We have dozens of calves born every year on our farm (we are a dairy farm, after all, and having a baby is an essential step for a cow to produce milk). Although these births are familiar to us, we never want them to become so common that we overlook their significance. The moment of a new life entering the world is a precious one, not to be touched by many other earthly experiences. One minute, there is one living thing. The next minute, there are two. Incredible… It is a moment we are looking forward to cherishing in the coming weeks as we have a number of pregnant mamas with calves on the way!
But the story of birth is more than simply the moment when a calf enters the world, and we believe that it is the months leading up to this moment, as well as the ones that follow it, that are critical for a happy, healthy animal. So what does that look like for the calves born at our farm? Here’s the scoop…
Our farmers are currently “drying off” a number of cows right now, in preparation for them to give birth in the coming weeks. “Drying off” is farm-talk for removing a cow from daily milking during the last several weeks of her 9-month gestation in order to let her body prepare for bringing a baby into the world. During this time she is moved from our milking herd to graze with our dry herd and build up her stores of strength and milk for her calf. When the time comes to give birth, she does so out in the pastures, amongst the herd. Thus, in most cases, our calves enter the world the way that nature intended – unaccompanied by external aid and invisible to human eyes. Instinct is a marvelous teacher, and both mother and baby are typically excellent students, performing their complementary roles with a skill that awes us. Of course, our watchful farmers are always ready if a birth requires assistance, and they know when to step in and help. But in most cases, their aid is redundant.
After birth, our calves enjoy a life that reflects the way they entered it – in the great outdoors, amongst the herd, in harmony with nature’s design. By remaining with their mothers and the other cows, calves can nurse on rich milk and learn the dynamics of herd life from the other animals. Occasionally a calf will have to be bottle fed in the early days until it gets the hang of nursing, but always the intention is to keep the babies integrated with our grassfed herd. Once a cow has given birth, she rejoins the milking herd and resumes our twice daily milking – able, as she is, to provide enough milk for her calf and us humans. Her calf dutifully follows her up to the milking parlor and back out to the pastures, hanging out with other calves as they wait for their mothers to emerge from the parlor.
As the calf grows, it will begin sampling the salad bar out in our pastures, gradually accustoming its digestive system to thrive on forage rather than milk. We allow the weaning process to occur naturally, so by the time a calf is about 10 months old it has fully transitioned to the grass-based diet it will enjoy for the rest of its life on our farm. Such an extended period of nursing – up to 10 months – is relatively rare in the dairy world and, we hope, speaks to our desire to honor the natural design of our animals and prioritize their needs. We find that when we operate in step with these rhythms, both the animals and our farm’s productivity flourish – a true testament to the beauty of nature’s ways.
In order for our animals to flourish, we carefully manage the size of our herd relative to the size of our grazing spaces. Keeping all the calves born on our farm would result in a herd too large for responsible management, so some of the are sold to local farmers with whom we maintain relationships. We send them off with the confidence that we have given them the best possible start in life, and that we are providing the best conditions for the ones we keep.
As we begin to welcome some new calves in the coming weeks, watch for photos and updates about these new additions to our herd!
As always, our aim is to keep you as content and well-stewarded as our herd, so are happy to receive your questions or thoughts! Feel free to reply to leave us a comment or connect with us on social media!