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Advise needed on feeding a week old calf

Jenny and Stephen
by Jenny and Stephen

Hi All

We have a Dexter cow who didn`t pass her 2nd TB test ( she`s an Inconclusive Reactor) and as she`s due to calve at the end of the month, we are allowed to keep her until the calf is a week old before sending her for slaughter.

This is our first TB problem ever, and now we`ve got our heads around the fact that she has to go, we could do with some advise on how to look after the calf.

There seems to be a bewildereing variety of calf replacement milk powder out there!


last edited on
by HarmonyHerd

Sorry to hear about the TB.  Heartbreaking, isnt it?  Baby calves are very prone to tummy upsets and pneumonia. Most milk powders are much of a muchness, some are easier to mix and dont "clump" and many have vitamins added which is a good thing.  Do not be tempted to alter the mix or feed more than advised, no matter how much the little thing bawls and looks at you with liquid eyes!  I used to start them off on a bottle, as this is supposed to be easier on their stomachs, with not so much air to froth inside them, and gradually get them on a bucket. Bucket training a calf is a good test of patience, as they butt the bucket into your various soft parts, but after much finger sucking and dipping into the bucket, they generally get the idea.

Pneumonia is a problem, and can depend on the weather with warmish damp weather a particular problem.  Not a lot you can do about the weather, but a draft free but airy pen is essential, with a dry bed of straw.  The colostrum will give some immunity for a while, but just stand and look at the calf breathing, so you know what it should look like and then get advice if this alters.  Calves go down quickly, but can pick up quickly too.  Calves will pick at good hay and pellets fairly early. 

Calf poo has dimensions all of its own.  It will stick anything to anything, does not wash out easily, can be almost luminous yellow and does not smell particularly pleasant.  Keep an eye on it - horizontal poo is not good! When a calf has scours, the air in the shed shimmers. Again, if you see this, get advice immediately.

I hope I have not worried you, but baby calves are quite delicate.  Good food, good housing and a bit of observation is all that is needed.  A warning though - you will fall in love with it, but when it grows a bit and chases you round the pen, bouncing and butting you, you will fall out of love!

Again, sorry about the TB, and good luck with the calf.  Let us know how it goes.

Jenny and Stephen
by Jenny and Stephen

Thanks for all the brilliant advise Harmony, starting to feel that maybe I will be able to cope!

Just thankful that at least they can have a week together.


by crazysheep

Volac blossom is an excellent milk replacer, and calves do very well on it. Really sorry to hear of your situation, here's hoping a vaccine will be out there soon (unfortunately not soon enough).

by Yernagates

Don't forget you can also feed whole milk bought from the shop.

In fact I doubt this will be practical in your particular case, as you need an awful lot of milk to rear a calf so it works out expensive (even at the utterly ridiculous low price of milk), but we've found it good for keeping a calf going for a few days, or for supplementing a cow or ewe who does not have enough.  We've found that it leads to fewer scouring problems than substitute, as well as being less bother.  Might be worth starting with this and gradually changing to substitute.

The other thing that's sometimes possible is to foster the calf onto another cow (supposing of course that you have one available, of suitable disposition and with sufficient milk).  We've done this quite a few times with our British Whites.  Sometimes they have part-fostered – for example, we had a sick cow who dried up, and we kept her and her calf with a good milky cow – the milky one fed both calves, and after a month or so the sick cow recovered, came back into milk and took her own calf back.  On another occasion a cow had grass-staggers and we had to leave her calf in the field with the cow's own mother, who fed the deserted calf as well as her own until the recovered cow was returned a day or two later.  And of course if a cow loses her calf she may accept an orphan as her own.

If you do have other cows with similarly-aged calves and plenty of milk, it's certainly worth keeping your orphan in the field with them, in case any of the cows are willing to take him on (not in a small space though, as the calf may get beaten up if it can't get away).  Sometimes an orphan will start stealing milk from between the hind legs while another calf is feeding, and the mother may then decide to tolerate this on a regular basis.  Could save you a lot of bottle feeding!  (Or does your calf have to be TB-tested before he's allowed back with the others?)

Good luck!

by dixie
Oh my that brought me to tears, sorry am no help but I really hope it works out for you and the calf x
Jenny and Stephen
by Jenny and Stephen

Thanks for that Yearnagates, I had no idea that ordinary shop bought milk could be fed to the calves...I always assumed too much had been taken out in the pasturising. Thats a really good tip for the future.

The Animal Health vet said that I could put the calf in with the herd when its Mum has gone,without the need of testing. I have a couple of calves in the herd at the moment, 2 were born in October and 2 in January, also have 1 due to calve in late March.

Dexters are usually quite good at having plenty of milk, so it might just be possible for it to `pinch` some milk from one or another of the Mums,difficulty I guess would be knowing if it was getting enough....all a bit of a waiting and watching game, and having alternatives at hand just in case. 

Animals certainly keep you guessing...never a dull moment!


by FolkOnTheFarm

Could you freeze some of the milk from your cow before she goes?  The longer your calf can have its own mother's milk the better I would say.

Also, I would keep your calf on the bottle until weaning.  I can't remember the whole reason why, but something about the sucking and stretching of the neck helps something to develop to aid digestion and when you think about it, bucket feeding is so unnatural.

I don't have to hand rear very often, but the last time I did it I used those big plastic pop bottles, got through a lot, but they didn't cost anything.  You can get something more robust from a farm suppliers though.

Sorry about the TB problem.  We had an inconclusive but luckily was fine on the next test. Good luck with your calf.

Folk On The Farm promoting the folk arts and all things rural.
by khajou

Good luck with your calf.

It makes a mockery of the whole testing of cattle for bTB. The calf has been 'drinking' the milk from an 'infected' cow - the cow is sent to the slaughterhouse (for human consumption), yet the calf is allowed to live.

Hope your next test has happier results.

Jenny and Stephen
by Jenny and Stephen

Thanks for the good wishes all, Rachel had a lovely heifer calf on Sunday, we`re calling her Imogen...we are on the I`s this year and have so far had an Isabella and Iris, so we are doing well for girls.

Picked up a bucket that hangs on a gate/hurdle with a teat attached, thought it made good sense as I can hang it at the right height where the calf would expect to find the udder. Also got some Volac milk powder,and collected a free mixing kit with the first bag which was a thermometer, whisk and mixing bucket...very handy.

Just waiting now for the phone call from the haulier :(


by dixie

Hows the calf getting on? Im guessing mum has 'gone' nowSad
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