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Raising bucket calves

Bucket calves are a good choice for a 4-H or FFA project

At my county fair, raising bucket calves is a popular program and gets kids interested in livestock. The calves are usually purchased when they’re 1-to-10 days old from dairy or beef producers. They are orphans, or sold for other reasons.

Duane Lienemann is an extension educator at the University of Nebraska. He says if you get a calf right after it’s born, its first meal has to be colostrum.

"You’ve got to have it if you want that calf to stay healthy and be healthy because the colostrum contains antibodies that prevent the diseases that normally hit young calves. And other thing you want to do is, a lot of times people will give a simple injection of vitamins, most common are vitamins D, A, and E," says Lienemann. "They help the newborn calf get a good start in life."

The calves are usually fed from a bottle, or a bucket with a nipple, and eventually trained to drink from a bucket – which is where the term “bucket calf” comes from. They should be kept in a pen sheltered from weather with clean, comfortable bedding. If you have more than one calf, keep them in separate pens. This makes it easier to feed and prevents disease transmission.

Between feeding, grooming, and taming, Lienemann says kids learn valuable lessons and get a good taste of what it’s like to take care of livestock.

"Number one, they’re a fun project. That calf is dependent on the owner or the young person, and they become a pet which is kind of nice because it’s reciprocated," says Lienemann. "They’ll come running to the young person either for its milk or maybe for grain later on, and of course they love to be played with."

Depending on your goals for the animal, it can be a short-term project beginning with the calf born in February or March, and ending at the county fair in the summer.

Learn more:

Help your child choose his or her first bucket calf

Tips for raising a bucket calf including information on housing, feeding, and general medical care.

Here's a video with tips on teaching the calf to drink from a bucket

Listen here to the radio mp3

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