…or a heifer calf that is. Three out of the last five calves on our farm have been girls and that is good. Hah, for those of you who thought we were revealing what the Zweber baby was, sorry. We won’t know that for a couple more weeks.
So why do dairy farmers get so excited when we have a girl, or a heifer? Simple. Heifers mean the future of our farm. Healthy baby heifers have the chance of becoming healthy milk cows on our farm.
Each year on our farm, all of our cows will give birth to at least one calf. We maybe have one or two pairs of twins a year. That is about 120 babies. Statistics are pretty spot on and we receive about 50% heifers and 50% bulls, or boy, calves. We keep most of our heifers and will sell most of our bulls once they reach about three weeks old. The bulls are sold at a local auction and most will go to local small farms to be raised as feeder steers. We do keep enough bulls to satisfy our our beef customers ( and wish we had space to keep more).
Heifers on our farm are kept until they are bred (pregnant). That is the point where we decide if they qualify to enter our herd and replace some of our older cows who are retiring. To “qualify” they must be in good healthy, have strong feet and legs, easily bred and have a good disposition to be good milk cows. We are very picky on our farm and just because a heifer doesn’t meet our qualification it doesn’t mean she is bad. In fact, a few farms in our area and state know our heifers and cows are high quality and ask to buy those that don’t make our grade. These heifers will go on to live productive lives on other farms.
Now that we have been organic for a few years, all of of our heifers and most of our cows can be sold as “organic” cattle. There is a national organic standards rule that states only cattle that are born into an organic herd can be sold as organic. Those that were with us when we transitioned cannot be sold as organic. We still have a few of those wise, old ladies with us.
In recent years, genetic companies have started selling sexed semen. This semen is nearly guaranteed to be female. On our farm we haven’t started using this technology for several reasons: One, we are not growing our herd, so we really don’t need 100% heifers each year. Second, because milk prices have been so low for so long, there isn’t a strong market for the heifers that we do sell. Economically, and cash flow wise, it makes more sense to have some bulls to sell. Third, the genetics offered on the sexed semen are typically not the genetics we are looking for in our herd. We know many farmers who have had success with sexed semen, but at this point this technology doesn’t fit into our farm’s goals.
Tim, reassured me that we will be slowing down in the calving department soon. We currently have 23 babies on bottles (which is a lot for our farm and me to take care of). Typically, Tim tries breeding our cows and heifers so that we don’t have many calving in January or February. We also say that about July, but this year we had more calves then we knew what to do with. We will see what happens in January…
Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy. We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.