Calves on Cows

May 2020

Calf on cowMost organic dairy producers in the US use individual housing methods to raise dairy calves, meaning each calf has their own pen for the first several weeks of life. In a new research project at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), Morris, we’re raising calves on cows in an organic dairy system. Dr. Brad Heins, dairy scientist at the WCROC, is leading the project.

For the study, we have three groups of calves:

  1. Our control group of calves are raised in individual pens and bottle fed. Calves will not have physical contact with other calves, but may be able to see and hear them.
  2. Calves raised on pasture with their mother, and have free access to the dam’s milk.
  3. Group housed calves with free access to milk via an automatic feeder.

For all groups, calves are weighed weekly, and scored for health, body condition and behavioral measurements. We’ll be comparing the calves reared in individual pens versus with cows on pasture versus calves raised in group housing. The main goal of the project is to evaluate and improve the animal welfare of organic dairy calves, all while balancing health and management feasibility.

This is the first study in the US to evaluate rearing dairy calves with dams in an organic system. The study will be conducted over two calving seasons (April to May, and September to November 2020). Producers can expect to hear about this project and its initial findings at Organic Dairy Day, which is scheduled for August 11, 2020 at the WCROC, Morris. 

Funding for the project is provided by Organic Valley’s Farmers Advocating For Organic Fund.