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Babies belong with Mama

Creamy Cow Dairy shares milk with the calves

At Deck Family Farm we keep new calves with their mamas as long as we can. It is important because we believe a happy cow lives a better life and because we know it is better for the calf to get nourishment from its mother for as long as possible. 


Cows, like most mammals, are intensely bonded to their babies and separating them causes stress that we try hard to avoid. A stressed cow finds it difficult to focus on eating, calls to the missing baby for days, and is generally more difficult to handle than a happy cow. For the babies it is important to get the first milk from their mother. First milk, or colostrum, contains high levels of nutrients and bacteria needed to inoculate the calf's digestive system. Without these important nutrients a calf may have digestive issues that are slow to stabilize and that could threaten their growth and development.


So, at Deck Family Farm we choose to keep the calves with their moms: Not only is there less stress all around, we are also rewarded with cute antics galore! The entire herd makes daily trips to and from the barn and fresh grass, and spends their days and nights all together in the field. The babies are sweet and clumsy as they bumble along with the herd, and the mamas stop along the way to look for and low to their young ones to make sure they are coming along. It is a pleasure and joy to partake in this natural kinship ritual.


There are also difficulties in this practice: Once in a while it is tricky to find a calf if it has decided to rest in the tall grass and then instead of happily coming to the parlor to be milked, mama might also balk at coming along.


Another challenge is that sharing reduces the amount of milk available to sell and cuts into profits. This “cost” of raising the calf on its mama’s milk is internalized into the price of our milk. That is another example of why milk in the grocery store is cheaper: for commercial dairies, sharing milk with calves is a net loss proposition. They choose to put that cost on the cows and we do not.


Inevitably, that cute calf grows into a "teenager” and can start being more willful as they begin exploring further & further from the herd.  At this point, usually sometime around 6 months, a calf will be moved from the dairy herd to the nurse herd. Mama continues to give us milk and the calf is switched to a different lactating cow who is not in the dairy.


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