Raising Dairy Cows

One of my family’s first endeavors into the dairy business also included raising dairy cows. We began this by purchasing dairy calves. Since the business of dairy farmers does not focus primarily on producing calves, like raising beef cows does, purchasing dairy calves is usually relatively easy.

Calving is a necessity in the milk production cycle. That is, a cow’s milk production is usually peak around the time of calving. The production dwindles down somewhat until farmers will place the cow on a “dry period” when they are not milked. The cow is usually bred about 70 days after calving, then, she will usually be placed on a dry period at about 300 days. The calving will cause her to “freshen” or begin production again.

So, the calves are not the objective of a dairy farm and many farmers will sell calves for a little additional income. However, some farmers do raise their own replacement heifers to put back in their milking herd later.

Some farmers have specialized in raising replacement heifers to alleviate dairy farmers from having to de-specialize with the raising dairy cows aspects. Some farmers make a business of raising dairy steers for slaughter. Dairy calves typically are not as productive as are beef breeds in terms of beef production, however, when fed correctly, they can produce some fine beef.

The life cycle of a calf begins with birth. The calf is taken from the field to a holding/living area for calves. The mother’s milk is withheld from selling for several days, so it is saved to give to the newborn calf. It contains a high amount of colostrum, or natural antibodies, to help protect the calf from disease.

The calf is then started on a bottle with the colostrum and soon after, this is followed by milk replacer. Then the calf is introduced to sweet feed, or creep feed, hay, and grazing.

Heifers may be held for herd replacement. In this case they are bred usually no sooner than 18 months of age. Bull calves who are sold or kept for non-breeding purposes are castrated to improve beef quality and attitude.