Part of raising cattle is taking the calves away from their moms. On dairy farms, this happens right after the calves are born. On beef farms, this usually happens when the calves are 6-8 months old.
Is It Mean To Take A Calf Away From Its Mom?
There is really not much that is cuter than baby animals. We love our calves around here. They are just adorable, and they are so much fun to watch when they run around and play in the pasture together.
But, just like in any baby’s life, there comes a time when they have to be weaned.
This is one area where dairy calves and beef calves have very different lives. On most dairy farms, a calf is separated from its mom shortly after it is born. The calf is raised on milk replacer, and lives in a hutch near other calves.
On a beef farm, things work a little differently. We have a cow-calf farm, which means that our cows have a calf every year. We raise the calves until they are about 6-8 months old, and then we sell them. Actually, we let the cows raise the calves. Unless we have one who needs to be bottle fed. (Luckily, this is the exception on a beef farm, and not the rule!)
Our calves stay out in the pasture with their moms until it’s time to wean them (when the calves are 6-8 months old). At weaning time, we move the calves to a different pasture – out of eyesight of the cows. The way our farm is set up, the calves and cows can still hear each other when they are separated, even though they can’t see each other.
It’s usually pretty noisy for the few days after weaning around here.
Dairy calves and beef calves have a very different lifestyle. Dairy calves and cows really don’t spend much time together. I’m not saying that they don’t miss each other, but they don’t have the same bond that the beef calves and cows have. Every cow is different, but most of the time there isn’t that much fuss when the dairy calves are separated. The calves don’t know any other way of life.
Six month old beef calves are pretty independent. They hang out in little calf groups most of the day, and eat lots of hay and grain. But they still know their mommas, and do still get a little bit of nutrition by nursing. When the beef calves are separated, they know something is different, and they miss their moms. They’ll talk all about it – to anyone within ear shot. And the moms talk back. So it’s pretty noisy. But everyone keeps on eating like champs, and after 2 or 3 days of midnight serenades it settles back to normal around here. As much as possible, we let the calves settle into their “new normal” before we sell them and move them to another farm.
Calves all need to be taken away from the cows, at some point. If you leave them together all the time, the calf will continue to nurse from the cow long after it no longer needs milk to meet its nutrition needs. This can actually cause some problems, if it is getting too many of its calories from milk, and not enough from roughage (like grass and hay).
So is it mean to take a calf away from its mom? No, I don’t think it’s mean. It is part of life, and part of raising cattle. There are ways to decrease the stress of weaning on both the cow and the calf, and we do that as much as we can. What other questions do you have about farming and raising cows? I’ll answer them in a future post!