The “Legen-Dairy” Dairy Calf

The following post was written by Indiana Dairy Ambassador, Ashley DeWitt who is studying to be a Veterinarian. We love her passion for dairy calves and asked if we could share it with you.

Hi my name is Ashley DeWitt, I am one of the five 2018-2019 Indiana Dairy Ambassadors and a senior pre-veterinary student at Grand Valley State University!  Have you ever wondered what it is like to work on a dairy farm with calves? Grab a seat, a glass of milk, or a bowl of ice cream and experience the legen-dairy calf with me!

Ashley DeWitt

As a pre-vet student, gaining a wide variety of animal experience is essential.  I went out of my comfort zone and was hired the summer of my freshman year of college as a Dairy Calf Care Employee at Minich Dairy Farm in La Porte, Indiana and have worked there every summer since.  I had absolutely no dairy experience, but I stepped into my boots, got dirty, learned a lot along the way, and fell in love with the dairy industry!

Dairy farmers are the most passionate, hardworking, and dedicated people I have ever met. They provide the best care possible to their animals and the most important being dairy calves. Dairy calves are the future of the dairy herd so it’s important they are given the best start possible for proper growth and health later in life. This is equivalent to you as you grow up, your parents give you the support, care, and knowledge needed to grow and lead a healthy, successful, productive life.

A calves’ first few hours are critical to their health and farmers provide individualized care to get their calves off on the right hoof.  A few hours after the birth of a dairy calf, he (a bull) or she (a heifer-a cow that has not had a calf) is placed in an individual pen in a well ventilated covered barn or hutch so farmers can adequately monitor the health of each calf to provide the best individualized care.  Just like a newborn baby, calves do not have a developed immune system so placing them in individual pens or hutches limits their exposure to germs that they could acquire from other cows or calves.

So how do calves build an immune system?  Well, just like a newborn baby, they are fed a high fat, high protein milk called colostrum (the first milk produced by a cow) that contains nutrients to build up their immune system.  Calves are bottle fed colostrum for their first feeding and then after that whole pasteurized milk is fed twice daily with water and grain.  Depending on the farm, calves are bottle fed individually or trained to drink from a pale.  This allows farmers to adequately monitor that the calves are receiving the proper amount of milk and nutrition.  Each calf receives vaccinations just like your dog or cat would to stimulate the immune system against viruses.

Ashley D feeding calf

On Minich Dairy Farm, the calves are placed into group pens once they are around 3 months of age where they will be weaned off milk and will start eating more grain.  Have you heard that a cow has four stomach compartments?  Well, a calf’s four compartment stomach is not yet developed so the weaning process and eating more grain stimulates that development!! Cool, huh.  Farmers work with veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and a variety of individuals in the dairy industry to provide their calf herd with the best quality care and management practices to grow them up to be productive cows in the milking herd.  It takes a village to care for a dairy herd, so please thank your local farmers, they work so hard to provide you with the dairy foods you know and love.

Ashley D with calves in pen

I want to thank my bosses Jim, Frank, and Charlie Minich for everything they taught me and showing me how wonderful this industry is.