Our start fresh date goal is March 1 each year. We’re always pushing the envelope a little as we get anxious when we see cows in heat a few days before our planned first breeding date.
We have multiple reasons for our start date but the most important reason for us is freshening cows all on dry hay before transitioning to pasture. We usually can be on pasture by April 15th here in Indiana. I believe the cows make an easier transition to pasture if they have already overcome any stress from calving before moving to pasture. Especially since we know we’re going to be on stored feed for at least four months a year anyway. That breeding date also corresponds to a time just before extreme summer heat arrives here in Indiana.
We feed no grain during the dry period until about two weeks before the first cows are due to freshen. We feed our poorest quality hay during late December and January and improve the quality during February. By mid February we are feeding excellent dairy quality hay. We start bringing the herd through the milking parlor about the middle of February and feed grain starting at three pounds a day and continue to increase it daily until they are eating 6 pounds a day. This grain mix has no supplemental protein added but is balanced for the mineral needs of a fresh-up cow. As the first cows begin calving we split the herd into two groups so that the milking group can be milked twice while the due group continues to come through the parlor once a day. From our old confinement days we have a freshening barn, which is 32 by 64 feed with ten individual pens for calving. We frequently have 20 or more cows in these pens. We bring the whole herd through the parlor in the evening milking and sort off any close up cows. Those pens are deep pack bedded with straw. We also have and older barn where we also have a bedded pack base and put additional close up cows there, if needed. It is rare to have a calf outside at night.
In our calving window, which extends to April 15th we have 70 cows to freshen by March 15th. We have 50 additionally by March 31st and 41 more will calve by April 15th.
Calves are fed colostrums, usually within an hour of birth, preferably from the dam, but stored colostrum is also used especially on calves from heifers. Most calves are moved within a few hours into an individual pen where they receive a nasal parainfluenza vaccine and their next two feedings of colostrum, using a New Zealand nipple and learning to suck up the hose.
Usually calves are then ready to go into groups of 15 where they are in an inside pen at least 16 feet square with an outside exercise area at least twice that size. The New Zealand barrel is placed outside and calves must come outside to eat. We feed two quarts of stored fresh milk twice daily with one quart of hot water added to bring it to a warm drinking temperature. It sometimes takes one or two feedings to get any new calf accustomed to the group system. As we get more calves that we have stored milk we transition the older calves to a good quality milk replacer for convenience.
That six-week period is a busy time, but is well worth the rewards of not milking in the worst of winter. As I write this January 1st 2001, Scott just spent about 45 minutes checking the two groups of livestock on our farm and allowing them access to come to the barn for water. He’ll go out late this afternoon and close the gate restraining them in the paddock where they’re eating hay. He did this as well on Sunday, December 31st . Tomorrow he’ll feed hay in at least two paddocks again, plus feed the heifer group. He should be able to do all that in three hours. Giving he and Darla, the balance of the day with their new baby girl.