Sunday, July 14, 2013

Should I Buy a Bottle Fed Calf?

The cattle that roam our family farm.
Maybe I'm off but $25 seems awful cheap to me for a baby calf. A coworker of mine at the hospital, who has lived in the area all of her life, has told me that there is a fella that comes up from Texas once a month and sells his excess baby calves for $25.

I believe she said you could get male or female, guess it depends on what he brings. I don't recall what age she said they were but she did say they would need to be bottle fed at first.

Wanting nothing more than to dive right in to the homestead life, I'm thinking this might be a great learning opportunity for the whole family. Of course, not knowing much about raising cattle, I did what any other Gen X dad would do to learn something...I went to YouTube.

I say this half joking because obviously your best knowledge will come from experienced people in the field. Asking local farmers and feed store employees are the best sources. But for people like me who are moving from city to country, we may not know exactly where to start or who to ask. YouTube has turned out to be a terrific avenue for seeking information and it is accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection. It can be accessed 24 hours a day and you can even leave questions in comments or read comments other folks have posted to learn just a little more. If you don't know how to do something in your new environment, try searching YouTube and see what you can find. 

Not THAT kind of "calf raising"!
But using YouTube can be tricky. My first search for "how to raise a calf" didn't turn out too well.  Unless, that is, I wanted to workout my calf in "calf raises." Grrr. No, that's not what I asked for. Let's try again.

This time I found a video by Du-Brook Dairy narrated by Kelly Dugan. She says to feed the calf milk once a day after the age of 50 days old. Then at 70 days, it gets weened. Once weened, the calf gets a "medicated crumble" for about two weeks.

Thanks to I was able to figure out what a "medicated crumble" was and how to use it. Realizing that there are numerous types of medicated crumble, this particular page details Corid 2.5%. From what I can tell, this is a feed to be given either for suspected health issues or as a preventative. Instructions are listed for dose according to animal weight. Interesting!

Since Kelly didn't say what to feed BEFORE 50 days old, I kept searching for information. Dr. Guy Jodarski (Veterinarian) suggests feeding one gallon of whole milk day and night to Holsteen sized cattle, Jersey sized cattle get three quarts day and night. Wow, that'll get pricey. I bought a gallon of milk just a few days ago and it was $4.49/gallon. That means we'll be paying $9 each day for each calf in the beginning.
He also mentions giving them a few ounces of kelp for grain each day which helps with rumen development.

Steve Frank's method of straddling a calf
Steve Frank gives a delightful, information packed video on "How to Milk a Cow by Hand and Start a Calf Bottle Feeding." Part two of the video is here. He talks about what to do if the cow pees or poops during milking. How he cleans his cow and treats for worms.

Dehorning is something I haven't figured out yet. It appears to be necessary in herds but seems like not so necessary if raising one or two on a small farm. Dr. Mark Hardesty, DVM, explains how the process of cauterizing works. There is also dehorning paste. The purpose appears to be to both protect the cattle from each other and to protect the caretakers as well. Also called disbudding, it should be done sooner rather than later in life.

If you want to brand or mark your cattle, an Allflex video offers a few alternatives such as visual ear applicator or digital EID tags. These allow the owner to track herds with traditional visual ear tags or computer software. There is also heat branding and freeze branding.

That's all I've had time to research for today. I'm sure there are internet friends out there that can add some really good advice based on the experience they have learned by raising their own cattle. Hopefully, somebody is going to assure me that I don't need to spend $9 a day on milk for two months???

So, how 'bout it? Will you share some of your experience with me?


PS, I've updated The Clan page if you want to see pictures of my gorgeous girls.


Anonymous said...


I would wait until you your family up their in Oklahoma. Get you wife and kids in a decent house. Your kinda bored now I bet, but when you clan arrives, you will have your hands full
(on that subject, maybe just purchase or rent a mobile home at first and move it to the farm until you can get a real house built on the farm)

Start with buying a few chicks for chickens raise them at first, and build a good chicken coop. Get a least one rooster and keep him separated from the hens.

In Texas we have lots of goats. Lots and lots of goats. Goats make excellent lawn mowers too. Get a few goats, they are low maintenance.

If you get a few calfs, some of the feeding and chores can be down by your kids. You kids can earn their keep and learn valuable homesteading skills they will need for their futures too. Get some of the youngest kids involved in 4H programs. You need to get them older kids qualified on the tractor and that wonderful 79' Ford Pickup truck because they got work to do. I would also make sure them kids of yours are safe working on or around any equipment (runnin' a tractor ain't like runnin a cell phone)

OJD, you will have your hands full real soon.

Tex Texan

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Hi Tex. I agree 100%. I'm not looking to get animals for a few months. I'm pretty much following the order you laid out but I think I'll start on a garden before anything else. No boredom here though. I'm working a ton of hours trying to save up the money we'll need to get everyone out to Oklahoma. I'm pushing 50 hours of overtime this week. But it will all be worth it.

I just figured I'd start asking questions about cattle now instead of waiting until the last minute. I have questions about goats too. Chickens we've already experimented with in Arizona.

Thanks for checking in.

Rob said...

I agree with Tex, but you now know who you can go to when you want to get a cow. Baby Steps. Research can be your best friend.

Anonymous said...


having raised a few hundred calves on our dairy farm as a kid, let me offer some food for thought. You can feed a calf with a bottle using a substance known as "calf starter". It is a powder that you mix with water. It has all the nutrients that the calf will need and is way cheaper than real milk. Follow the directions on the bag and you should be good.

The real challenge will be getting the calf to move away from the teat bottle to drinking out of a regular pail! After a couple of months you can start making high quality hay available to the calf and it will eventually learn to munch it. Check with the local large animal vet or local ranchers about castration of bull calves, which I recommend. De-horning is not necessary unless it will be part of a dairy herd. Hope this helps.

Old School

kim said...

backwoods home magazine has excellent articles on bottle fed calves. you might even find a neighbor with extra raw milk to share.

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Just asking questions fellas... just asking questions.

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Thanks bud. If we get one someday, it'll be just one at first. I think it will be a great learning experience for the girls.

Dave G. said...

I agree with the comments above. Suggest you get to know your local feed store manager and large animal vet and look to them for guidance. Look into the County Extension Service through OSU. They have myriad information on raising plants, animals, etc. They also coordinate 4-H Clubs around the state. If your not familiar with 4-H, it's a great program for kids and parents to get involved in some important life skills. Good luck!

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Thanks Kim. I live Backwoods Home. They picked up an article I did a few years ago about keeping a survival mindset at Disneyland.


The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Thanks Dave. I have a cousin ("Cowboy" on the blog) who has been talking with Sis about 4H. Sounds great.

Mybronco said...

Definitely agree with the comments above. You should be utilizing calf starter instead of milk. And if you do choose to use milk, talk to the area farmers and try to get actual raw milk, not processed milk from the grocery store. Once the family is settled, try to get all the kids interested in 4H and their schools Vo-Ag program. This will teach the children lessons about all kinds of livestock, and thus teach you a thing or two also. The Vo-Ag teacher will should become your best friend, he or she will provide access to equipment, feed, and medicines for your livestock that you wouldn't have otherwise without purchasing it all yourself.

Tombstone Livestock said...

For $25 these are probably "drop calves", dairies sell off bull calves as soon as they are born. I have seen them come into the auction as soon as they were born. First thing to think about did it get colostrum from it's mother? Milk replacer is much cheaper than store bought milk, if you cannot get raw milk. Bottle calves need to be fed several timea s day. They will start nibbling on hay in a few days. Over the years I have bought more than 10 "drop calves" over the years and lost 3 of them, it's hard. . Not something you want to jump into right away with kids, if something should go wrong. Also, the trip from Texas to Oklahoma will be added stress for these calves that were just pulled away from mama. I suggest you go the 4H route and start maybe with Dairy Goats, great animals the kids can handle, and they will produce milk too.
Another good source is visit your local county fairs, meet livestock breeders, 4H kids and check out what's going on in your area.

Good luck, start small, remember which animals are herd animals, meaning it's better to have more than one .... LOL, Cows, sheep, goats ......

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

I herd that... yuk yuk... Get it? LoL.
OK. Time for bed...

Anonymous said...

I'd buy 3. At least one will likely die, and it would be nice for the calf to have a friend.

Milk replacer from a bag is best and most economical. You need to plan on about 15 - 18 months of feeding before they are finished. Also, you need to castrate Asap. At this age banding works well if you don't want to cut them.

One last suggestion, especially with young girls, is don't let them become pets. First off,it's hard for kids to eat a buddy. Second, overly friendly steers can be dangerous and hurt you pretty badly just trying to play.

Good luck. Only the first weeks are hard. After that it's pretty easy.

Lamb said...

Got to agree with a lot of the previous posters. Goats are WAY easier to start with than calves! As they are herd animals never EVER try to keep just one goat. They will be miserable. They will bleat constantly. They will find holes in your fences and run away to search for another goat. Two goats yes, one goat ---no!
Also, as far as calf- raising goes. I have never had a problem getting a calf to switch from bottle to bucket. Dip your fingers in the bucket, let the calf suckle on your fingers and gradually lower their head into the bucket. Once they realize they can get way more from the bucket than from your fingers, they go for it!
I would stay away from *medicated crumbles* and other medicated feed if you intend to consume meat or milk from the animal. I raise my animals organically as I don't want to chow down on growth hormones, antibiotics and such.
There are common sense and herbal and mineral solutions to such things as scours and other ailments that affect calves and other young animals.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the comments here on calves. Tombstone is right about "drop calves". You also don't want to buy bottle calves from the livestock auction as a start. Calves aren't old enough to fight off all the nasties at the auction. Wait, know your neighbors and they can let you know if there is a local dairy you can by calves from. Or, get to know someone who raises beef cattle and offer to buy a twin calf. Sometimes the cow can't handle twins and she looses too much weight. If they are same sex calves they are breeders (2 bulls, 2 heifers). If you have any doubts the calf has had colostrum, give it a bottle of colostrum replacement. On milk the label. Medicated is ok. Why have a new calf suffer with sickness. you won't be butchering at 4 weeks old will you?? Also look for milk proteins in the label and NOT soy. Much better for them. Lamb is right on the money with training to drink from a pail. Goats are a good starter AND they will help you test your fencing. Remember there are 2 reasons for domesticated animals to want to get out of there fenced in world. Breeding and hunger. Most times it's hunger. Just be patient, and good luck. Idaho Bill

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Ya'll give some sound advice. I wondered why someone would sell calves that cheap. Now I know.

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Well, I don't know calving but I do know one thing for sure. You and Granny Miller (and other folks here) know your stuff. I sure appreciate the help.

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

It's hard for them not to think of it as pets but they've learned. We lost all 5 chickens this year and a tadpole. Last year was our Crocker Spaniel. So, they've learned about animal death. Thanks for your help.

fallingwater556 said...

Reading about your calf feeding adventure and what about milk replacer. That's what we gave our calves on the farm when I was a kid. Bought at the feed store as a powder in 50lb. bag, mix with warm water. Watch for scouers feeding milk to young calves it can dehydrate them making them very sick. You'll know by the color and smell of their stool.
Hoping to get back to the farming life.

Anonymous said...

You've gotten a lot of good information from the folks here. I grew up as a kid working with my grandparents and other neighbors on farms. If you raise and bale your own hay and grow your own feed you're ok, but if not it gets real expensive quick. And you'll never get your money out of the calf(s), even if you do your own butchering (most people have never done this like we did when I was young).

On the other hand if you don't mind the expense and are using the calf(s) as a good teaching tool for the girls it's best to follow the advise given by others; start with smaller animals; chickens, goats, etc. Then work up to a calf as part of a 4-H project. But yes don't let them make a pet out of the calf(s). We named our two black angse (my bad spelling) when the kids were litte - "beef" and "surloin" LOL!!!

Good luck in what ever animals you go with. And the girls and the whole family should have a blast!!!!!

Sean Epperson said...

Well looks like you have been given good information about bottle calves. If they are feedlot babies, then it makes it twice as hard to save them.

Anonymous said...

Sweet heavens, no! OJD, not to be mean, but you guys could not care for baby chicks! There should have been NO ammonia smell, for example. These are living creatures who are completely dependent upon you. Get your family settled in. Build your house. Spend the item really learning about taking care of animals. Find a good vet, and farmers to teach you. There will be other bottle fed calves!

The Orange Jeep Dad said...

Thanks for the opinion. The only ammonia smell we had with the chick's was in the first week when we had them in a rubber tub. Once I got the coop built everything was fine. Guess I should have clarified my time table. There will be no animals at our place (except our dogs) until we get good and settled in. Maybe 6 months to a year down the road we'll add more animals. I was just asking what folks thought about these cheap calves. For $25, I figured there had to be a catch.

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