Monday, April 1, 2013

Separating the Calves

Last weekend, we decided we would start separating the calves. The "calf stall" has been turned into a brooder coop, but it can still work to hold calves who are pretty small. The convenience of separating the calves beckoned with each milking. First, it means fewer bodies moving around during milking and no one trying to nurse while I'm milking. We also switched to milking once a day, and that is what ultimately led to our locking the calves up overnight.

What happened is that we went from getting 3/4 of a gallon per milking to a quart or less. This is fine. It means the calves were able to take all the milk that Violet makes. The bargain between us and the cows is that we take some of that milk, even if they COULD drink it all. In a dairy, my understanding is that calves get about 1.5 gallons a day. When we weaned Gusto last year, we were getting 4 gallons a day, so I feel pretty comfortable taking more than a quart of milk. A quart of milk feels like a waste of time.

We're getting calmer each time we're faced with this challenging cow situations, and I feel pleased with how easily we've gotten everyone in the routine of being separated. Around 7:00 pm, we go down and gently cut the calves from Violet, pushing her away from the shed and trapping them in the shed. Then, we open the stall, guide them in, lock the door, and let Violet into the shed. It's been remarkably easy. I'm wondering if the calves are cooperating more because there are two of them, but no one has seemed as stressed by the separation as the previous calves have been. In the morning, we do our milking chores, and I do not at all strip Violet's udder, leaving milk for the calves. When I'm done milking, we let the calves out of the stall and they spend the day with their mother, munching hay and nursing.

My only concern is everyone's condition. The calves look skinnier to me than our other two calves, but they are 3/4 Jersey, and the other two were 1/2 Brown Swiss. Also, they started out smaller. They look plenty vigorous and are obviously growing, so I'm not worried about them, just aware. Violet is looking less full-bodied than usual, but still rounder than other Jerseys I've met. It's kind of hard, because dairy cows ARE actually bony-hipped and such. I'm staying attuned to her condition. At the moment, she looks much better than she did the first week after the calves were born, but her hips look less fleshy. Before, I would have told you that she had more flesh than a dairy cow cow often has, so I'm still not sure it matters. I figure if she does not continue to lose fleshiness then we're fine. If she keeps looking less and less good, then we might have to separate the calves a bit more to give her body a break, or maybe we'll wean them earlier.

Violet weaned Chappy at 13 months, and we weaned Gusto at 5 months. We know how to do it, and it has its own difficulties and benefits. For now, we'll just stay aware.

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