Bottle-Calves: 5 Survival Tips

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There are few things as adorable as a bottle-baby...a bottle-calf, that is.

It is hard to find a cow as sweet, affectionate and people loving as a former bottle-calf.  The little critters are hand-raised, loved and sometimes feel more like the family dog than the family heffer.  If they weren't so big and bouncy, I'm pretty sure they would probably be lounging in living rooms everywhere.

These adorable little guys and gals have somehow ended up as orphans.

  • Some have lost their mommies.
  • Some have ended up at a sale barn.
  • Some have been separated from mamma so the dairy can have the milk.

There are calves everywhere looking for a good home.

If you find yourself face to face with an orphan-calf you may want to say, "YES!" to the little fellow.

Why You Should Consider a Bottle Calf

  • Bottle feeding is a great way to start your own herd
  • It is an excellent way to obtain your own non-GMO, Organic, pastured beef (on the cheap)
  • Bottle calves will not only become future milk and beef cows they will also be your companion and friend
  • Bottle babies will give you joy and love every day
  • You won't believe how quickly they grow; before you know it you'll be calling the A-I (Artificial Insemination) Technician for breeding or sending them off to become hamburgers.Blog_2-1.jpg

5 Survival Tips for Bottle Feeding

1.  Feeding Schedule

Most calves only need 2-3 bottles a day.  You won't have to worry about middle of the night feedings or early morning waking. Bottle calves eat during the day and sleep at night.

It is a pretty simple process:

  • Feed a bottle 2-3 times a day.  They will only need 2 bottles a day if he/she is healthy and the weather is nice.  If it's particularly cold, or your calf isn't gaining weight, 3 bottles will do.Calf_Manna_Performance_Supplement_10_lb_front-1.jpg
  • Watch for scours (more on that in a minute)
  • Provide pasture, water, forage (after weaning is most typical), good quality hay, and a clean environment
  • Provide a free-choice calf-starter like Calf Manna by MannaPro (if desired)
  • Offer a good, mineral program

2.  Non-medicated Milk Replacer

Every farm store within 45 miles has medicated, milk replacer.  Non-medicated can be a little more challenging to find.

Manna Pro Nurseall Milk ReplacerHealthy animals do not need medicated milk replacer.  I want to avoid the use of unnecessary medications and antibiotics.  Using medicated products for healthy animals can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Additionally, just as they do in people, antibiotics remove good bacteria from the gut.  When a healthy animal is given un-needed antibiotics it can cause imbalances and problems.  It can even make a well animal sick.

In order to keep our society and animals healthier be sure to consider non-medicated milk replacer, like Nurseall from MannaPro.

3. Scours

I'm pretty sure our bottle-calves would literally eat themselves to death if given the opportunity.  It's called calf scours or scouring.

Calf Scours is basically baby-cow diarrhea.  It is dangerous and can be fatal.  Be sure to watch your bottle-calves closely (especially their stools) to be sure everyone is healthy.blog_2_-_2.jpg

If your bottle calf has access to a lactating dairy cow you could have a higher probability of over-feeding.  Some mama cows will be happy to, "adopt" your new calf.  

Even when our calves are being well fed (3 bottles a day) they may still run to the milk cows in search of a free meal.  Don't count on a full belly to tell your little guy to stop eating.  MannaPro has a NEW product that supports digestive upset: Calf CareCalf Care 1lb.jpg

If you suspect calf scouring in your herd contact your veterinarian.  Scours can be dangerous for calves (especially very young ones) and needs to be treated.

4. Fences are Friends

If you have ever watched a calf nurse from a mama cow you probably saw him (or her) banging their head into the udder.  This is normal behavior that stimulates the udder to 'let down' additional milk for the hungry calf.  This head-butting doesn't hurt the mama cow.

Head-butting during bottle feeding can, however, be annoying.blog_2_-_3.jpg

Calves don't seem realize that head-butting the bottle will not make the milk come out any faster, nor will it make any more milk appear.  You may find it helpful to position yourself on the other side of a gate or fence while feeding.  This can minimize the head-butting. 

5. When the bottle is empty - make your exit... Quick.

When the bottle is empty and feeding time is over give your little guy (or gal) a scratch, pat and tell them they are adorable- then you may need to escape - fast.  Especially if you did not listen to tip #4 and are in the same field with him (or her).


Feeding my little, bottle calves can be the highlight of my day.  They are so excited.  They greet me with the sweetest, "Moooo" you've ever heard.  They love their bottles and have the enthusiasm of a puppy.  Calves may be the cutest animal in the world.

Unless it's raining, pouring, sleeting, or icing outside, then it's not as fun.  The calves are just as adorable, grateful and spunky, but I am not as enthusiastic about the whole thing.

This is why you may need to run after feeding them their bottle.

As soon as our calves finish their bottles they immediately start looking for an udder.  If a lactating dairy animal isn't in plain sight the calves may turn on the person holding the bottle.

Nudging, bumping, smearing their soaking wet, milky, slobbery heads all over the front and back of my jeans trying to find an udder.

Bang.  Nudge.  Bump.  "There's got to be one here somewhere."

"No, Norman," (that's the calf), "I don't have an udder."

Raising bottle-babies is a fun adventure.  If you have always wanted to get into the cattle business but get indigestion when you see cattle prices, a bottle calf may just fit the bill.  It's probably one of the easiest, most inexpensive ways to get into the cattle business.

Raising bottle calves will not only get you a herd 'on the cheap,' you'll also make some great memories.blog_2_-_5.jpg

If you're worried about all those bottles you'll have to make, don't let that stop you.  Before you know it they'll be all grown up eating pasture and hay and you'll be looking for a new baby. 

The next time you find yourself at a sale barn or animal auction or a friends house, and there's a calf who needs a good home, consider saying, "Yes!" Raising calves is fun, rewarding and simple.

Learn More About Calf Care

Candice Johns

Candice Johns

Candi has spent many years growing and striving toward a more self-sufficient life. She grows vegetables, kills chickens, swims with pigs, milks a cow, and loves anything homesteading. She lives out in the country with her husband and 4 awesome children. She likes doing things the old fashioned way.


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