Why we don’t want huge calves like this whopper

Huge calf

Big calves are a big risk

This calf was born yesterday and, sadly, survived only a few minutes, leaving his poor mother exhausted. Having sat her up, Wayne and Zoe are giving her a dose of sugars, calcium and mineral salts to give her a boost after her ordeal. Big calves tend to cause a lot of calving trouble and are also often stillborn. We’ve had a few this year, which I think is partly due to the wonderful condition of the cows.

We do actively try to keep the size of calves manageable in other ways. When we are selecting bulls for our herd, we look for those who have a record of easy calvings (though not too easy in case we end up breeding cows with hopelessly tiny pelvises) and those of medium stature. We don’t want to breed giants and internationally, Holsteins have been getting bigger and bigger.

As well as the calving ease, our desire for medium-sized cows is about fitness. Most of the semen originates from lines bred in America and Europe, where cows live in barns most of the time and walk very little while, here in Australia, our cows live out in the paddocks all year round.

I think they have better lives as a result but the downside (if you can call it that) is that they must be fit enough to walk from the paddock to the dairy and back twice a day. Massive bodies are hard on feet and legs.

8 thoughts on “Why we don’t want huge calves like this whopper

  1. Massive bodies may be hard on legs but being tethered in a shed 24/7 and milked to death is hardly a life. I would rather pay more for milk knowing the cows have a decent life in the paddock, thank buy milk from cows who have no quality of life.


    • Mmmm. Luckily, I haven’t heard of any dairy cows in Australia that are kept in sheds, so you don’t have to pay extra for “free range” milk!


      • I was referring to the US practice of intensive farming. Their cows have a horrible life, similar to sow stalls. Much prefer cows to lead the outdoor life they have here.


  2. Off topic but just want to express my concern about Coles & Woolies and their $1 ltr for milk. How can this not affect dairy farmers? Read the article about Parmalat reducing the price to farmers, how much blood can you get out of a stone before it turns to dust?


  3. Dear Marion
    Your post got me thinking…. What factors come into play when farmers choose a particular breed? Why are holsteins so common? Some farmers I know up here use the brown swiss and Illawarra/red lines. Does it come down to milk composition, climate, local influence… Are some breeds easier to handle/calve easier?


    • Great idea for a post, thanks Lisa! I might even be able to get a local farmer I know who’s won a Nuffield Scholarship on breeding to provide a really good answer.


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