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The Madre Method
Written by Phyllis Van Amburgh of Dharma Lea Farm, Sharon Springs, NY. Phyllis explains why she and her husband Paul broke from the norm of bottle feeding calves on a dairy farm to allow mother cows to feed their calves themselves and have them wean naturally.
"When Paul and I started our family, I used to milk our cows by hand. We had two family cows, and when the calves were born, the cows fed their babies and made plenty of extra milk for our family. When Paul and I began our commercial dairy nine years ago, with more than 50 cows, we did what everyone told us we had to—we milked the cows and then fed the calves with bottles. This is standard practice on most dairy farms. Even though I really enjoyed being the adoptive mother to those precious babies (and I was really good at it!), I knew that I was not the best woman for the job. My cows let me know time and again that they would be happy to take the responsibility!
So how would that work—how will we have milk to sell? Won’t that reduce the milk in our milk tank? Since our cows remain healthy for a long time, we only need a few calves each year. So now we sell most of our calves to other farmers who want to raise them, but we have handed the job of raising the ones we kept back to mom. We call it our “Madre Method.” For the past six years, all of our cows and bulls have been raised by their own mother, by her side, until they are young adults when they no longer need her milk and wean on their own timeline. The mother cows still make extra milk for many months, and we get that extra milk from those cows to sell—but we make sure that the babies get the milk first.
This has been a true win all around. We have the healthiest calves anyone has seen, we have happy mother cows who love to take care of their babies, and a super healthy herd of cows and bulls. We’ve found that keeping the babies on their mothers turns those babies into even better milk producers when it’s their turn to milk. And, as you can imagine, there is nothing like watching those babies tear it up in the pastures when they get running together, while their moms graze away, out in the fresh spring grass!"