I am a new subscriber & with my subscription I received a copy of the November/December 2009 issue. I was glad to see an article, Bottle-raise a calf, by Jackie Clay to help those that might be interested in owning a family milk cow & raising it from a calf. There are a lot of benefits to this act. But I really think that this article is “old school” & would be what some county extension services would tell you too. It just doesn’t take into account the new genetics we have today in our cattle and the research done by the dairy industry & universities on raising calves to reach their full potential. Our own local extension service still thinks sexed semen for artificial insemination is brand new, but it’s been available since the late 1990’s. Some of the information in the article is wrong or just left out. That’s why I felt that it is important to get this information to your readers for them to draw from.
My parents began dairy farming when I was 8 years old. We started our farm by buying 30 registered Holstein baby heifer calves & some weaned calves too. Being the oldest child, feeding the calves became my before & after school job. A year later, I started showing some of our Holsteins at several fairs a year. When I went to college, the job followed me. I was raising the babies & weaned calves for the college owned dairy farm. I am now 36 years old & still raising the baby calves.
First, the Jersey breed is great, but the article left out some very critical information; Jersey baby calves require either Jersey cow milk or milk replacer formulated for Jersey calves. They require higher butterfat milk & protein than the other breeds. Feed any other milk replacer and they will develop diarrhea & dehydration from starvation, which no medicine will take care of & eventually the calf or calves will die an unneeded death.
Second, a Jersey cow can produce as much milk as a Holstein (100 lbs. per day), so be prepared to make butter, cheese, give it away, sell it, or get another calf or two to feed the leftover milk. Most of the time this will take up to the 2nd or 3rd lactation for any breed to reach that much in milk production.
When buying a heifer for a family milk cow, you should go directly to the farm to buy your calves & not the auction. You’re asking for trouble if you go to the auction barn to purchase something this important. The farmer is your greatest source of information to help you choose a calf. He will know when the calf was born, out of which cow, & bull; plus know their pedigrees & traits, so you don’t end up with a calf out of a long line of cows with ADHD. Trust me it’s possible. How the calf is built is important too. The calf should walk squarely, have a wide rump, & should seem to be walking high up on its hooves. This will ensure longevity in your cow & ease of calving.
When you get the calf at home, you should know when the calf was last fed. Feedings should be every 12 hours. If you had to travel a great distance & the calf is about 1-2 weeks old, you may want to feed it 3/4 of a 2-quart bottle then a full bottle 12 hours after then & on. If the calf is older, feed it normally. If they are newborns, feed 1 quart every 8 hours for 2 days. If you only went a short distance, you can feed it normally. Also make sure that they have feed available as soon as you get them at their new home. Hay or grass is not necessary until they reach 3-4 weeks old.
A calf should never act like they are starving or you will end up with problems, like diarrhea & dehydration. I have had a few calves that had a high metabolism and needed extra feedings because they were not getting enough in the 4 quarts of milk a day.
At 1 week of age they were getting 6 quarts of milk a day spread out into 3 feedings to keep their blood sugars up. Before doing this they would be lethargic within 2 hours of their feeding time. After tests were run we found that their blood sugars were very low. It’s important to watch the calves feces after bring them home & when increasing their milk intake. All calves should be eating grain between 3-7 days of age & hay or grass shouldn’t be introduced until the calf has been eating grain for 2-3 weeks. Some will develop a liking to hay & quit eating their grain. Hay alone can damage the lining of a young calf’s stomach if introduced too early or too much, which leads to a bad case of diarrhea that takes a long time to heal. Do not offer water until the calf is 2 weeks of age unless the outside temperatures are 90 degrees or higher, if they are older have water available all the time. Keep Pepto on hand at all times to soothe any signs of loose stool caused by upset stomach. Just add it to their milk or water with electrolytes. Do not jump to giving injectable antibiotics unless coughing or a temperature of 103.5 or above is accruing or the diarrhea has had no change in 3-4 days. (Normal temperature is 101.5 – 102). There are some great oral antibiotics, just ask your vet. The ones from feed stores are not the greatest & are more expensive. There are also stool thickeners that are awesome; an example is Deliver. I have all calves drinking their milk (2 quarts per feeding) from a bucket at 5-10 days old. This makes feeding easier; they will eat feed better, easier to sanitize their bucket between feedings, makes it easier to feed a larger volume of milk & less likely to have problems with them trying to nurse each other when weaned. I increase their milk intake to 5 quarts a day at about 3-4 weeks if no problems have incurred. By the time they are 6-7 weeks they are getting 6 quarts a day.
Weaning for heifer calves shouldn’t be before 16 weeks of age. Any sooner and you’ll delay the growth of the heifer. At 15 weeks of age, I give them 1 feeding of milk and extra fresh water at the other normal feeding time. Sixteen weeks of age is not set in stone. We have fed a calf up to 20 weeks or till the weather was nicer before turning them out into the open field. Weaning a heifer at 16 weeks old means you will have a larger calf then those weaned at 7 weeks. Take into consideration when beef farmers wean the calves off the cow. It’s a lot longer than even 18 weeks. The growth is so noticeable that at 13 to 14 months of age you can go ahead and breed that heifer. She will then calve at 2 years of age & give you 1 full year of milk before the early weaned heifer listed in your article has even been bred. You may have fed her another bag or two of milk replacer but you have gotten that bigger bodied heifer that will milk a year earlier; see the benefit. And let me stress, a calf should never act like it is starving! Yes, it should be acting like it’s hungry close to its feeding time, but the remaining time it should be content & happy.
It might seem that I have really nit-picked your article, but this is something that I am passionate about & want other people to succeed. I know you do too or you wouldn’t have started this magazine & published so many books. I really enjoy the magazine & it serves a great need. So keep up the good work!
Fair Grove, Missouri
Glad to hear you’re a new subscriber and that you have so much information on raising calves. Let me tell you about my calf-raising experience, so you’ll know where I’m coming from. First, I’m a veterinary field technician, with over 20 years work with veterinarians, largely on dairy farms. Second, I milked a herd of Jersey, Guernsey, and Milking Shorthorns myself for over 10 years, raising all the baby calves by hand. I also have been buying, raising, and selling calves for over 40 years, both dairy breeds and beef crosses. Sometimes I only have four or five; at other times, I’ve had twenty or more at one time.
Okay, to your comments: I’ve raised a lot of Jersey calves on both goat milk and good quality calf milk replacer. I’ve had no problem with scouring because they weren’t fed Jersey milk replacer. But then, up until recently, there WAS no Cow’s Match by Land O’Lakes, only regular milk replacer. I NEVER buy the cheap milk replacer with soy base–you’re asking for scours.
Yes, while a Jersey cow CAN produce 100 pounds of milk a day, few grade, “common” Jerseys make that (mine milked about 45 pounds a day). Nor would I want a 100 pound Jersey cow on my homestead. They might be fine for commercial dairies, but they are very prone to milk fever and early breakdown because of such a huge milk production. I, personally, don’t need a 100 pound cow on my place. We don’t need that much milk and pulling on teats as long as it takes to get over 12 gallons of milk twice a day would kill me! (Not to mention trying to get a friend to take over milking chores for even a day!)
I agree, and said in my article, that you should buy calves from a farm, if at all possible. But in some instances, it is just not possible, within reality, to FIND a farm with calves to sell. We didn’t think about that when we started buying calves on our new homestead, but after 6 months of asking around, we couldn’t find baby calves ANYWHERE within 150 miles! So we bought four at an auction And, yes, we had scours, which we treated; calves are all now 800 pounds. Finally, we found a farmer only 70 miles away, from whom we now buy our calves.
On page 52, I mentioned asking when the calf was last fed, then go on to give feeding tips. Mine are similar to yours.
I never said a calf should act like it was starving. I mentioned this on page 53, after saying it was while giving only one quart, 3 times a day just when the calf gets home, to get it over stress of hauling, then increase to 2 quarts a feeding, twice a day thereafter. You’d be surprised at how much this tip decreases the chances of that calf scouring. Stress often kills new bottle calves.
I’ve never had a calf eat grain at 3 days old. Maybe they’ll slobber some around when you stick your hand, with grain in it, in their mouth, but eat, eat it? Nope. Sometimes after a week a few will give it a nibble, few calves really eat grain till 2 weeks or even later, even when encouraged. And I’ve NEVER seen a calf that would stop eating grain because he/she was eating hay or grass. If a calf is getting enough milk replacer and grain, it won’t eat much hay at first. (What about beef calves out on pasture? They start eating grass right away with their mothers.) I know it’s “old school,” but I firmly believe that having calves eat grain, hay, and grass early on develops their rumen, making them larger consumers early on, so they’ll go on to grow meat and make milk later on.
I disagree with the Pepto in the milk when there are signs of scouring beginning. I’ve tried that, but found that STOPPING milk right away, substituting oral electrolytes with gel works much better. Giving doses of oral Kaolin-pectin is more effective in between feedings, as you are dosing on an empty stomach and gut.
I also advised talking to your vet if your calf runs a temperature and see what antibiotics they recommend.
I disagree about having calves drink milk replacer from a pail. Sorry. By drinking with their heads elevated in a normal nursing mode, the milk goes more easily into the right stomach and the calf is much less prone to gulping the milk down. The milk replacer also tends to settle out a bit from the time you mix it and get to the barn to feed. With the bottle, you not only can shake it up just before feeding, but as the bottle is held “upside down,” the heavier solids are mixed back up as the calf drinks.
Yes, you can increase the milk as the calf gets older, if you wish. But that’s a personal preference. By that time, the calf should be eating grain well, and the extra milk is not necessary for good growth. And the extra milk IS expensive to the average homesteader. Beef cows nurse their calves all summer, but many beef calves don’t get grain either, on range conditions.
Yes, that 15 weeks of bottle feeding will grow a nice big heifer, but I’m very set against breeding a 13 month old heifer, just to get her milking sooner. I know many commercial dairies do just that, but I’ve helped pull a lot of calves from those 2-year-old heifers. Just because you get another few months of milk from a cow isn’t always the best for her future in the milk string. I’d rather wait awhile and keep them around for a long, long time.
Sorry that you picked up on the word “starving.” Perhaps that was a poor choice of words on my part, but when the calves are butting the bottle while they drink and jumping back and forth, I think they look “starving.” To another person, they would just look “hungry.” All of my animals are fat and shining and none of them is remotely “starving!” If you feed a calf 2 quarts of good milk replacer twice a day, plus a good quality calf grain and fresh legume/grass hay, they will never starve.
Sorry, too, that we disagree on several things. But remember that there is more than one way to accomplish the same thing; some work best for some people–others work for other people. I wrote the article from my own experience and from helping treat hundreds of sick calves for others.