ON THE FARM: A deep look into the calving process

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ST. JOHN’S, Mich. (WLNS)—Dairy farmers across the United States help calves become healthy adults through a method called, “calving process and assistance.” This process consists of several steps when a pregnant cow goes into birthing. Then, a calf is born and dairy farmers start the process of feeding the calf milk, food, and keeping them in separate stables so all of the calves can be fed the same amount of food.

Dairy farmers need to have the proper training to reduce stillbirths and identify the signs needed for assisting cows that are going into birth. Farmers also need to keep a record of all of the calves on the farm. There are three stages of birth for an adult dairy cow to give birth to a calf. According to Iowa State University, 70 percent of cows deliver without assistance.

“The most important thing on a dairy farm is taking care of the cattle because these girls are with us forever,” said Carla Wardin Co-owner of Evergreen Dairy Farm in St. John’s, Michigan.


Dairy farmers should provide proper vaccines that could help weak immune systems against three major causes of bovine respiratory disease, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus and parainfluenza 3 (P13), and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV). These are respiratory diseases that can impact the calves’ respiratory tract and reproductive system.

Dairy farmers must manually feed calves high-quality colostrum, milk-like fluid that comes out of a cow after giving birth. The colostrum has several nutrients and promotes growth.

“The calves stay in their own individual cribs for about two months where we make sure they are getting the feed that they need,” Wardin stated, “the milk that they need, and they’re not getting bullied out.”

Dairy farmers need to provide clean water, clean calf starter, and milk replacer each day. Dairy farmers can place all of these resources outside the pen to help reduce the possibility of manure contamination and urine contamination. It’s recommended to do this because it will help with keeping water away from a newborn calf’s bed, and help keep their pens dry.

The calves should be fed about 10 percent of their body weight, and a milk replacer should contain a minimum of 20 percent fat and crude protein.

“We treat the calves like a baby,” Wardin said, ” We check their manure, you check their position, you check to make sure they are eating all of their food, and then after that, we put them into groups of eight because they are a herd animal, and once they adapt… we place them out on pasture because we have a lot of pasture available and it’s irrigated pasture.”

Pasture is land covered with grass and other low plants that are suited for animal grazing.

“Once they are of age we have a bull-breeding stage where the ratio is 1 to 25,” Wardin said, “and after they become pregnant with a calf they are pregnant for nine months, and after that, we begin milking them and a cow has a calf every year.”

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