As Calving Day nears, Red Gate Farm is becoming a nursery. Calves born on the farm go through a lot of exciting things in their first 24 hours of birth!
Once they are born they are put into something we call “hot boxes”. These are exactly how they sound: boxes kept warm with radiant floor heating. A mature dairy cow’s internal body temperature is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. So, as you can imagine, it is quite a temperature difference being born in March or April, even on our warmest days. These hot boxes are used for a couple different purposes. One being so that calves do not have to experience the huge temperature difference for too long, and it helps them dry off. They are kept in these for 12 to 24 hours. In order to leave the hot boxes calves must be dry, ear-tagged, given 4 quarts of colostrum, vitamins and selenium supplement. In the hot boxes, they are given their first 2 quarts of milk within the first hour of life. After another 2 hours they are given another 2 quarts of milk. This first milk they are given is called colostrum. Colostrum is full of antibodies that give the newborn their first immunity towards pathogens. Colostrum has to be fed as soon as possible because as a calf gets older they absorb less antibodies. So a calf fed colostrum within 1 hour of birth will absorb several times more antibodies than a calf that had to wait 6 hours to be fed colostrum.
There are two ways for a calf to gain immunity: passive immunity and acquired immunity. Passive immunity, is passed from mother to baby. This is why colostrum is so important since that is how the mother is able to pass on her antibodies. The second way is for the calf to experience the pathogen and its body fighting against it; This is called acquired immunity. The antibodies given through passive immunity cannot be replaced with the antibodies their bodies develop through their acquired immunity. Therefore, calves who don’t receive all their passive immunity will never gain those antibodies, impacting them for the rest of their lives.
After the calves are given their first bottle, the calves are tagged with a numbered ear-tag. The process is similar to getting your ears pierced. The ear-tag is how the farmers identify the calves. The heifer calves, or the girls, are given a white tag. This helps the Rivingtons know how old the calf is, who she belongs to and where in the season she was born.
When a bull calf, or a male calf, is born, the farmers select which of them they want to raise for breeding. Those calves are given yellow tags and a name as well as a number. For example, Ranger, who is one of the bulls on the farm, has a yellow tag with both his name and the number 901.
After the calves are dried off, given their bottles of colostrum and tagged, they are then brought over the calf barn where they are put in group pens with several other calves. This socializes them and helps them build up their acquired immunity at a young age. In the calf barn they are fed with “mob feeders”, which is essentially a large bucket with ten rubber nipples on it to feed several calves at once. They are fed a large amount of warm whole milk from the herd twice a day through these feeders.
As you can see a newborn calf goes through a lot in their first 24 hours of life! But, all the steps the farmer takes will impact that calf for the rest of her life. That is why our farmers at Red Gate take great pride in making sure all the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the calves grow up to be a successful milk cows in our herd.
Calving Day is April 27th from 11am-3pm at Red Gate Farm which is located at 730 State Route 12b Hamilton, NY. There will be butter making demos, milking demos, games, farm tours and much more!
As the Butter Churns
Author: Ellen Fagan and Victoria Peila