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When you see or hear the word Valentine, romance may be the first thing that comes to mind. For us, it’s Valentine the calf, who has just celebrated her first birthday on – you guessed it – 14th February!
Welcoming new calves is a special time at Acorn Dairy and so we wanted to share with you the process of a birth on our farm, and the care that follows for our lovely ladies and their young.
As is typical for us, Valentine was an unassisted birth (this is, in fact, one of the many advantages of our cross-breed herd: small calves and an easy birth) and she was born indoors rather than out in the fields as the temperatures are much too cold in February.
During her first few days, she was fed colostrum exclusively, which came directly from her mother. The best, easiest and usual scenario is when the calves are strong, like Valentine, and can stand to suckle from a relaxed mum. Not always the case in nature! So, we can, if needed, hand feed bottled colostrum and milk from the cow if calves are weak or ineffective sucklers and the cow needs some pressure off her udder. Mastitis must be avoided. Any human new-mums (and supporting fathers) will appreciate how painful that can be.
Our calves are then hand raised by Walter, and the cow returns to the milking herd as she will be producing approximately 30 litres of milk a day. At this age the calf drinks just two litres a day. The calves continue to drink milk from our herd through their first months, but they are now in open enclosures with straw bedded huts. They can touch noses and interact with others while we gently teach them to drink from a bucket. This interaction with other calves is one of the key welfare aspects of the Soil Association organic standards, as well as the Compassion in World Farming – Good Dairy Award. Once calves are strong drinkers, they move into ‘igloos’ with a cohort of those similar in age. Here, they are still drinking cows’ milk, but are also starting to try some forage, such as lucerne, hay and grass. In kinder temperatures, they run around in the paddock too.
So, how do we then continue looking after our young calves throughout the first few years?
Once they have grown to be big, confident three-month-olds, they are outgrowing our young stock facilities and so we take the heifers to Home Farm, near York. This used to be a dairy farm and has plenty of good, large sheds and fields suitable for our heifers. They are safe and well cared for. We are quite envious. This area is truly idyllic, surrounded by the River Ouse and overlooked by National Trust’s Beningbrough Hall (now farmed organically because of its link with Acorn – everyone wins!).
During this time the heifers are simply growing up and gaining healthy weight, but we also take this opportunity to ensure they feel safe and comfortable around humans, particularly when it comes to foot trimming and vet checks.
For Valentine, much of her time between the age of one and three months was spent as Shauna’s four-legged shadow and she was regularly seen trotting around the farm. Now she is a little older, she and her cohorts, including our open day twins Mischief and Managed, are under the daily care of Alistair, Isaac and Maisie at Beningbrough. Like most teenagers they want ad lib food and a clean bed every day. Our Herd Manager Barry and assistant Tom, travel to see our heifers every week and always make time to check in with Valentine, who is growing up to be incredibly friendly and sociable with both her fellow heifers and team members. Later this spring Valentine will meet our Angus bull and will run with him until she returns to join the milking herd, hopefully this time next year.
What about the bulls?
Obviously, some of our calves are male and will never produce milk. However, our cross-breed bulls are sought after for beef. We have a direct link with a local beef rearer and farm shop just seven miles away. This keeps our boys away from the hectic mart environment. You can enjoy and buy our beef from Broom Mill Farm near West Auckland.
There are many aspects to take into consideration when raising young stock, to ensure they grow up to be happy, safe and healthy. As with all species, if one calf catches a cold or tummy bug, it can soon transfer to others. Their environment must fresh, warm and clean and their days include regular health checks to help prevent illnesses from taking hold.
We will continue to enjoy watching Valentine develop and look forward to introducing her to our customers during the 2024 open days! In the meantime, keep up to date with all the latest goings-on on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.