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How Often Do You Bottle Feed Newborn Calves?

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Many ranchers remove calves from their mothers at birth and bottle-feed them. This practice decreases disease and death among young cows that are often abandoned by their mothers or suckle on dirty teats. If you decide to separate your calves, make sure they are properly fed. There are several schools of thought regarding frequency of feedings. Use your best judgment to ensure you raise healthy calves.

Once a Day

Some farmers have adopted the method of bottle feeding young calves once per day. A concentrated milk-replacement formula provides less volume, but is nutrient-dense. Calves fed concentrated formula consume 2 to 3 liters per day, compared to 6 or more liters with standard milk replacer. This method helps the calf’s rumen develop quicker so he can eat solid food at an earlier age. Cows possesses four stomachs—the rumen, abomasum, reticulum and omasum. The abomasum is the only portion of the stomach functioning in a newborn calf, restricting him to a liquid only diet until 10 to 12 weeks of age. Feeding once a day reduces labor but may cause digestive upset or bloating.

Breakfast and Dinner is Served

Twice a day feeding is a common practice among cattlemen. Calves should consume 8 to 10 percent of their body weight daily. Divide your calf’s meals between morning and evening, feeding an equal amount each time—between 4 and 5 percent of his body weight. If your newborn calf weighs 25 lbs, he should receive 2.5 liters of milk daily or 1.25 liters at each feeding.

The More the Merrier

Some cattlemen recommend bottle feeding a calf three to four times per day. Consuming small, frequent meals enables a calf to better absorb nutrients. Mix 0.25 lbs of milk replacers with 1.5 quarts of water if you are feeding four times daily. Mix 0.33 lbs of milk replacer with the same amount of water if you are only able to offer food three times per day. Diarrhea is the number one concern with newborn calves. This condition often leads to dehydration. Frequent feedings provide a calf with greater water intake, preventing dehydration during diarrhea. The trend toward frequent feedings is rising in popularity. The National Animal Health Monitoring System conducted a study in 2007, discovering that 5.4 percent of cattleman fed three times per day. In 2010, a nationwide survey conducted by Merck Animal Health revealed that the number had risen to 8 percent.

Nature's Way

If you do not have time to worry about feedings and milk replacer, allow the calf to stay with his mother. A newborn calf will nurse every three to four hours or an average of 7 to 10 times daily. Calves consume 1 to 2 pints of milk during each nursing. Keep a close eye on a calf left in his mother’s care. Watch for signs of illness, especially diarrhea. Other cows may kick or bully the calf. Separate the calf and his mother from the rest of the herd if this occurs.