Blog > March 2020 > Caring for a Bottle Calf

Caring for a Bottle Calf

March 23, 2020

When raising cattle, it’s almost inevitable that you will have a situation in which you are feeding a bottle calf whether you are raising one for the enjoyment, have a heifer that won’t claim the calf, or have a twin situation that calls for some extra time spent caring for the calf.  One trait I’ve always admired of those in the ag industry is that they never complain or ask questions when put in a tough situation. Everyone carries on and handles what needs to be done. This situation is no different at my family’s operation. When we had a cow not claim a twin over the weekend, everyone worked together to get this calf dry and warmed up while administering colostrum immediately. I often have producers ask questions like, “How soon can we start feeding this calf a starter?” or “How should we feed this calf?” My goal with this blog is to give some helpful suggestions, however, I realize not all calves cooperate the same. Before any mixing is done, please remember to check water temperature. Cold milk isn’t good, but too hot of water can do substantial damage to a calf.

Colostrum, also called first milk, is full of antibodies for immune system support and should be given to a calf within the first 12 hours of life. If a calf is having a hard time nursing from a bottle you can try switching to a lamb nipple or you may have to tube the calf. If uncertain on tubing and to avoid getting fluid in the lungs, call your veterinarian and they can help. When picking out colostrum, check to see if it is labeled as a supplement or replacer. Many can be used as both with different mixing directions. 

Majority of our feed retail locations carry OptiPrime colostrum replacer. This easy to mix, pure, natural bovine colostrum selected from Grade A dairies, contains 150 grams of globulin protein per 500 gram packet. OptiPrime is guaranteed free of all major colostrum transmissible diseases. OptiPrime can also be used as a supplement of maternal colostrum that is lacking in margin quantity or quality. Half of one packet will provide 75 grams of globulin proteins and dose options are available on the label. This product should be used within 12 months unless mixed. If mixed, it needs to be fed immediately.

Once the calf has gotten the proper amount of colostrum on Day 1, a producer may begin feeding calf milk replacer.  Milk replacers come in medicated or nonmedicated options. Medicated replacers help prevent scours.  Water mixing temperature should be at 110-112 degrees F and be 105 degrees F when fed to the calf. Warm water will help dissolve fats in replacers.  Milk replacer should always be weighed before mixing for accuracy. Most feedings are done 2 or 3 times a day and must stay consistent. Avoid overfeeding and follow label directions. Overfeeding a calf can cause health issues just as underfeeding will. Take time to observe the calf, look for bright eyes that aren’t sunk in and note energy level. With twice daily feedings to our bottle calf, the observations I’ve made are that he is anxious to see us, plays in his bedded pen, has bright eyes, and is not dull or sunk in around his abdomen.

After mixing the powder with water, refrigerate what isn’t used immediately and feed within 24 hours after warming. Bottles and nipples need to be thoroughly washed and allowed to dry before using again. Fresh, clean water, hay, and a high-quality calf starter (small amount) should also be offered free choice on Day 3. Each calf is different on the amount of time it takes them to start consuming solid food (grass, hay, grain). In a normal scenario, a calf would copy the mother and start nibbling grass or hay early in life. With a bottle calf, this is different, and they may need encouragement by putting a small amount of a calf starter or hay into its mouth. Wait to wean a calf off milk replacer until it is eating adequate amounts of high-quality forage, along with grain pellets such as calf startena or creep feed. For most calves, this can be anywhere from 60-120 days.

I invite producers to stop by their local CVA Feed Retail location or reach out to their local Feed Sales Specialists for more information on products we carry for calves. If you are in a situation where you aren’t able to make it to town, please call with any feed related needs and we will do our best to help out.
by Brandi Salestrom
Posted: 3/23/2020 2:44:39 PM by Kristin Petersen | with 0 comments

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