Perhaps you have decided to raise a bottle calf, but you don’t know where to buy one. In my last article, I discussed the reasons for raising a bottle calf.
Four reasons to raise a bottle calf:
- Raising a bottle calf is a great way to expand your farm.
- Raise a steer to eat and know exactly where your meat comes from and what it has eaten.
- Earn a little extra money on your farm by selling the calf when it is grown.
- Finally, if you have a pasture that is overgrown, a calf will soon be eating grass, keeping your pasture looking neat.
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In my last article, 5 Steps to Raising a Bottle Calf, I gave you the five steps for raising a bottle calf. This article will give more details about where to find bottle calves. There are approximately six main resources for buying bottle calves, depending on where you live. I have purchased calves from five of these places. In addition, I worked briefly for the other place. I will describe them in order of my preference, beginning with my LEAST favorite.
Six Places to Buy a Bottle Calf
1. Calf Jockeys.
With the decline of family farms and the rise of corporate farms, there is a business practice of calves being hauled to a central location and then auctioned off in large quantities to several buyers. I will call them calf jockeys. I don’t know if they have an official name, but that is how I refer to them.
Perhaps there are folks who have had good experiences with these people, but I have not. I worked for a calf jockey for less than a month. I will not go into detail in this article, but the main reason you will not want to use one of these sellers is that there is a ten-calf minimum purchase.
My recommendation when you are starting out is to purchase one or two, but no more than three calves. There is a learning curve to raising calves, and my advice is to start small to see if it is a commitment you want to make.
2. Big Dairies.
This is the next least likely place (not least favorite) that I would buy a bottle calf. In my experience, most big dairies already have buyers who will buy all their calves on a regular basis and then resell them at the sale barn or to a big calf-raising facility. It is similar to a corporation, and big dairies just don’t have time to sell one or two calves to small buyers.
I can’t say this too many times —when you first start out, only raise one or two calves to prevent getting overwhelmed.
My experience buying from a big dairy was a great one. It just so happened that this farmer had four odd-aged calves that his buyer didn’t want. The farmer delivered them to me for a small fee. They were healthy and strong. He gave me many tips for raising calves since I was just starting out, and he had raised hundreds of calves. It was a win-win, but I have never had the opportunity to buy from him since because he has a regular buyer who can buy many calves per season.
If you can purchase one or two calves from a big dairy, it is a great option. Usually, there are strict biohazard measures, and the calves have been started on colostrum. I would just ask questions like: Was the calf born on this farm? When was it born? Was it given colostrum after birth? Has the calf had any vaccinations?
3. Large calf-raising facilities.
I am fortunate enough to live fairly close to a large calf-raising facility. These calves are usually purchased at the sale barn or from a large dairy and brought to the facility. The calf facility near me does a really good job of starting out the calves. For this reason, I find their calves to be quite expensive. Again, the customers of these facilities tend to be buyers who purchase large quantities of calves and receive a quantity discount. One advantage of buying from this kind of facility is that there is a large selection of calves to choose from.
4. Sale Barn.
I have purchased several calves from sale barns and, overall, had good success with the calves I have purchased. One advantage is that it is an auction and if there are few buyers, you can buy calves at a bargain. A couple of disadvantages are: you have no information about the calf, where it came from, how old it is exactly, if it is sick, if they were started on colostrum, etc. These calves are usually stressed. They have traveled at a young age. They will need extra attention when you arrive home. Buying from the sale barn isn’t the best option for a first-calf purchase, but an option.
If you are considering buying from the sale barn, attend a sale without the intent to purchase a calf to see how the process works and then return the following week to make a purchase. This will build your confidence in purchasing a good calf.
You can buy almost anything on Craigslist, including calves. Simply find the city on Craigslist closest to you, and search for “calf” or “calves” in the search box. Another way is to click on “farm and garden” and scroll through the listings to find calf listings.
Here are some questions that I usually ask when I call or email about a calf on Craigslist.
- Was the calf born on your farm?
- Was the calf given colostrum after birth?
- How old is the calf?
- Why are you selling the calf?
- Do you have a closed herd? (This is good to know because an open herd has cattle coming and going, and there is an increased likelihood of sickness.)
Craigslist is a great place to make connections with farmers, both big and small.
6. Family Farms
This is my favorite place to buy bottle calves. Small, family farms know 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 any vaccines were administered. Plus, you usually get to visit the farm, see the operation and learn how other people do things on their farms.
Finding a place to buy bottle calves can be challenging at first. With the six options above, persistence and determination, you will be well on your way to finding your first bottle calf.
How about you? Where have you purchased a bottle calf? Please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you