and other issues. A calf who is nursing her mama is in the ideal situation to get the best possible nourishment (assuming Mama is healthy and well-fed). Once you start bottle-feeding a calf, you have to think about her nutritional needs. It’s particularly important in the case of a bottle baby you’re raising to be a family milk cow. We ask a lot of our milk cows and they need to be in tiptop shape to meet our demands. Violet is half Jersey (a dairy breed) and half Angus (a beef breed). On the other hand, her paternal grandmother, Strawberry, is a very heavy milker for a beef cow. Since she has the genetics, we want to make sure that everything we do promotes Violet’s nutritional status.
Many people underfeed their bovine bottle babies, in my opinion. The current professional recommendation is to feed 10 percent of a calf’s weight. Since milk weighs eight pounds to the gallon, that works out to be about one pint for every 10 pounds of body weight. Violet made it abundantly clear that she wanted MORE. On the other hand (there’s always an other hand in ranching and sometimes three or four), overfeeding milk can give calves diarrhea. That means keeping a close eye on her poop and cutting back if it looks like she’s getting loose stools. One thing that makes Violet different from a full Jersey is that she has more muscle mass and is heavier than a Jersey would be at the same age. She probably needs more chow than a full Jersey would.
So I’ve been gradually increasing her feeding; it’s always much better to keep a calf on the gain than to have them plateau or lose weight and try to get them gaining again. We’re currently up to two gallons of homemade formula a day (two feedings – one morning, one night), which seems to be about right. I’ve used the last of the Maybelle milk and bought some raw milk from the small cow share dairy about 45 miles south of us. Ideally, I would like to keep bottle feeding her at least six months. The other thing about bottle feeding is that you want them to work for that milk – lengthy suckling makes them produce saliva, which helps them digest the milk fat. It also strengthens the jaw muscles, which will help them be better grazers.
At this stage (coming up on five weeks), calves will nibble a bit at hay and sometimes try grain, but they can’t get enough nourishment to go without their milk. This is also when they try tasting things like minerals, salt and kelp. Calves are like babies – they explore their world with their mouths. By making sure we have a little bit of all these things around for her to taste, we’re helping to introduce her to the world of food outside of milk. If she were in the herd, she’d learn it from her mama or the other cows, but that’s not an option – if I turn her loose she’s at risk from the other animals and predators.
Then there are all the other things she needs to learn, like don’t butt the bottle holder after you finish nursing. You can’t stop them from butting during nursing; it’s part of what make a cow let down her milk and is instinctive. So we’re having lessons about don’t twine yourself around the nursemaid like a very large cat, and when you have a halter on and the nursemaid pulls it, you’re supposed to follow along. She hasn’t had her first full-fledged tantrum yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time…