Bottle Calf Basics

Apr 25, 2022

As hard as we try to avoid it, we all end up with a bottle calf before the season ends. A bottle calf can still thrive if properly cared for and can even be profitable with the number of people looking to feed their own locker calves.

The key is getting them off to a good start. That means making sure the calf gets colostrum, which needs to be consumed in the first few hours of life. Colostrum contains the immunoglobulins, protein and energy needed for immunity and strength in the newborn calf. Once they have colostrum, they can be started on milk replacer. It is beneficial to choose a milk replacer that is whey-based and formulated for calves rather than an all-purpose soy-based milk replacer. Milk should be mixed with water that is 110-120 degrees for improved absorption and digestion. Calves should consume 8 pints per day. It may take several feedings per day to achieve this.

The introduction of solid food can begin immediately with some high quality grass hay. Within the first couple weeks, you can start offering a high protein sweet feed. Most quality high protein sweet feeds will have rolled corn, rolled oats and high molasses. This makes it very palatable and easy to digest for baby calves and will kick start their rumen, allowing the muscle and papillae to develop. Water is another important need. Water not only keeps them hydrated, but also aids in rumen development and helps their appetite. Introducing proper concentrates at an early age will help prevent the bloated like appearance which is associated with bottle calves.

By the time a calf is 10-12 weeks old, they should be eating 1.5% of their body weight in dry matter. At this time you should be weaning them off the bottle. However, their digestive system is small, and nutritional needs are very high, so quality highly digestible feed is needed. Feed should be kept in front of them at all times because at this age they will eat small frequent meals throughout the day.

Kent and Hubbard both have quality highly digestible sweet feeds, colostrum, and milk replacer for your bottle calves. Stop by your local SFG to check out our selection. We will help you make your bottle calves thrive.