This past week I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Empire Calf Ranch. I was totally amazed at not only the size of this facility but also the amount of organization and order that was required to keep it running efficiently. The people at this facility take a lot of pride in what they do and are sure to give the calves the absolute best care they can!
The calf ranch has the capacity to hold 24,000 calves when it is full. These calves range anywhere from a couple of days old to 400 pounds. In the dairy business, since milk is the main enterprise heifer calves are much more valuable than bull calves (the males). The elite bull calves are kept as bulls (uncastrated) and used for reproduction. However, this is only a small number. The remainder of the bulls go to operations like the Empire Calf Ranch. They either receive calves shortly after birth or at 200 pounds. The baby calves are delivered on semis but carried off the trailer by hand to ensure they are kept safe and free from injury. The babies are fed a bottle containing milk twice a day as well as feed and always have a supply of water. When I visited, there were 2,000 babies on bottles! They have a milk room where all the milk is stored, pasteurized, and put into bottles.
They fill the bottles with milk using a wand that can fill several bottles at once! After they are used the bottles and nipples go through a dish waster to make sure they are cleaned and free from germs for the next feeding.
After the bottles are filled, one person goes through and puts all the nipples on. After that, the trailers of bottles are taken out to the baby calves and put in their bottle holders. Once the calves have finished their bottles, the bottles are picked up and taken back to the milk room to be cleaned out for the next feeding.
The calf ranch designed special jackets to put on the baby calves during extreme weather conditions so they can stay warm.
The calves are kept in individual houses for the first few months and then they are transferred into large pens when they are fed on a grain and roughage diet. I was amazed at how well the pens were kept up. They were virtually free from mud and a bed of straw is kept under the shades for the calves to lay on. The shades are the tall overhangs you see. During the hot months they provide the calves a way to escape the direct sunlight and heat to keep them cool. You can see the long path in the middle of the picture. The calves are fed on the right and left sides of it. The path was so clean, I could have eaten off it…I am not kidding!
With this many calves, you may be wondering how they keep track of all of them. Detailed records are kept on every calf. They know when medication is given if the calf is sick or running a fever, what day it arrives on the ranch, what dairy the calf originated from, etc. The ranch employs 55 people and one employees job is to keep track of all the records and make sure they are entered into the computer system properly. Other jobs include milk preparation, calf health, pen maintenance, feeding, calf delivery… As you can see, it takes many integral parts to make the ranch runs smoothly, efficiently, and calf care is the top priority. I was totally impressed by the Empire Calf Ranch, they do a great job!