We’re pleased to be bringing you the second post in our Dairy Life series, which follows the life of one of our dairy heifer calves, right through to her becoming a working milker.
The health and wellbeing of our animals is critical to the quality of our milk and by extension the taste and success of our cheeses. Every decision we make on our farm is designed to produce the highest quality milk possible.
This Dairy Life series aims to help our customers, and other people who aren’t farmers, better understand the intricacies of environmentally sustainable dairy production. It is a way of life that we love, but it’s also a highly demanding job that requires a good education, lots of training, extensive experience and the ability to understand and apply complex aspects of animal and agricultural science. We think you’ll find it fascinating.
So please enjoy Part 2 and feel free to ask questions, make comments and interact with each other through the comments section of this blog.
Dairy Life | Part 2: The birth of 3737 (Briney)
At 8pm on Monday, February 15 we welcomed 3737 safely into the world. For traceability all the newborn calves are immediately allocated a unique ear tag number.
In normal circumstances she’d be known as 3737 for the rest of her life, but as she’s going to star in this Dairy Life series for the next few years we’ve decided to name her Briney.
Briney’s mother calved down beautifully with no assistance from us. It was her third calf and there was little fuss, with the normal presentation of the front feet and head first.
Straight after the birth, Briney was licked clean and after about 20 minutes she was able to stand for the first time and suckle from her mother. This is all normal and instinctive.
In years gone by, it was left up to the calf to get an adequate feed of colostrum naturally, but we now intervene to ensure the calf receives 2-3 litres of this critical, thick, rich milk.
Colostrum is really important and provides the calf with essential antibodies to protect it from disease and also proteins that begin her growth and development. Without colostrum, Briney could become very unwell and even die.
On the Tuesday morning, after they had spent the night together, Briney was loaded into a small trailer and taken from our Mooternity Ward to a calf shed next to the dairy.
The reality of dairy farming is that mother and calf are separated from each other at this point and we will now raise Briney with the other calves while mum goes back into production.
After our normal morning milking, Briney’s mother, other cows that have calved and those waiting to calve are brought up to the dairy. They all go on our rotary dairy and get fed. Those that haven’t calved yet receive the lead feed we discussed in Part 1 of this series to prepare them for birth.
New mothers are milked for their colostrum at this time. Because they’ve been out of production and not milked for two months, their teats will be sensitive and we make sure we wash them. We use a teat spray as well to ward off any bacteria.
Briney’s mother was milked on Tuesday morning and her rich colostrum was kept in a test bucket that was marked for 3737. Dianne is heavily involved with these milkings and ensures each bucket is set aside for the correct calf. Calving is a busy time for farmers.
After they are milked, we use an Iodoethyl 4 teat spray that contains glycerine and coats the teat to keep it clean, supple and healthy.
Straight after the first milking, the new mother’s colostrum is taken to the calf shed and fed to her calf.
As you can see in the photo of Luke feeding the colostrum to Briney, this method guarantees that this really important feed is successful. It ensures that the calf receives the required 2-3 litres and is armed with the antibodies and proteins she needs to stay healthy.
The colostrum qualities of Briney’s mother’s milk will slowly reduce in the week following her calving. Her milk doesn’t go into the main vat for our cheese making and for tanker collection until week-two and we use this period to test the milk to make sure she hasn’t developed mastitis or any other complications.
The rich, high-protein milk from all our cows that are within this first-week after calving is collected and used to feed all the calves.
While it is important that their first feed is from their own mother, after 24 hours the calves are fed from the collection of milk produced by all the new mothers.
Every morning, for the first three or four days we feed the calves with this milk near the dairy and train them to feed themselves from the teat troughs. They need about five litres of milk every morning.
After about the fourth day when we are happy that they are feeding well, the calves are taken away from the dairy to our larger calf shed on another part of the property where they continue to receive milk from the new mothers.
Briney is now here and she’s doing very well. Although there is water, grain and straw available to them in the calf shed, calves as young as Briney usually don’t show a lot of interest yet. As she gets a bit older, she’ll get a bit more interested and can begin drinking water and trying some solid foods in her own time.
That’s where we leave Part 2 of our Dairy Life series. We’ll be back soon to report on the next phase of Briney’s journey to become a mother and working milker.