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Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm: Why I’m not a Jersey Fan

Calves in hutches
Kathy Benoit, a dairy farmer from our Connecticut office, returns as this week’s FarmTek Farmer.

Farming is one of the few things in this life that is consistently inconsistent. Each type of farm has its own routines, but something always happens to make each day its own special event. Whether it is the corn finally popping up out of the plowed field, or that overdue pregnant cow deciding to calve the night you have to be at a meeting in 20 minutes, things are always changing, but yet, always staying the same. One thing that is an ongoing project for me is dealing with milk fed calves. On my small dairy, I generally keep a manageable sized group of calves to grow on milk. I not only raise calves that my cows have produced, but I bring in newborns from other farms as well.
Holstein CalfI am a die-hard Holstein fan. I love my black and white cows, but I have also been known to have a soft spot for the few Milking Shorthorns I have. The calves I bring in to raise are not always the black and white, or red/white/roan ones I have a passion for. Quite often enough I get the brown ones…

Some dairy producers love Jersey cattle, as where they and I merely tolerate each other. I have had the pleasure of milking all of the six main dairy breeds, along with some Dutch Belts and other more exotic types, but over the years, I have learned (the hard way most times) that my personality and that of the little brown cows, just don’t mix.

Most of the calves I raise are Jerseys. I appreciate how smart this breed is when they are young, but find that as the animal gets older, they are just a little too smart for their own good. The farm I am located on used to have 15 Jerseys mixed in the milking herd and they were the trouble makers. They used to figure out how to get gates open, fit into spots that seemed too small for them and could always find the full grain bin with the loose top. For as much as I find dealing with this ingenuity painful in adulthood, I appreciate their intelligence when it comes to training calves to drink from a pail.

Everyone has a different routine on how to raise calves (even I have different routines based on the calf’s breed), but I usually let Jerseys nurse off of a bottle for about a week. I give them this extra time since they are born a little smaller than the other breeds; I give them an extra 4 days over the Holstein calves, so they are really ready to take on the challenge of drinking from a pail. Once the calf is old enough, we take the plunge.Jersey Calf

First thing to training the calf is bringing it a pail of milk. Since they have never seen something like a pail before, the introduction can go anywhere from curiosity to sheer horror…if the calf even notices the pail in the first place. I have had calves stand in their milk and not realize it, notice the bucket and start sucking on the side, immediately pushing the whole thing over, or see the pail, shriek at it and run into the back of their hutch. Usually I have to let them suck on my fingers then lower my hand into the pail so they figure out that there is milk to drink.

Most times calves learn right away how to drink from the pail (those are instantly my favorite calves) but then there are the calves that don’t seem to understand what the new plan is. When that happens, either I or the calf, or both, get covered in milk because the calf keeps popping it’s head out to try to find a bottle. These calves test my patience, but once they figure out everything, feeding them is a breeze.

As nature has it, calves grow up and require more solid foods than milk which makes the task of pail training a never ending cycle. As it is right now, I have a fresh crop of just pail-trained calves to enjoy for a little while until another baby is born. While enjoying the calm, I will keep an eye out for next surprise the cows have headed my way.

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