Have you recently adopted a beautiful calf from us? Here is all the calf care information you need to know to ensure your calf remains healthy and happy.
Congratulations on adding a gorgeous calf to your family, we so appreciate that you chose to adopt from ’Til The Cows Come Home and not shop.
Calf General Care:
An important aspect about cows you might not know is that they are very social animals and love to live with others. Therefore, if you have adopted one calf you must ensure that you are giving the calf plenty of attention and affection, especially when they are young, as they tend to get lonely otherwise.
The best way to build your relationship with your new calf is to handle and familiarise the calf with yourself more and more. By doing this it will make for an easier and more enjoyable relationship between you both. For example, many calves love being brushed, so it is worthwhile heading to your local equine supplier and grabbing a vegan horse brush for your calf. While at your local equine supplier we also recommend purchasing a leather free halter to make moving your calf around or vet visits easier and less stressful for you both.
We know that feeding can be a little daunting when you are first starting out. You can choose to feed with a bottle or a calfeteria. To make the transition of feeding your calf easier, please stick to the recommended amounts on the milk replacer bag, and make sure the milk is lukewarm, and not hot to touch.
After feeding your calf will continue to nudge you looking for more milk (like they would nudge their mothers to let milk down until she tells them to stop) even though it is tempting do not feed them more than the recommended amount as this can lead to overfeeding and ultimately bloat which is a fatal illness and can kill them within hours if it occurs.
It is extremely important that calves are fed on a consistent feeding schedule and that there is an 8-hour minimum break between each feed. This is important to follow as it allows for the calf to properly digest the milk replacer. We have found that adding a dollop of probiotic enhanced coconut yoghurt to each feed is a beneficial treat as they are getting some healthy probiotics that helps with digestion. We measure out the milk replacer and then add the lukewarm water, using a whisk to ensure there are no lumps.
Once the calf has finished feeding always ensure all utensils and bottles used are washed thoroughly as bacteria can grow in them and cause the calf to become sick.
Calves should always have access to clean water, they rarely drink water at this age as they get most of their water through their milk, but it should still always be available incase dehydration occurs while you aren’t watching.
At around 2 months of age or as soon as diarrhoea begins (quite common when calves go off mother’s milk and onto formula) calves should be offered grains, such as calf starter pellets. At this stage you may need to encourage the calf to eat these by putting them in the cup of your palm and as the calf sucks on your fingers gently pour them into their mouth. If you notice that the calf is eating a large amount of the pellets you will need to re-evaluate milk feedings to ensure they are getting the right amount of food daily.
A last important aspect of the feeding procedure is that the angle of the bottle (if using a bottle to feed) is very important in order to get the milk into their correct stomach, as remember cows have many stomachs. You must hold the bottle almost completely vertical. Do not hold the bottle horizontal like you would with a human.
Here is a lovely video created by one of our foster carers for you, it shows how to feed calves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-12PNJ01Tw
Symptoms of Illness:
It is important to always monitor your calf to see for any changes in behaviour, these may be a reflection of a deeper problem.
Calves that are lethargic, laying down frequently or refuse to feed are not displaying normal behaviour and should have immediate veterinary care as illnesses like bloat can cause death in as little time as 2 hours.
If you notice your calf has watery poo’s or blood in their stool this is a sign of scours which is fairly common in young calves and is treated with daily electrolytes until the symptoms lessen. If severe the vet will recommend penicillin.
Electrolyes are never to be fed mixed in with milk replacer. It needs to be fed in addition to regular feedings. We find it best to give in the middle of the day to ensure their stomachs are fairly empty and can absorb the electrolytes faster. These electrolytes must be purchased at a rural supplies store, human grade electrolytes are not suitable.
To avoid bacteria growing in calves living space it is important to clean out all droppings daily and ensure a dry and clean bedding area.
You will see plenty of calves without shelter on farms, however, these calves are almost always with their mothers or if not, they’re going to be killed soon and thus their well-being is not a consideration. Calves need to be able to manage their own temperature when away from their mothers so a sheltered area with 3 walls and a bed of hay (non-edible hay) will help them stay comfortable through their early days.
Fencing is vital to ensure your calf is safe. We recommend that you have a penned area to ensure both safety and security of newborn calves you have adopted. Most of the calves adopted are just 3-days old and they will need to be put straight on the bottle (see the feeding instructions above). This pen will help you for the first 3-7 days in getting the calves onto the bottle and coming to you for the bottle. These calves are very large babies who are usually scared of humans, therefore, trying to chase them down on acreage can be very stressful and vigorous for you and them, having a pen prevents this potential trauma.
There are many options you can use for a pen but what’s important is that the pen is not made from barbed wire and that the pen will keep them safe. After just a few days the calves can roam the property freely and they will come back for the bottle at their own will.
Again, we would like to express our gratitude in adopting a calf from us, we hope that your new family member brings you as much happiness as you bring them. If you have any inquiries do not hesitate to contact us.
By Phoebe Wisken and Donna Wild
Edit by Luella Botteon