While plenty of baby calves are able to meet their nutritional needs through their mother, it’s common to come across calves who have been rejected by or separated f rom their mother. When this happens, it’s necessary to bottle-feed the calf to ensure it receives the proper nutrients.

If you’re searching for ways to grow your herd, raising a bottle-fed calf is a great alternative to purchasing older cattle. Bottle-feeding takes time, effort and dedication, but it is well worth it. It costs significantly less to buy a calf, the bottle-feeding stage is over extremely quickly, and bottle-fed calves often grow up into gentle, friendly and companionable adults.

Bottle-feeding isn’t rocket science, but it does have some guidelines. We’ll lay them all out below so that you can learn the best practices of bottle-feeding calves for them to grow up healthy, strong and happy.

How Often Do Newborn Calve Drink?

When nursing from their mothers, young calves will drink between 7 to 10 times a day, though their meals will be fairly small.

If you’re thinking that there’s no way you can do so many feedings every day, that’s OK! Bottle-fed calves only require 2 to 3 feedings a day — and that’s a much more manageable number. Your bottle-fed calf should only need two bottles as long as they’re kept warm and healthy. If they begin to lose weight or if it is cold, add an extra bottle to help them thrive.

Young calves require routine, so it is important to develop a feeding schedule right away and then stick to it. If you need to make any changes to your calves diet — such as adding new foods or reducing their milk replacer intake — do so gradually over the course of a week.

The Main Danger of Overfeeding a Newborn Calf

Bottle-fed calves often don’t know when to stop eating, making it easy to overfeed them. It’s imperative to stick to your feeding schedule to ensure your calf does not over drink! Not only is over drinking expensive, but it can also be dangerous — even deadly — for your calf.

Overfeeding your calf can result in scours, a type of cattlediarrhoea, which can quickly cause dehydration, lethargy, low body temperature and eventually death.

The key to treating scours is to do so as quickly as possible. Scours can often be treated with electrolyte mix, but these will only work if you take action before it’s too late. Select an isotonic electrolyte for best results.

While bottle-feeding your calf, be sure to monitor their for extremely loose, discoloured or bloody stool. If your calf develops scours or you notice something amiss, don’t hesitate to call the vet right away.

Tools Needed to Bottle-Feed Calves

There are a few items you’ll need to bottle-feed your calf correctly. All are relatively inexpensive and easy to find at most feed stores.

  • Bottles and nipples. Calf bottles usually come in 2 liter measurements, the size of a standard meal. Nipples come in a variety of sizes and flows. Though most calves will drink from standard sizes without a problem, you may have to test a few for more picky drinkers.
  • Thermometer. A thermometer will help you measure water temperature to ensure it is hot enough for the fats in the milk replacer to dissolve properly, but not too hot to cause the proteins to separate or to burn the calf.
  • Whisk or mixer. A cheap whisk or other mixers will help you easily combine the water and mixer to ensure a smooth consistency.
  • Mixing containers or buckets. Mixing containers or buckets with spouts will make pouring easier and less messy. And because it’s important to measure correctly, we recommend using a container with graduated measurements to ensure you’re always feeding the calf a consistent amount.
  • Milk replacer. You’ll find many different types of milk replacer on the market, including medicated and non-medicated options. Your chosen milk replacer should come with clear instructions on how much to feed your calf. Make sure to follow these instructions as the amount of milk replacer to use per feeding may vary from brand to brand.

It’s incredibly important to keep your tools clean, sanitised and dry when you’re not using them. Bacteria love the sugar content and temperature of milk and milk replacer and so will grow quickly on dirty containers, nipples, mixing buckets and other equipment. Always clean and sanitise your bottle-feeding tools immediately after use to keep your calf healthy and stop the spread of bacteria to the rest of your herd.

How to Bottle-Feed a Calf in 8 Simple Steps

Now that you know how often to feed and the tools needed for a bottle feed, it’s time to learn the best way to bottle-feed! While it may take a few tries to perfect your system, bottle-feeding is actually fairly easy and quick.

  1. Thoroughly wash your hands and gather your clean, sanitised and dry tools.
  2. Add half of the total amount of cleanwater to the mixing bucket or container, making sure that the temperature is between 40 to 50 degrees Celsius.
  3. Weigh out the proper amount of calf milk replacer powder and add to the mixing container.
  4. Stir for 1 to 3 minutes until the mixture is properly combined. There shouldn’t be any floating powder or spots when mixed thoroughly.
  5. Add the remaining clean water and mix again. The final temperature should be around 40 to 42 degrees Celsius when fed to the calf.
  6. Transfer the made-up liquid milk to the bottle and snap on the nipple.
  7. Feed the calf! Young calves may instinctually try to head-butt your hand or the bottle, so be sure to hold the bottle steady while feeding.
  8. Once the calf is done feeding, thoroughly clean, sanitise and air-dry all of your feeding tools. Store them in a clean and convenient location to facilitate the next feeding.

What Should I Feed a Bottle-Fed Calf?

Your bottle-fed calf will need a variety of foods for a healthy, wholesome diet.

If you receive your calf the day they’re born, their first feeding should be colostrum or a colostrum replacement. Colostrum is the first milk a nursing cow produces and is rich in antibodies, and other necessary bioactive elements that will protect the newborn calf from sickness and infections.

After the initial colostrum feeding, calves should be fed up to 2 liters of milk replacer two to three times a day. This will continue until the calf is at least 8-12 weeks old. As the calf grows, you can begin to supplement milk replacer feedings with hay, calf pellets, and pasture. Be sure to constantly provide the calf with clean water.

Choosing the right milk replacer is essential to your calves’ health and growth. It is important to note that most healthy calves  reared in small numbers do not need a medicated milk replacer. For intensive calf-rearing operations where the risk of disease is often high, use a medicated milk replacers for best results. Avoid rearing calves from saleyards. Interested in supplements for your livestock? Look for high-quality, affordable and fortified formulas such as ProviCo Rural’s formulas to ensure your calf gets the best start in life.