Cozy calves kept warm by Vt. dairy farmer’s labor of love

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EAST HARDWICK, Vt.

Agriculture has been a Northeast staple for generations. There are around 860 family-run dairy farms in Vermont. It’s a job made more challenging by dramatic temperature swings and big snow falls; but for these families, the safety and comfort of their animals always comes first.

Ask any local dairy farmer and they’ll tell you that their top priority is the care and comfort of their animals. That’s the very first thing you pick up on when you meet Johanna Laggis of the Laggis Brothers Farm in East Hardwick.

“When you’re a farmer, any kind, dairy, beef, raising any kind of animals, you always put the animals first. Our primary job is to make sure our animals are well-cared for,” said Laggis.

Caring for, and milking over 500 Jersey cows two times per day is a tall order. And in the winter, that task gets tougher.

Some of the challenges include “keeping everything operating [and] Mother Nature. If it’s below zero and the wind is blowing, things break more easy, pipes can freeze. If an animal doesn’t feel well, they can feel even worse when it’s cold. That’s why the calves have blankets on to help them feel good,” explained Laggis.

Yes, you heard that right, the calves have blankets on. And you won’t find these online or in a store. Johanna sews them herself and has done so for nearly 20 years.

“The first winter I bought a calf blanket and I thought I can do better. I have a friend who just gave me a bunch of blankets from her dad’s house. He just passed away. She’s a dairy farmer. So I’m going to make her a calf blanket out of blankets that were dad’s, so she can put it on her calves,” said Laggis.

Johanna buys the elastic for straps in bulk and picks up fleece, wool and warm fabrics whenever she can. Friends often pass her down old blankets and bedding.

“When my daughter was born and spent some time in the hospital, the sheep skin that was under her isolette in the hospital, we have a calf blanket made out of that with the penguin fleece. We call that the penguin blankie,” reflected Laggis.

Johanna explains that cows have a thermo neutral zone, a temperature at which they expend no energy. For newborn calves, that’s 70°.

“We can eat more mac n’ cheese and turn the thermostat up, but calves can’t do that. So in addition to feeding them more calories, we help them out by putting blankets on them.”

The thermo neutral zone drops as the calf grows. By around two weeks, it’s down to 50°.

“By putting a blanket on the calf, they can drink their milk. And we give milk at their body temperature so they don’t expend any energy warming that milk up.They use all their energy to be healthy, grow their immune system and to add on body weight. So they’re really happy,” exclaimed Laggis.

Johanna likes to choose fun, bright patterns and fixes up older blankets with unique patches. It’s truly a labor of love.

Animals are appreciative. They just want to be cared for and loved. And they reward you. These are going to be milking cows in two years and they reward you by being productive and healthy animals if you take care of them well. And we really enjoy it,” concluded Laggis.

If you’d like the pattern and instructions to make your own calf blanket, Johanna says she’s happy to share. She has one size for Jerseys and one for Holsteins. To contact her, send me an email to athibault@mychamplainvalley.com .

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