Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Raising a baby house cow

Our first house cow Bella came to us from a dairy farm and had already had two calves.  She came with her second calf, Molly, who is also a full Jersey cow.  We raised Molly to be our second house cow.  With Bella now having an uncertain future after having difficulty with her last calf, we decided to raise some future house cows.

I think they two most important inputs are human interaction (to ensure the cow is tame enough to be milked) and good nutrition (to raise a healthy robust cow).  While Bella is extremely tame, from what I know of her early life I don't think she had good nutrition and she now has health problems that prevent us using her as a house cow.  Molly is extremely robust AND tame.  Can we produce another good house cow?

(Catch up on our house cows here Part 1Part 2Part 3)

eight acres: raising a baby house cow
Charlotte and Rosey at 4-6 weeks old

As Bella's calf had died, and she had previously taken a foster calf, we got her Jersey heifer calves to raise.  I don't know why we thought two calves would work, but I guess it was worth a try.  We had a series of problems with Bella (oedema and mastitis) and the calves (scours and paralysis tick), which didn't help.  Eventually Bella accepted Charlotte as her foster calf and we've had to bottle feed Rosey.

It has been interesting to compare the progress of the two calves.  At first Charlotte was very tame.  The dairy farmer had separated her from the other poddy calves because she was too tame and kept tipping over the milk buckets.  She actually walked right up to him when we went to collect her.  Rosey was not tame at all.  We chose her because she looked pretty (bad farmers!) as she is a Jersey/Aussie Red cross, but she was the calf that kept running away and was very difficult to catch.

Charlotte stayed tame for weeks, especially at first when we were bottle feeding both calves.  Since Charlotte has secured her own milk supply and doesn't need humans anymore, she doesn't come for a scratch.  We really need to work on getting her tame again, I think when she is weaned we will feed her a little grain so she associates us with food again.

eight acres: raising a baby house cow
Charlotte with foster mother Bella

Rosey, on the other hand, knows her name and will run over to us, because we are her milk supply.  At first we milked Molly everyday and Rosey had a few litres until she was about 3 months old.  Most dairy farmers will wean replacement heifers at this age, but there's no reason to stop given them milk.  Since we are now only milking Molly once a week, Rosey gets the excess milk in the weekend.

Charlotte has grown a little faster, probably due to her more regular access to milk, but she also had a less severe reaction to the paralysis tick when they first came here.  Rosey seems to be doing well enough and we will keep giving her milk while we have it to spare.  I worry more about Rosey not having a mother to lick her and love her, in fact Bella is quite awful to her and will head butt her out of the way at any opportunity.  I make sure she gets plenty of human love instead, and I hope she will be accepted when she's bigger.  Bella still gives Molly a good lick bath. they have a whole herd hierarchy going on.

eight acres: raising a baby house cow
Orphan Rosey

It is a myth that calves stop drinking milk voluntarily (I see this perpetuated by vegans that have probably never met a cow).  Calves will drink until their mother literally kicks them off the udder to feed her next calf.  Full grown cows, and even bulls, will drink milk from another cow if they get the chance, and calves will happily drink for as long as they are allowed to (which is extremely detrimental to the poor cow providing the milk).  Weaning is a VERY noisy time as mother and calf bawl to each other for several days.  When reunited the calf will try to drink again even after months of separation.

The two babies are 6 months old now, so it will be another 18 months until we find out if either of them are good house cows.  I think Charlotte has had the best nutrition, but Rosey has had a pretty good start and the best we could do for her (a shame Bella wasn't more helpful!).  Rosey is currently the more tame of the two, but I'm sure we can work on Charlotte again as she started off so tame.

What do you think?  Have you ever raised a house cow?

You can find more house cow information in my eBook here.


  1. How sweet are Charlotte and Rosey,
    We recently had the opportunity to start a calf off that had been rejected by a cow at a neighbouring farm we were caring for while the owners were away, We had him for two weeks and called him Tim Tam, he was such a sweetie, I saw him the other day and was surprised how much he had grown.
    Your cows look beautiful Liz,
    Take care

  2. I used to live on a farm run by a Dutch woman. She had a herd of old dairy cows and 1 Hereford bull. When a cow calved she would go to the market and buy a (male) dairy calf being sold off there for butchering. After bringing it home she'd tie the two calves together head to head with collars and baling twine about 30-40 centimetres apart and following a couple of days of confusion Mum cow would accept both as they both smelt the same by then and she couldn't tell them apart. She then raised both calves equally and since she was a dairy cow easily because there was always more than enough milk. (We did have one old cow who didn't care how many calves came for a drink, I saw five at once, with the odd one butting in and changing places with the least lucky one then left out) that cow's name was Milk Bar.

    There are those who would say that this is unnatural and that there should be one cow to one calf, but I think it is better to save a male dairy reject and although there was a day or two of confusion whilst the mother cow grew used to the idea it was a gentle and efficient way of raising calves, more natural as both calves were mothered and healthy and got equal milk and loving.

  3. Hi Liz
    Thanks for the great post
    I'm also needing another house cow!
    So We got a little half dairy half beefy few days ago from a local dairy farmer while visiting my folks.
    She's doing great with 2 weeks bottle feeding under her belt before we got her she's a pro.
    After a 7 1/2 hr drive home on the back of the ute with geese , pigeons and dog from the Barossa valley to the eyre peninsula ( was quite a sight all on there) she's settled in well,'so my husbands said, we are yet to join her.
    We are looking forward to raising her.
    I agree with the bottle to fostering system
    A much friendlier tamer calf on bottle however much easier on the foster cow.
    I reckon a lot depends on how tame the actual foster cow is!
    Our foster mum is a pain and not friendly so for that reason our new heifer "klemintine" will be bottle raised.
    Thanks again for the great tips


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