Over the years, our farm family has raised quite a few bottle calves. While bottle feeding a calf is fun at first, after a week or two, you can get really tired of heading to the barn twice a day to feed a calf. When we bought our Jersey cows, the plan was to treat them as home milkers and nurse cows. This would keep us from being tied to milking each day as well as helping the Jersey cows earn their keep by raising extra calves. If you are on the fence about keeping a milk cow as a nurse cow, you may want to consider the following points.
1. It\'s better than milk replacer.
Calves that are raised on \"real\" milk from a nurse cow are healthier and bigger than calves raised on milk replacer. Fresh milk from a cow contains antibodies and nutrients that milk replacer just won\'t have. Calves are able to digest the fresh milk more easily as well. Calves will be able to sip from a cow all day, consuming more milk without scouring than if you bottle-feed them.
2. She may save you money.
If you\'ve raised any bottle calves at all, you know that milk replacer is extremely expensive. It can cost $60 to $80 a bag, and if you want a healthy, strong calf, you may need to buy at least two bags of replacer per calf raised. By buying a milk cow to be a nurse cow for your herd, you won\'t have to buy milk replacer to feed your orphaned or bottle calves. Many beef ranchers have a single Jersey in the herd to be a nurse cow for their orphans.
If you have a couple of calves on a nurse cow, you don\'t have to rush home and feed the calves on a bottle. In fact, you may even be able to go out of town and simply allow the calves to nurse whenever they please.
4. Milk for the family.
If you like the idea of fresh milk for the family, but don\'t want to be tied to milking twice a day for months, setting up your dairy cow as a nurse cow can be the answer to your dilemma. When you want or need to milk for your family\'s needs, you can simply separate the calves from the nurse cow for six or eight hours and then milk her out. If you don\'t feel like milking, the calves will keep the mother cow\'s udder empty enough to prevent mastitis.
5. Make a little extra cash.
The dairy cows on our farm haven\'t been able to pay their own way simply as milkers, especially since selling raw milk is illegal in our state. By the time we bought the cows, fed them well enough to produce milk, and bought our milking and veterinary supplies, we were seriously in the financial hole with our dairy cows. Allowing the cows to raise a few extra calves each year helps us break even with our dairy project. A good Jersey cow should be able to raise five or even six calves each year, if you were to wean the calves at three months of age. A Holstein nurse cow might even be able to raise more than that.
Adding a nurse cow to your herd can provide tasty milk for your family, give your orphaned calves a better start, and maybe even increase the profits on your farm. Of course in farming, there\'s never a sure thing, but a nurse cow may be a great investment in your herd.