-bred girls stay with us here, and everything else either goes to slaughter or to other people who grow them on for later slaughter.

Either way, all calves come into the shed where we give them dry bedding and milk twice a day. They generally take to the milk feeder pretty well, like these little ones...

Roll forward one year, and those little tykes will look like this.

These are some of our replacement heifers, born last spring and rapidly turning into full sized cows. We'll put some young bulls in with them in mid-October. All going well, by this time next year they'll have calved and be supplying milk. For now though, we're trying to keep these girls growing strongly despite the inevitable feed pinch in late winter / early spring. We make a lot of good hay in the summer and are feeding it to these girls right now: that steel contraption in the foreground is a bale feeder attached to the back of a tractor.

After cows have calved they go into the colostrum mob. Their milk can't be put into the vat for collection/sale so we use it to feed calves. These colostrum mob cows have eaten all their grass for the day and are now scoffing grass silage.

We keep a close eye on the colostrum mob. Eight days after they've calved we start testing their milk for any evidence of mastitis. As soon as a cow's milk is clear, she gets drafted out and put in with the main milking mob. This mob (below) gets the best of everything: plenty of grass, silage top-ups as required, mineral licks, ad-lib salt.

I was hoping to post some pics of my favourites, but that'll have to wait for another day.

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