The baby calves on a dairy farm are a lot like kindergarteners. They need attention and constant care, are loud and can be messy. One of my main jobs is taking care of all the little babies. I enjoy the challenge, and I find them to be the most fun group of animals on the farm (and it doesn’t hurt that they are cute).
I start my day with the calves. And by that, I mean that when they hear me drive in the yard, I am greeted by the loud and expectant moos of anywhere from 5 to 20 calves. They are ready for breakfast, and aren’t going to let me forget it! Each calf gets a pail of milk, a scoop of grain made just for baby calves and a pail of water. In the winter, the water is warm to encourage them to drink. This whole process is repeated again at night.
Lately, the weather in New England has been very unpredictable. It has gone from cold to mild to FREEZING cold and back again. As I am writing this post, we have just come off of a week of temps that rarely got above freezing. People often ask what special things I do for the babies when it gets that extreme. To start, each calf wears a calf jacket all winter. They look like the type of blankets that a horse might wear, just smaller. This helps them fight the cold and maintain body temperature.
Also, they get double the amount of bedding in their hutch. On my farm, all our babies live in calf hutches. Those are the little white huts that can be seen on many dairy farms. Farmers and calves love hutches because each calf has its own little pen, the hutches are warm in winter and cool in summer, and are easy to clean and move. The calf can go inside or outside, and the fresh air is plentiful. This past week, the hutches looked more like insulated igloos out in the snow, but still worked great at keeping the calves warm inside.
Every chilly morning, I went and removed the ice out of the calves’ water buckets. Probably the ‘highlight’ moment of the week was walking to the calves, carrying three pails of milk when I slipped on the ice and ended up sitting in a puddle of milk (which subsequently froze within a few minutes). You can’t help but laugh when things like that happen. Especially when you look up and the calves are giving you the look that says, “Get back up and get us our milk please, that was your own fault.”
They may be the smallest cows on the farm, but they certainly let their presence be known. Whether announcing that it’s time for dinner, or lying out in the sun sprawled out, they have a way of garnering my attention. The weather may be a challenge, but it doesn’t seem to bother them or me.