5 survival tips for bottle feeding calves

Jan 18, 2021


By Candice Johns with MannaPro
 
Feeding schedule
Most calves need only need 2–3 bottles a day. You won’t have to worry about middle-of-the-night feedings or early-morning waking; bottle calves eat during the day and sleep at night. They will need only two bottles a day if they are healthy, and the weather is nice. If it’s particularly cold or your calf isn’t gaining weight, three bottles will do.
  • Watch for scours (more on that in a minute)
  • Provide pasture, water, forage (after weaning is most typical), good-quality hay, and a clean environment
  • Provide a free-choice calf-starter such as Calf-Manna® by Manna Pro® (if desired)
  • Offer a good mineral program
 
Scours
I’m pretty sure our bottle calves would literally eat themselves to death if given the opportunity. Their voracious appetite can result in what are known as calf scours or scouring.

Calf scours are basically baby cow diarrhea. This condition is dangerous and can be fatal. Be sure to watch your bottle calves closely (especially their stool) to be sure they are healthy.

If your bottle calf has access to a lactating dairy cow, they could face a higher probability of overfeeding. Some mama cows will be happy to “adopt” your new calf. Even when our calves are being well fed (three bottles a day), they may still run to the milk cows in search of a free meal. Don’t count on a full belly to tell your little one to stop eating. Manna Pro has a new product that supports digestive upset: Calf Care™.

If you suspect calf scouring in your herd, contact your veterinarian. Scours can be dangerous for calves (especially very young ones) and needs to be treated.
 
Fences are friends
 
If you have ever watched a calf nurse from a mama cow, you probably saw them banging their head into her udder. This is normal behavior that stimulates the udder to “let down” additional milk for the hungry calf. This head-butting doesn’t hurt the mama cow, but during bottle feeding it can be annoying.

Calves don’t seem to realize that head-butting the bottle will not make the milk come out any faster, nor will it make any more milk appear. You may find it helpful to position yourself on the other side of a gate or fence while feeding, which can help minimize head-butting.
 
When the bottle is empty, make your exit — quickly
 
​​​​​​​When the bottle is empty and feeding time is over, give your little guy (or gal) a scratch, pat them and tell them they’re adorable, and then make your escape — fast, especially if you did not listen to tip #4 and are standing in the field with them.

Why?

Feeding my little bottle calves can be the highlight of my day. They are so excited. They greet me with the sweetest “moooo” you’ve ever heard. They love their bottles and have the enthusiasm of a puppy. Calves may be the cutest animals in the world

That is, unless it’s raining, pouring, sleeting, or icing outside. Then it’s not as fun. The calves are just as adorable, grateful, and spunky, but I am not as enthusiastic about the whole thing.

This is why you may need to run after feeding them their bottle. As soon as our calves finish their bottles, they immediately start looking for an udder. If a lactating dairy animal isn’t in plain sight, the calves may turn to the person holding the bottle — nudging, bumping, and smearing their soaking wet, milky, slobbery heads all over the front and back of my jeans trying to find an udder.

Bang. Nudge. Bump. “There’s got to be one here somewhere.”

“No, Norman [that’s the calf], I don’t have an udder.”

Raising bottle babies is a fun adventure. If you have always wanted to get into the cattle business but get indigestion when you see cattle prices, a bottle calf may just fit the bill. It’s probably one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to get into the cattle business. Raising bottle calves will not only get you a herd “on the cheap,” but you’ll also make some great memories.
 
 

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