Raising a baby house cow

by Elizabeth Beavis
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?

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?

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