Cow/Calf Question

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by Tractorgrl, Jun 23, 2006.

  1. Tractorgrl

    Tractorgrl Well-Known Member

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    Hey All,

    I have a quick question about cow/calf management and I was wondering if any of you could help me. I grew up on a mid-sized commercial dairy farm which I hope to soon take over. I would like to cut the size down to about 100 head when I get it. For now, it is run like the majority of dairies in that calves are seperated from their mothers soon after birth. I would like to stop this practice and go back to a more "natural" way of allowing the cow/calf to remain together. I plan on having a seperate barn for mothers and babies. I know Johnes is a real concern for most dairies and that it can go undetected for years, but I can't even remember the last time we brought in a cow from somewhere else it has been so long. I am willing to take this risk. So my question is, what are the other drawbacks that I have not yet considered? Do any of you do this in your dairy herd? If you do, how long do you allow the cow to raise her calf before you seperate them? I would like to eliminate the use of calf hutches altogether on my farm and let nature take its course. The only bottle feeding I would do is colostrum at the beginning as I want to make sure that the calf is receiving enough. Any monetary loss from keeping cow/calf together is not much of a concern in my case. I look forward to hearing advice you may have.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Up North

    Up North KS dairy farmers

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    I've read articles on this very subject in the publications Graze and The Stockman GrassFarmer. It's driving me nuts that I can't find the articles right now. I know Graze had an article on a dairy farmer who does this quite recently. He shipped milk commercially. There is also another article I read that was in the Stockman GrassFarmer about a small dairy that kept their calves with the cows. They had an extremely small herd and made cheese out of all of their milk. You can check out their place at cowsoutside.com. I don't think their website has anything about how they raise their calves though. Sorry not much help. This isn't a very common practice among dairy farmers.

    I'd love to hear how this process goes for you if you decide to go ahead with it. I would also be interested in any good websites or articles you come across on this subject. It's something that I have thought about alot in my dairy career but never implemented. If you bring this up to any traditional dairy farmer they think you are nuts. Even DH doesn't think the same way I do on this subject. If I had my way I would switch the milk herd over to seasonal ASAP. Then I would just leave all of the calves with their mothers until they are ready to wean. Why do all this work to care for a calf when the mother is perfectly capable of doing it herself.

    Heather
     

  3. john in la

    john in la Well-Known Member

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    That would really be way off the beating path in the dairy industry but that is what this industry needs to keep the small dairy alive. A person willing to risk every thing to try and find ways to make a small dairy practical.

    As far as difficulties that would depend on what kind of milking station you use. It would be hard with a milk barn trying to separate the calves out and the mothers in. I really do not know enough about a stall barn to comment.

    You would want to keep the calf with mom as long as you can fanatically stand it up to about 9 months old. After 9 months most dairy heifers can get along on grass alone and still calf at 24 months. Your feed cost per calf weighed against lost milk will decide when to remove the calf. I do know the calf will be much better off and grow out better with mom.
     
  4. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    My concern would be you are putting a HUGE investment at risk. Dairies do it the way they do for very solid economic reasons. Even an average Holstein will product FAR more milk than her calf can utililize.

    You might consider a separate birthing pen and then allowing the calf to suckle for perhaps the first 12 hours. After that the cow goes in the line, she is milked out separately with the milk going to her calf for perhaps the first two milkings - with any excess being used elsewhere. After her colustrum is gone her milk is basically identical to that from the rest of the herd so really no reason to tie a particular cow to a particular calf.

    Calves do not need to be raised separately in hutches - even in quite cold climates, such as WI. Send a business-size SASE and $2.00 to McCarville Dairy Supplies, 820 Center Street, Mineral Point, WI 53565 and ask for a copy of their brochures and price list. Essentially they sell products for milk feeding calves as naturally as possible off of the cow. The nipples they sell are from NZ can called Suck Hard. They are a harder-type plastic and cause the calves to have to suck hard for the milk. This mixes their saliva with the milk for better digestion. While they sell plastic milk containers, some have simple made a small wagon using a plastic drum with multiple nipples (with hoses to the bottom) which they leave in the calf paddock and fill from the top. Cap is simply a 5-gallon plastic bucket which is placed down into a large hole on the top as a stopper to keep out flies.

    Even here, about 50% of the calves will be bulls. I believe traditionally they brought (netted out) more money as veal calves than if they had been raised to weaning. On heifers, your operation apparently grows out their own replacement cows. However, with 100 cows you ought to get about 50 heifers a year, but may need only 10-20 of them as replacements. Here perhaps a culling process is to be considered, such as keeping heifers only from the best milking cows and then letting the others go either as veal calves or as feeders once early weaned.

    On seasonal dairying, concept is great, but... Requires very strict budgeting as you need to stretch out ten months of milk checks over 12. Requires a good bit more herd management on impregnanting on schedule. Some who have gone that way have had to pretty well start over with a new herd to get the desired calving season.

    With that substantial investment at risk my recommendation would be to look long and hard at making changes - and then to do so VERY gradually. The only way you may have to increase net income is to decrease expenses. For example, could you live on 80% of current milk production if you could find ways to reduce expenses 50%? Remember, it is not gross income, but net income which matters.

    Sound like you might be interested in going back to 1950s-style dairing, but the world has changed since then. My family was on two dairy farms in WI during that time. On one I remember sheep for lambs, egg chickens (someone stopped by to pick up the eggs a couple times a week), hogs and growing sugar beets. On the second all I remember is the cows, but may have been hogs also. I have been told by older siblings milk was sold to a local creamery at both farms, so the skimmed milk equivalent came back to the farm for use there - primarily as feed for the hogs. A saying at one time is on dairy farms it was the hogs (feeder pig production) which paid off the mortgage.

    You might consider trying to find a one-year intership at a seasonal dairy in your general area for basically room, board and some pocket money. McCarville's (see above) might be able to give you some leads.

    One of the focuses of The Stockman Grass Farmer (google their site) is on non-traditional dairying.
     
  5. Jena

    Jena Well-Known Member

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    Costs always have to be a concern or you just might run what you get straight into the ground.

    Do the math. Then do it again.

    The math will tell you what is feasible.

    You can always ship your calves out to someone else to raise. I know a guy around here who keeps heifer calves until they go back to be milked.

    Jena
     
  6. Ronney

    Ronney Well-Known Member

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    Ken's post make a lot of sense.

    Perhaps you can go for the compromise and this is how we reared our replacements back in the 1970's. All calves were kept on their dams for the first four days of their lives. They were never pulled off and given colostrum but they were monitored to make sure that each calf was drinking - not a hard thing to do. After four days they were brought to the shed and taken off their dams. Those not required for replacement were put on the bobby calf truck :Bawling: (I hated that part of it), the remainder were put on to nurse cows. These cows would be part of the herd but maybe not the best producers. Each cow would have 3 calves. The remaining cows would go into the milking herd. The nurse cows would rear these calves for three months after which time they were weaned and put back into the herd. There is no reason why you can't do exactly the same. There is a bit of initial work and stress getting cows to accept calves that aren't theirs but it can be done. That way you have cow reared calves and production.

    Personally, I feel that if you let each cow rear her own calf you would go down the gurgler in fairly short order. As Ken has pointed out, Friesians - and any dairy cow for that matter - produce more milk than one calf can ever drink and the logistics of sharemilking with 100 cows and calves makes my hair stand up on end. Under those circumstances, Johnnes could end up being the least of your problems.

    Cheers,
    Ronnie
     
  7. DJ in WA

    DJ in WA Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I have a dairy of one cow. I leave the calf with her. Here’s the problem I deal with. When a cow is attached to a nursing calf, she’d rather give her milk to the calf than to a human. In other words, she doesn’t let her milk down well for me. If her udder is full, I can get some out, but then the flow will stop. I let the calf in to suck on a hind teat while I keep squeezing, and I can feel in a half-minute or so when she releases her milk. I get as much milk after the letdown as I do before.

    Letting the calf in with the cow during milking won’t work in a dairy. And the calf has to be hungry at that moment so it will nurse, which means you have to separate it some time before. A lot of fiddling which can be done with one cow, but probably not a hundred. You'd have to separate calves, then put the right one with each cow during milking.

    If you don’t have milk letdown, and can’t get all the milk out, the herd will drop in production, with more mastitis, etc.
     
  8. Tractorgrl

    Tractorgrl Well-Known Member

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    Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. They are very appreciated. I know that I have a lot more to consider and I have been looking more into possibly becoming a seasonal dairy. The dairy will not be my main source of income, I plan on it being more like my on-going "project." I was raised on a dairy farm and do not wish to run a farm that large ever again. I was more just wondering if anyone knows of this being done nowadays, as I know it is very unusual. Thanks for sharing The Grass Stockman Farmer information, I will definitely be checking it out. Any more information you can provide me, I'd be open to hearing it! I'll keep everyone updated. Thanks!
     
  9. Tractorgrl

    Tractorgrl Well-Known Member

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    DJ in WA,

    Thanks for letting me know about the milk letdown problems you've had, that is something I had failed to think about. Definitely something to take into consideration. Thank you very much.
     
  10. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    You don't give your location. If it is at all possible make a vacation out of going to the Mineral Point, WI area and visiting with some of the seasonal and rotational dairies there. They are sort of a hot bed of innovative dairy thinking. I am sure McCarville's Supply can provide some contact points.

    The VT dairy referred to above is very unique. Their choice of milk cows is anything but Holstein. They purchase no feed. They milk once a day with the milk going directly into a cheese vat. Their custom-made cheese is then sold mostly at a high end farmers' market. That article is in the December 2005 issue of The Stockman Grass Farmer.
     
  11. Tractorgrl

    Tractorgrl Well-Known Member

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    Home is central New York state, but I attend school out west. I plan on returning here full-time (to NY) after next year. The dairy right now has about 1000 holsteins and approximately 50 jerseys (my mom loves the jersey breed so she keeps them). I plan to drastically cut the herd to 100 or even less to start. Ken, what you mentioned is exactly what I want to do. I would like to get into making a high-end cheese. My mother did this awhile back with a small herd of Guernseys and was successful, but found that with the time committment to the main dairy it wasn't feasible. I would like to cut out the main dairy altogether and focus on a higher-end product. I'm also starting to think that I would probably sell off all the holsteins and jerseys and go with another breed. I know that normally this would be a huge financial gamble, but right now that is not a real worry. Any other information you might have would be greatly appreciated. I have awhile yet before I take this on, but I'm trying to do all my homework and look at this from every angle. Thanks for the suggestions I will look more into the information you all gave me. I appreciate it!
     
  12. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    That dairy in VT offers one-year internships. They feel it important for the interns to go through an entire one-year cycle. Article said by only milking once a day the organic cheese making aspect doesn't take any longer than milking twice a day. Essentially as soon as the last cow is milked, the cheese making starts. They have found the taste of the cheese changes a bit during the milk run, and they take advantage of it by offering different flavors. As I recall the wild onion taste in the milk during that period turns into a chocolate-like favor during the cheese fermentation process. They also have an on-the-farm bakery.

    Article doesn't talk much about what they do with the calves, other than they are born on pasture and stay with the cows. They may early wean them.

    A bit more information on them in the Consolidated Stickies above.

    P.S.: There may be more net income in 100 cows with the milk turned into high-end cheese than with 1050 cows in a commercial dairy. 950 cows sold for say an average of $800 isn't to be sneezed at for a starter base but be careful on the tax implications.

    Also, the rules and regulations for a cheese operation (Grade B) are far less strict than a milk operation (Grade A).
     
  13. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    Just something to consider (and I still recommend you strongly consider an internship at that VT organic cheese dairy) is to separate out the Jerseys and then start a small cheese plant with them. Might involve a separate building with a walk-through milking parlor separated by a wall from the cheese processing vat(s) and aging rooms. While you do have the initial expenses involved it will let you develop your market for organic cheese, especially if you can put the Jerseys on grass for rotational grazing. I suspect this is a confinement dairy but perhaps has some acreage you can use to graze. An alternative is to green chop and bring it to the Jerseys, with silage when there isn't fresh forage to provide.

    Last year I visited a now closed dairy over in Western TN. Don't remember number of cows they were running, but they used a 50/50 mix of Hosteins and Jerseys (to raise the butterfat level). Their milking set up was a somewhat narrow, rectangular building. Bulk milk tank was at one end. Rest of building had an four milking stations with a combination of elevated and a dropped floor. Supplemental feed was kept in a room above and manually shoveled into hoppers above each of the milking stations. They tried to alternate a so-so milker with a heavy milker. So-so milker went to front station and heavy milker in back. Feed was manually (level operated) dropped into swing-out trough based on eyeballing what each cow should have for the milk produced. When the so-so milker was finished it went out and the heavy milker was moved forward. Thus, one each side essentially had a group of three (so-so, heavy, so-so) and then started cycle again. Each cow had not only a number, but a name. It was on a tag on a tag board. As they were milked the tag was turned over to ensure all of the cows were milked when it was done by hired help. Calves went on nurse cows.

    Dairy had been run by one of the sons of the founder. He said he loved the operation, and it was profitable, but they simply could keep hired help and it simply became too much for him to handle alone. They provided a cottage for the hired help (and family). He said when they put a help wanted ad in the paper every bit of white trash within three counties would apply - and they usually lasted about a week. "What, you want me to get up at 4AM to prepare for the morning milking every morning!!!"

    Probably the biggest aspect to consider is to develop your market first with your own brand, plus investigating what else you might sell at the same time. Note the VT dairy also has a bakery with speciality breads from it and sell to a yuppie crowd at premium prices.

    Become extremely familiar with the NY rules and regulations on retail sale of food products and what is required to be certified as an organic product. A couple of state allow the sale of fresh milk, some pasturized and some non-pasturized. Way around pasturization might be to label and sell it as for pet use only. For example, "Bonnie's 'Fresh From the Cow' Pet Milk" with pictures of dogs and cats on the label.

    For the yuppie crowd, mix fresh manure with water and then strain out liquid. Put in empty plastic milk jugs and sell it as 'manure tea' for house plants.

    Read all of the book by Joel Salatin. Your library should be able to get a loaner copy. Also see if you can find a copy of Dynamic Farmers' Marketing: A Guide to Successfully Selling Your Farmers' Market Products by Jeff Ishee. He is a neighbor of Joel. I purchased my copy directly from him at Bittersweet Farmstead, P.O. Box 52, Middlebrook, VA 24439.

    Research, research, research. Plan, plan, plan. Develop your market and start small, growing to meet your market as it is established.
     
  14. Mark T

    Mark T Well-Known Member

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    There is an artivle in Graze magazine, December 2005, page 6. The author was Bonnie Haugen. She has experimented with leaving calves on their dams. She calculates that the cost is about $100, so it is a wash with the price charged by her calf raiser. She also says the time factor is a wash - the time saved with bottles and bedding is spent matching up the cows and calves after milking. She does use a scour vaccine after losing calves to overfeeding. She also reports that she has not had any damaged teats or udders. They do not have active Johnes in the herd, but it would be a concern.

    I kept Bonnie's calf on her and milked as needed - but I was not a commercial dairy. never had any problem with letdown. She had more milk than he could drink so I think she was relieved for me to come milk out the extra. He never scoured and got very plump. He was a 708 pound butterball of an Ayrshire steer at eleven months when I took him in to be processed.

    A woman down the road who sells raw milk by shares raises calves on their mothers. She milks once a day in the morning, lets the calves strip out their dams and then keeps them together for the day's grazing before separating them for the night. She did not mention any let down issues, but I did not think to ask when I was talking to her last week.

    Regardless of us smalltimers, I'm not sure letdown would be a problem in a commercial milking parlot - wouldn't vacc milkers exert more "persuasion" than fingers?
     
  15. Up North

    Up North KS dairy farmers

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    I was just reading a book last night and came upon one of the farmers that I was thinking of. There was just a small excert on the farm but I'm hoping I can google their names and come up with more info. Here's what it says in the book I'm reading, "Alan and Mary Yegerlehner of Clay City, Indiana allow their March born dairy calves to stay on their mothers until mid-June. The calves gain well when weaned. Leaving the calves on the cows allows Alan and Mary to milk the Dutch Belt cows only once a day. The cows are fed no grain to keep the CLA level in the milk high.
    Their milk is turned into cheese, ice cream and butter. Their cheese is tested for CLA content at Purdue University."

    Now if I can find the other farm I was talking about this will stop bugging me. LOL The guy had a herd of Normande's and crosses. He ran the herd through a parlor and there was a creep pen for the calves when the cows were in the holding area. I don't remember if it said how long he kept the calves on the cows but he was very happy with the operation the way it was. He said he went down the zero calf loses and he didn't have any slippage problems when he milked the cows. (Due to an udder being already milked out in one quarter due to the calf. Sometimes when an udder is uneven a milk machine will slip off or sit there and make a slurpping sound due to air getting in.)

    Heather
     
  16. Tractorgrl

    Tractorgrl Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the suggestions and info. I will definitely look into an internship to the farm. I checked out their website and it looks exactly like what I am looking for. I just have to fit it into the school schedule. lol. Ken, thanks for the suggestion about seperating out the Jerseys and starting out with them. I think I may use a few of them as a small "test group," but that will have to wait until next year when I'm around full-time. In the meantime, I will continue to do my homework so that I am as best prepared as I can be. I believe that there would be a good market for higher-end or organic dairy products in our area because we sell produce at the local farmers' market and are often asked about dairy products. We also compost some manure and sell that. Its amazing what people will pay for that stuff!!! If only they knew what it was like before it was sealed up in those tidy little bags. lol. Right now we are what I like to call a "semi-confined" operation. All our barns open up to pastures, but it seems our cows choose to stay inside. lol. I don't get it, its not where I'd want to spend all day. I am going to have to do more research on what classifies as organic in NYS, but I do know that our pastures have never been sprayed with any type of pesticide or herbicide. If I were to drastically cut the herd size, more pasture would be available and I would like to utilize it more. I will also check out some of the books and articles you all mentioned. Thanks.
     
  17. Ken Scharabok

    Ken Scharabok In Remembrance

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    Just a comment on dairy cow breeding. Louis Bromfield, at Malabar Farm near Mansfield, OH following WW-II, had a dairy as part of the farm's operation. He bred all of the cows to a beef bull. Logic was simple: a dairy bull on a dairy cow produces a calf not worth very much while a beef bull on a dairy cow usually produced an excellent feeder calf. In addition, he let someone else raise milkers for him. When one was taken out of the milk line, he purchased a replacement.
     
  18. Tango

    Tango Well-Known Member

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    It s a wonderful idea Tractorgrl. I was considering a micro dairy like that earlier this year. You can seek Certified Humane certification and nudge that standard of theirs one notch higher. I doubt let down would be a big issue in a dairy. My Jersey raised two heifers and still let down for me. She came from a dairy and was used to being milked by a human. I wish you well in your endeavor and your new approach to an old problem.
     
  19. DJ in WA

    DJ in WA Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Well, it sounds like others have better luck with letdown than me. Perhaps it depends on the cow(s). My cow was raised as a calf nursing on a cow. I have heard that cows that were bottle-fed as calves are more attached to humans, and will let down better.

    I could be all wrong about this, but I have heard many discussions about problems with letdown when calves are attached. Obviously, dairies go to great lengths to reduce stress in cows at milking time, as adrenaline works against letdown. Seems like some cows would be nervous when being milked without their calf around. Would be nice to see the dairy that has no letdown problems with attached calves and see how they do things. If there’s a secret, a lot of small-timers would like to know it.

    From the book, “Keeping A Family Cow”, by Joann Grohman:

    “Some people have reported to me that they have good luck just milking the cow partially and leaving some behind for the calf. Every cow I have owned has quickly gained control of her letdown reflex and, knowing the calf is waiting, will not let me have any milk.”

    Another possibility just occurred to me that cows might be less nervous if milked with a herd, vs single cows.
     
  20. Tango

    Tango Well-Known Member

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    I've read that book and that specific chapter several times and it is always food for thought. My Jersey was a bottle heifer, like most dairy heifers are. She was raised in a small family farm where the children were responsible for the heifers, hence I think she is strongly bonded to me. I thought to all humans but she is very leary of strangers. She does her typical cow stuff on me: bathes me (I have to wear long sleeves and t long pants for this), follows me like I'm the herd leader, and calls me for company. You've given me reason to think that if I want a replacement heifer or sell a particular heifer to a homestead for milking, she may have to be hand-raised. Good point. Thanks.