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What to Expect…Calves in the First Year Part 1

Taking on the project of the Adopt a Calf program WIDA is doing with our calf Hanuna has brought me into a new stage of my life where I am looking for guides of motherhood of Heidi Murkoff’s popular “What to Expect: When You Are Expecting” series. I have filled a lot of my free time researching calf development to learn about our dairy calf. Therefore, I am going to try to fill you with bits of my research so that you can follow along with Hanuna’s development if you are interested in calf care and how and why we do what we do to keep our calves healthy. Below I start diving into more detail regarding the first two weeks of Hanuna’s life.

Calf Care:

The employees who care for the calves are understanding that these are newborn babies. The care is nurturing, and mothering for the calves. The farm checks on the calves and keep a close eye on their diet, weight, dispositions, and even their feces to ensure the calves are staying healthy. The employees make sure that the calves are playful and have happy dispositions. It is important to make sure the calf is getting enough milk in their diet. Fortunately, Hanuna loves her milk and drank all of it as soon as she was given it. I mentioned earlier that in the first hour of birth, Hanuna received colostrum versus milk. The colostrum is filled with nutrients she needed to live at first. Here is a nutrition table comparing colostrum to milk by Franklyn Garry from Integrated Livestock Management and Colorado State University.

Percent Colostrum Milk

Immunoglobulin 6.0 .09

Protein 14.0 3.1

Fat 6.7 3.5

Lactose 2.7 5.0

Calcium .26 .13

Phosphorus .24 .09

According to Franklyn Garry, Colostrum can also have double to 20 times the vitamins and nutrients than regular milk. Therefore, Colostrum early on is so important to calf health! We are happy Hanuna received her colostrum early on!

Is Solid Food Important in Calf Growth in Addition to Milk?

Like human stomachs, cow’s need bacteria to digest their food. Calves are born with more simple stomachs than their older counterparts. Dairy cows have what are 4 stomachs. During the calf’s development in their first weeks, they are developing a simpler stomach to the 4 stomachs that they are known for. One particularly important part of a calves’ stomach is the rumen. The rumen is filled with good bacteria that digests starchy food that the cow will eat. By feeding the calf “starter” or grain, the calf starts developing rumen papillae which is available to absorb nutrients in the calf’s stomach (Penn State Extension, 2018). The rumen holds the bacteria which helps break down the essential nutrients. The bacteria are grown through the beginning stages of introducing the calf starter grains in which the calf may snack on in the first several weeks! This will also help the calf when it is time to wean from their milk intake.


Penn State Extension’s article about rumen development is here:

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