Are you thinking about trying your hand at raising a bottle calf? It isn’t as hard as you may think. Raising a bottle calf is wonderful for people who are just beginning to farm. This article will describe five steps to raising a bottle calf.
4 reasons to consider buying a bottle calf.
- Raising a bottle calf is a great way to expand your farm.
- In addition, you can raise a steer to eat and know exactly where your meat comes from and what it has eaten.
- You could also earn a little extra money on your farm by selling it when it is grown.
- Finally, if you have a pasture that is overgrown, a calf will soon be eating grass and keep your pasture looking neat.
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One of my friends, who owns a dairy farm texted me and asked me if I wanted a jersey bull calf for free. She is overrun with calves and running out of room to keep them. The cattle price isn’t very good right now and she thought she would only get about $15 for him at the sale barn. Being the sweet person that she is, she offered him to me for free! I jumped at the opportunity.
An ideal time for us to start raising a calf
- My youngest son recently turned 8 years old and I decided to give the calf to him as a birthday present. Although he has helped my older sons and I raise many calves, I thought he was old enough to have his own bottle calf. Now, before you think I am a cheap mom who gives my son something I received for free, please understand that I bought a $65 bag of milk replacer to feed him.
- In addition, my mother in law’s Jersey was due to give birth in less than a week. We could raise the calves together and we would soon have plenty of Jersey milk to feed both calves.
- Finally, spring is coming, which means warmer weather and we would be purchasing more bottle calves to raise.
Transporting a Calf
Two of my sons and my daughter and I loaded up into our trusty, old minivan. Yes, that’s right, we brought the calf home in my minivan. Thankfully, I have never had a calf make a mess in my van. Calves that are between one to three days old are pretty quiet. I have done this several times and it works quite well. Usually, the calf will lay down.
This particular calf was very lively and stood the whole time. I had to take the corners slowly. I would really like to get one of those yellow placards, that were popular back in the ninety that says, “Calf on board” so people know why I am driving like a grandma. Anyway, we made it home got the calf settled.
I am going share with you five steps to buying a bottle calf. Along the way, I give you many things to consider before making your investment. Then I will give you a step by step process on how to acquire a bottle calf to bringing to home and feeding it for the first time. If an 8-year-old can learn to do it, so can you!
Five steps to raising a bottle calf on your farm
1. Find Place to Buy a Bottle Calf
There are several places to buy calves. You can read more details about where to buy calves here. Craigslist is a good place to start if you don’t know anyone selling calves.
My favorite place to buy bottle calves is from a local family farm. Small, family farms know their herd, particularly their cows. They will be able to give details about the mother and usually the sire. The farmer will be able to tell you what the calf has had to eat and if there were any vaccines administered. They are usually willing to give you tips on how to raise calves and continue to be a source of information if you have questions once you take the calf home.
Pro Tip: you will probably only find dairy calves or dairy/beef cross because beef calves are almost always raised by its mother unless something happens like the mother dies or the calf is a twin. You can read more about the different breeds of calves here.
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Before you bring the calf home, you will need the following supplies: Two or three quart calf bottle, an extra bottle nipple, two Five quart plastic buckets, kitchen funnel, kitchen whisk, Milk replacer, Dry bedding, Calf Hutch or some other shelter such as a pen in a building, Cattle panel if you are using a calf hutch, calf coat or extra large dog sweater (for calves bought outside the summer season), As the calf grows, you will need additional feed such as calf pellets or sweet 18% mix and, hay. These things won’t be needed for at least a couple of weeks.
3. Prepare a Place for your Calf
Before your new calf arrives, prepare the calf hutch or pen with fresh bedding. If you are using a calf hutch, make sure it is placed on a flat area with good drainage. Also, the calf must be protected from the prevailing winter wind if it is outside the summer season.
4. Arrange for Transportation for your Calf
Most likely, if this is the first time you are raising a calf, you do not have a cattle trailer. Before you go out and buy a trailer, try to think creatively. Remember a newborn calf is about the size of a big dog. We have an older van and as I described above, I haul a calf in it. Here is how: I put the middle seats up and then lay a tarp on the floor. Then, I try to put the calf’s hind legs into an industrial-strength garbage bag to catch any accidents the calf may have. Then, my kids sit in the third-row seat and hold the calf. Of course, my kids are seat-belted in.
Pro Tip: An extra large dog crate may also work. There are other possibilities too. Perhaps the farmer would be willing to deliver the calf for a little extra money. Maybe you have a friend with a trailer. Think outside the box. Just remember calves cannot handle very much wind. They will get sick.
5. Settle the Calf in its New Home
Be sure to ask the seller when the last time the calf ate and what the feeding schedule has been so far. If you are not sure, it is probably a good idea to feed it ONE quart of milk replacer when it arrives. This will give the calf an extra boost after the stress of traveling. Begin the calf on a feeding schedule. It is important to feed the calf about every 12 hours. It doesn’t have to be exact. I usually feed my calves at 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Just like any newborn, calves sleep most of the time. As long as the calf is eager to eat when offered a bottle, this should not concern you.
A note about milk replacer.
High-quality milk replacer may be the key to a healthy, strong calf. My veterinarian recommended to me that buying a weaker calf and more expensive milk replacer than an expensive calf and low quality milk replacer.
It is important to read the feeding instructions on the milk replacer bag. It will give you measurements of water to milk replacer ratio and the temperature of the water. Use a regular kitchen cooking thermometer will until you get used to the correct temperature by touch. Most likely you will feed 10 ounces of replacer to two quarts of water. (But please read the instructions on the bag). Your calf will still seem very hungry after you finish feeding it. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT FEED IT MORE MILK REPLACER. I am sorry I yelled, but your calf will get very sick if it is overfed. It will likely scour and possibly die.
The First Feeding
The first feeding may be difficult depending on how old the calf is. It takes a few feedings for the calf to suck the bottle properly. If you are having difficulty, don’t give up. Hold the calf’s chin and squeeze with one hand and guide the bottle into the calf’s mouth with the other hand. I will be writing a future article explaining this procedure in more depth.
These are the basic steps to purchasing and settling in a new bottle calf. I hope these steps and considerations have encouraged you to try your hand at raising a bottle calf. Please check out my other articles about raising calves. Also, please stay tuned for future articles about these steps in more detail and future steps to raising calves.