Feeding an orphaned calf | Living the Country Life

Feeding an orphaned calf

If you have an orphaned calf, you need to take immediate action to make sure it gets the proper nutrition. The first feeding must be colostrum. After that, whole milk from a bottle works best until the calf can drink from a bucket.

Radio interview source: Dr. Larry Hawkins, Veterinarian, Bayer Animal Health

Listen here: Feeding an orphaned calf

Most newborn calves nurse from their mothers without a hitch. Unfortunately some become orphaned or are rejected by their mothers. You'll have to step in to be sure they get the immediate nutrition they need from colostrum. Colostrum provides the necessary antibodies to help the calf fight disease.

Veterinarian Larry Hawkins says research shows that weaned beef calves that did not get adequate colostrum are three-times more likely to get sick with pneumonia than calves that had colostrum immediately after birth. The key is to get the colostrum into the calf within the first six hours of life, or its ability to absorb the antibodies decreases rapidly.

"If you lose a cow or you've bought a calf that's less than six hours old, we need to know if it had colostrum," says Hawkins. "There are some supplements available that one can purchase at most farm stores, and those would be a second choice to cow's milk, but certainly better than just starting on regular milk replacer at that point. You've got to have that colostrum."

Hawkins says the next food should be a high quality milk replacer that has plenty of fat and protein, which is important for growth.

Offer the calf his meals from a bottle. Twice a day is usually sufficient. Calves can also be trained to drink from a bucket. Dip two fingers into the milk, and put them in the calf's mouth. When he starts to suck, gently lower his mouth into the bucket, but be sure his nostrils stay above the liquid. It might take a few times for the calf to catch on.

Start weaning the calf from the milk when he's from three to six weeks old, and transition him to solid, high-protein feed and pasture.

Suggested websites:


Caring for The Ophaned or Abandoned Calf

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