Our Bobby Calves
The What, the when and the why
One of the most asked question is...
What happens to the male calves and how long do they stay with their mothers?
We are incredibly proud of our policy of raising 100% of our male calves, regardless of their breed.
When I joined my husband on the dairy farm, the practise was to sell the male calves when they were 1 week old. Rowan had a property at Mansfield and would keep the bigger friesian bull calves and the beef cross, and they would be raised and sent to Mansfield when they were weaned. The smaller calves, the Jersey crosses and Jersey bull calves were not seen as worthy of being raised and they always went on the truck or to the sale yards.
I always said I loved dairy farming, but I hated selling the baby calves. I still remember the day that I made the decision to raise 100% of the calves, and I knew that the cost of raising the calves to weaning would be greater than the return we may get for them when they were sold.
In Australia, a dairy steer sold into the commercial market either to be grown on by a farmer or sold to the abbattoir, is seen as a low value product. As an abbattoir owner recently said to me, they are first to drop in price and the last to go up.
After we sold the property at Mansfield, we didn't have enough land to raise the male calves to maturity. So we raised them to weaning and sold them at the saleyards to re-stockers, these are farmers that buy young cattle to grow on, they are called "Store" cattle. Generally the steers are grown into bullocks, which means they are raised to 2-3 years of age. The prices paid at the market depends on what the beef industry is doing. If there is a shortage of cattle, and "Fat" cattle are expensive for the butchers to buy, and the re-stockers get a high price for the cattle they sell, then the price of "store" cattle is good, and even though the dairy steers will get the bottom price, if it is a good market the bottom price is enough to cover the cost of raising the steers. However if their is a flood of beef on the market, then the dairy steers are not worth very much at all, and may not even sell. This could be a disaster to a farmer who has invested money into raising these animals.
We were very fortunate, with a split calving herd, meaning that we calved cows in autumn and spring, we could sell our dairy steers at the Store sales at the beginning of Autumn (the spring drop) and the beginning of Spring (the autumn drop).
Even though we accepted that the steers would not make money, they actually did make money for the farm, and it proved to me that if you make a decision based on what is right rather than purely economic, than somehow the universe rewards you.
We did this for many years, until 2011, when we had a dry season and not a very good spring, and alot of cattle were coming onto the market. Our agent put us off from selling our autumn steers in early spring, and by the time we past December and were heading into autumn, we lost the opportunity to sell our steers, we couldn't give them away.
Coming into winter, our now well grown steers, we knew we wouldn't have enough to feed our milking cows, replacement heifers and these extra steers.
We put the word out, to see if anyone was interested in buying organic dairy beef. This is how we developed our market. We managed to sell all of our steers, and have now developed a market for Organic Dairy Beef, the feedback has been fantastic, we can raise our calves confidently knowing that when they have grown up, there is a market for them.
Why did we do this?
I believe that killing the male calves at one week of age is criminal. Not only that, our cows provide us with their beautiful milk, and our way of thanking them is respecting them, is to raise their calves.
HOW LONG DO THE CALVES STAY ON THEIR MUMS
We like to leave the calves on for a few days, sometimes this ends up being a few weeks and even months. It all depends on the calf and mum. Some mums don't care much and are happy to go out with the herd and forget about their calf, other mums are very protective and take good care of the calves.
Sometimes we put the calves onto a retired cow, who is not suitable for the dairy herd. It really all depends on the individuals. Some cows love babies and others don't want a bar of them. Sometimes a cow comes into the herd and may not have much milk or have a problem with one or two of her teats, so she can raise her calf. This is the beauty of being a small farmer running lower stocking rate.
When the calves leave the cow, they are put into a nursery, and are raised on milk from the older cows that didn't want to raise calves. The calves get handled daily and the male and female calves are all together. When they are over 3 months old they are weaned off milk and raised on another farm.
HOW LONG TO WE KEEP THE MALE CALVES
The male calves are castrated prior to weaning and grow up with the female calves. They are kept until they are 18-24 months old. They are sold direct to customers.