Raising bottle calves may sound simple but there are a few things that are handy to know before you get started, and even after you have brought your calf home.
Successfully raising bottle calves
Years ago I bought a bunch of bottle calves. We had bottles, made calf sheds and prepared to put them each in their own individual calf sheds with a small run out front like you see on a dairy farm. I was so excited!!
I made my first mistake with this first bunch of calves. I went to the auction yard and bought 7 of them. Within the first 2 months 6 of them died for various reasons that I figured out later. The 7th calf made it up to 250 pounds and then one day dropped dead walking through the corral. I learned my first hard and expensive lesson.
Hopefully these tips will help you, and you can learn from my mistakes.
Some helpful tips
Tip #1: Purchasing your calves
I never buy bottle calves from an auction for a couple of reasons I discovered a little too late.
- Calves need colostrum within the first 24 hours of birth. Colostrum is the mothers first milk. This milk gives the calves antibodies to build up their immune system or they will not make it. Colostrum also gets their stomachs working properly. If they do make it they will have problems throughout their lives. Some calves don’t get colostrum before they are taken to the sale yard. There is no way of knowing wether or not they get it.
- The second reason I don’t buy calves from the sale yard is each of these calves may come from a different dairy. Each dairy has their own set of bugs (bacterial infections or viruses). The calves may build up a resistance to these bugs before they are born, and are born with herd immunity. After they are born they are brought to the sale yard and introduced to a whole new set of bugs from other calves that are brought there. Some they may have developed a resistance too, and others they may not have. They may develop sicknesses to these bugs after a few days and could possibly die.
Where do I buy dairy calves? I found a reputable dairy and bought all of my calves from there. The owners of the dairy were happy to sell me all of the bull calves because they wouldn’t have to worry about them and it made room for the heifer calves when they were born. They keep the heifers to put back into their herd.
By getting the bottle calves straight from the dairy I knew they were properly cared for and given colostrum. They all had the same bugs and had built a herd immunity to them.
By learning this tip I bought 106 bottle calves from this dairy and raised 104 of them in a years time. I lost 2 calves which is pretty good.
Tip #2: Stress
Stress can be very hard on calves. When a bottle calf becomes stressed they can get sick which can possibly cause death. It is best to limit any stress for your calves to prevent problems.
You are probably wondering what type of stress can a bottle calf have. Calves can be stressed in many ways. You may not even think of it as stress to you but to a newborn or a young calf it can be very hard on them. Some of the things that may cause stress is:
- The weather – it may be too hot. Heat can be very hard on a bottle calf and may cause dehydration or other complications. Shade should be provided as well as ventilation in the sheds.
- It may be too cold. Cold weather can be very hard on a newborn calf and even a calf a few weeks older. If a calf is chilled it is hard for them to bring the body temperature up. A blow dryer, calf warming hutch or heat lamp may help the calf warm up.
- It may be to damp or wet. If it is hot this may not be a problem but if it is cold or cooler and that calf is wet it can cause many problems resulting in the calf getting sick. A blow dryer, calf warmer or a heat lamp to help dry this calf off will be helpful.
- Other stresses may be the environment around the calf. Dogs, kids and other things may cause stress to your bottle baby. Check your area and make sure there is nothing there to stress the calf.
Tip #3: Buying feed
Milk that you are feeding the calf is very important. There are many brands of milk on the market and they each are probably a little different. Some are a little more expensive than others and there is a reason for that. It is important you pick a good milk replacer for the calf.
I always bought all milk replacer. My calves did well on it and they grew fast. I stayed away from the soy milk replacers. Check your labels if you are buying milk replacer and look for a good quality replacer.
The past 12 years I have raised my bottle calves on goats milk. They grow really well and put on weight. This is a good alternative to buying milk replacer. I already have the goats so for me this is very cost effective.
Tip #4: Supplies needed
Have your equipment ready.
- If you choose to feed your calf on a bottle make sure you have a bottle on hand.
- You may also need a calf tuber. If you can’t get your calf to drink a bottle tubing is an option. It is not my favorite way of doing things but sometimes it is necessary.
- We raise natural beef so we try to stay away from giving our calves different shots, but if you choose to give shots make sure you have syringes, needles and the shot ready for them.
- We do keep something on hand. At about 2 weeks it seems they always scour just a little bit. (calf diarrhea) This can be caused by a bacteria or the scours could be a milk scour. A milk scour usually means they are getting a lot of milk and they get over it. If it is a sickness it may have blood in it. It is usually very stinky. Call your local vet and they can recommend what you should give them.
Tip #5: Identification of calves
- If you are feeding more than one bottle baby, ear tags come in really handy. They can help you keep things straight on what needs to be done with calves. I usually name mine but if I sent my husband out to do something with on of the calves he wouldn’t know which one I am talking about. Ear tags help keep everything straight.
Tip #6: Sanitation and grouping
- Keeping the bottles and the equipment clean will help your bottle calves stay healthy and strong. It will also keep them from passing sickness one to another.
- We started out keeping the calves separated. This seemed to work ok but we found they got more exercise if they were in bigger pens. We felt like this helped them a lot.
- Our calves were kept in pens of 6. We found the competition for food was good when they started to eat grain and hay.
- Birds were one of our problems. When the birds were in eating the grain we had issues with coccidiosis. We solved the problem by feeding only as much grain as they would immediately clean up.
Tip #7: Other types of feed
- When I brought new calves home I always offered fresh water and a little bit of hay they may nibble on. Usually at about 2 to 3 weeks old they would start to eat hay.
Tip #8 When to Wean
- Try to remember each calf is different. some calves take off and really grow while others are a little slower. I started to watch them at 6 weeks old. If they were doing well I would cut them to one bottle a day. I would try to wean them totally at 8 weeks old. Some of the calves I would leave on a little longer if needed. But they needed to be eating hay and drinking water really well.
Raising bottle calves can be a very rewarding experience for adults and children as well. Kids love to feed the babies.
While there is much to learn about raising bottle calves it isn’t really as hard as it sounds.
I hope these tips will be helpful to you while raising your bottle calf. I would enjoy hearing your experience. Feel free to comment and share pictures.