bottle calves for newbies
The cow’s colostrum contains important antibodies that will protect the calf from disease for the first few months of life, and so it is vital that the calf get colostrum within the first 24 hours of life. Between 0 and 24 hours the bovine gut is “open” and will absorb those antibodies. After 24 hours of life it is almost pointless to give colostrum and if the calf has not gotten colostrum yet, chances are high that keeping the calf alive will be an uphill battle for the first few months of life. Ideally the calf would get 1/2 gallon of colostrum within 2 hours after birth, and then 1/2 gallon 12 hours later.
If you use commercial colostrum, read the label! Not all commercial colostrum replacers are created equal, and that calf needs one that contains 100g of IgG. Some only contain 50g IgG and that's not enough. For the calf that does not manage to get colostrum at birth, there is a commercial plasma product containing bovine IgG that can be given IV. ID-1 from Immuno Dynamics will cost about $40 for the treatment (cost of plasma).
Feeding a bottle calf for the first few times… I’ve seen people try to stand in front of the calf and simply hold the bottle out. Note that feeding a calf is not like coaxing a puppy over for a treat. The calf has no idea what the bottle is, and your job is to show him. Back the calf into a corner and either stand to the side as shown, or straddle him and stuff the bottle in his mouth. Notice the hand below the calf’s jaw to support her head.
Look for a milk replacer designed for calves that is at least 20% protein and 20% fat, and made from real milk. Some replacers are made from soy milk and are inadequate for raising a calf.
Opinions differ on whether a bottle calf must be raised on a BOTTLE or if they can be given their milk in a bucket. Some studies have shown that the action of nursing causes the milk to be sent directly to the abomasum where the milk is best digested, whereas simply drinking from a bucket results in the milk going to the (currently undeveloped) rumen. Because of this, some people choose to bottle feed calves from birth to weaning. It is worth noting, however, that dairies bucket feed all calves, and it is done with no ill effects to the calf. In fact, most dairy heifers are big enough to breed as 12-14 month olds so bucket feeding evidently didn’t stunt their growth.
Grain is essential for raising bottle calves once they're weaned, and they need to stay on grain until they’re at least 400-500lbs and their rumen is big enough it can hold enough grass/hay to provide them with enough nutrition for growth. If bottle calves are not properly fed they will look “potbellied” and will be smaller than they should be for their age. A bottle calf really needs 2-2.5% of their body weight in grain that is at least 14-16% protein on a daily basis. Check the labels at your local feed store and try to find a specific “calf starter” for the first few months of the calf’s life.
mild case... she's in good condition, but slightly potbellied
The calf needs to be eating at least 2% of their body weight in grain before they can be weaned – otherwise they will not be getting adequate nutrition from their feed and will become stunted and potbellied.
Opinions also differ on when to feed hay to bottle calves. Some don’t introduce hay until after weaning so that the calf will learn to eat grain, since that is what will provide the most nutritionally for the calf. Others introduce hay right away to help develop the rumen (stemmy hay is ideal for kick-starting the rumen)… IMO it is simply a matter of preference as I’ve seen it done successfully both ways.
“Scours” is the cattleman’s term for diarrhea.
It can be caused by anything from too much milk, to bacteria (ie. ecoli), to viruses (ie. rotavirus) to protozoa (ie crypto). Regardless of what caused it, the most important thing in a scours case is supportive therapy (fluids, electrolytes, etc.). Almost any antibiotic labeled for cattle is acceptable for treating scours. Preferred antibiotics are oxytetracycline 200, Spectam, sulfas (Sustain III or SMZs), terramycin, and occasionally penicillin, Baytril, Excenel… the only one I wouldn’t recommend is Nuflor, since diarrhea is a side effect of using Nuflor, and is not a good idea for a calf that’s already scouring. (Also note that while gentamicin is often effective against scours, it is also not legal for cattle use and it has an 18-24 month slaughter withdrawal. Don't use it!)
Dehydrated calf… note sunken-in eyes
Note that dehydration doesn’t become evident until the animal has lost about 6% of their body weight in fluids, and kidney failure sets in around 11-12% loss. The calf above is severely dehydrated and needs to be on IV fluids. (For that matter, any scouring, recumbent –down – calf needs to be on IV fluids.)
Fluids can be given IV, SC, or orally (the preferred method unless the calf is down and cannot get up, then one really needs to run an IV). Note that if giving fluids IV or SC, you need to get saline solution or lactated ringers from your vet – don’t use plain water! Hopefully that’s a no-brainer but I feel obligated to mention it.
IVs are easiest if the calf is placed on its side (not too hard on a recumbent calf), the area is shaved and then doused with a good dose of rubbing alcohol -- it makes the vein stand up and it's much easier to see and hit with the needle, especially on a dehydrated animal. Sometimes it's easier to find the vein if you have a syringe attached to the needle and a couple cc's of dex or a similar relatively-harmless substance in the syringe so you can pull back. Make sure your saline solution/lactated ringers are at body temperature.
Electrolytes are very important as the calf loses a LOT of them when scouring. Anything that has dextrose, sodium chloride (salt), and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) can be used. It is possible to make homemade electrolytes, but is not ideal… especially sugar or corn syrup is not easily digested in the calf and can cause more scouring. Spend the money and buy the real stuff at your feed store or vet clinic that is actually designed for calves.
If you assume a scouring calf has lost 10% of its body weight, for 90lb calf that's 9lbs of fluid that need to be replaced before the calf is even back to "normal." A gallon of water weighs around 8.35lbs, so that's over a gallon that calf has lost, and if you're giving fluids orally, a lot of that won't be absorbed in a scouring calf. The goal in cases of scours is to make sure fluid input exceeds fluid output. One of the main causes of death in scouring calves is simple dehydration.
I did discover something new recently; an oral solution called “Double A solution” (my vet says it can also be given IV) and contains electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. I've given it orally, SC, and IV and I feel it’s equivalent or better than the powder stuff the feed stores carry. I've been pleased with the results I've seen after giving it to calves.
For anyone interested in reading more about scours and treatment, there was a really good lecture given in one of my classes about it, class notes here: http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/vetsci/Course ... _Notes.htm
Calf's normal rectal temperature is 102.5'F.
Navel ill/joint ill is another common problem seen in calves within the first few weeks of life. Bacteria in the environment can enter the calf's blood stream through the fresh, broken umbilical cord. They can localize in joints (joint ill) or at the navel (navel ill) and cause an infection. Both require antibiotic treatment. Navel ill generally isn't too complicated to treat, joint ill generally is tough and prognosis is poor. Any calf in the first few weeks of life that is limping should be suspected of having joint ill, check for heat and swelling in legs. Knees tend to be a common place for joint ill. Consult with your vet.
Vaccinations... common question. Opinions differ on this one too. Maternal antibodies from the colostrum interfere with attempts to vaccinate the calf, and its own immune system isn't in top working order yet. Generally accepted opinion is to wait until 2-3 months before vaccinating. Much sooner than that and you're really just wasting your money. Won't hurt the calf, but probably won't do a bit of good either!
Common things to vaccinate against are:
BVD types I and II, IBR, BRSV, PI3
5 strains including hardjo
7 or 8-way clostridial including blackleg
...and depending on location, often pinkeye, tetanus, and/or redwater too. Some people also vaccinate for pneumonia (pasturella, etc), footrot, neospora, scours (in calves), but those are less common vaccines. Consult with your vet about what might be needed in your area.
Brucellosis (bangs) is required in some states (heifers only!) -- check with your vet.
Remember to booster all vaccines as recommended on the label!!!
Last update 6/23/10