Ma and the children are very passionate about their calves. If she lets you bottle feed them, you are honoured!
Our cows are all dairy-bred bull calves. They have come from local dairy farms.
Bull calves are often considered the ‘surplus by-product’ of the dairy industry because a cow must have a calf to produce milk. And only the heifer calves (girls) can remain on the farm for the next generation of milking cow. Often the bull calves (boys) do not.
Some dairy bred bulls are culled at birth; they should not be, and many milk wholesalers are offering dairy farmers incentives to rear their calves to the age of 8 weeks. Many are sold at cattle markets before the age of 42 days (when a cow cannot be moved without a TB test) and go for ‘production’.
More dairy farmers are rearing their young stock now for beef, and dairy-bred bulls are being used by Morrisons and McDonalds – ensuring that these animals have a full and productive life. We believe that work can be done to improve the life of dairy bull calves.
There is an argument that utilising dairy-bred bulls for beef is, in fact, better for the environment and our carbon footprint. This is because dairy cows are dual-purpose and use the land to produce milk (the only nutritionally complete food source we have), plus a calf that can be reared for meat.
Putting in the work
Whatever the reason, dairy bull calves are Ma’s specific interest and one that has been a costly trial and error for us to get right.
We had the ethical motive, but it did not manifest financially for some time. Calves come to us after receiving their dam’s (Mother’s) life protecting colostrum and can be as young as two days old. They then require twice-daily milk feeds, as well as the introduction of solid foods, before they are ready for weaning at 12 weeks.
We do not rear our calves early as we wish to provide them with high quality, nutritious milk for as long as possible before weaning. To put it short, rearing calves away from the dam is a costly, time-consuming process.
We nned more land and equipment to manage fully grown bulls, and so we sell ours as smaller stores at about 7-8 months of age, when they are ready to be turned out onto grass – which we don’t have enough of. They are purchased by a local dairy bred cattle farmer who will rear these rather friendly, beautiful beasts to the age of 30 months for beef production, at grass. Until we can keep the cows that length of time, we are pleased with this outcome.