How to Bottle Feed a Baby Calf
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How to Bottle Feed a Baby Calf

How to bottle feed a calf. How to care for an orphaned calf. How to care for a baby cow. What to feed a calf. Can a calf drink milk? How to look after a calf that needs to be bottle fed? When can I wean a bottle fed calf? How much milk does my bottle baby calf need to drink? What is colostrum and why do baby animals need it?

Sometimes a cow does not care for a calf, or the cow dies in delivery and you must care for the calf. On the dairy farm calves are often taken from their mother at a young age so more milk may be collected from her. In any case if you have found yourself with a calf you must feed this article is designed to get you started.


Colostrum is a mother's first milk. It contains antibodies. If the calf was able to drink from its mother it already got some, otherwise you may need to milk the cow, or buy colostrum from a veterinarian, or livestock feed store. It can be purchased in powder form. If you have another cow that has calved in the last few hours, you can milk it for colostrum as well. Colostrum does not have to be the calf's first drink, as long as it gets some within 12 hours.

Colostrum should be fed warm, but not too hot. You can give two feedings of colostrum, it is thick and yummy and the calf should show interest in drinking it.

How Often to Feed the Calf

For the first 24 hours the calf should be fed ever 6 hours. Until it is a week of age it should be then fed 3 times a day, and after it is a week old, if it is doing well, it can be fed twice a day.

How to Bottle Feed a Calf

You can buy plastic bottles and nipples from a livestock feed store. If you have several bred heifers it is always a good idea to keep a few on hand before calving time just in case.

If the calf did not drink from its mother's udder at all it will have an easier time learning to accept the bottle.

Straddle the calf and back it into a corner, hold the bottle at a tilt to allow milk to flow into the calf's mouth and insert the nipple into its mouth. You may have to use your thumb and finger to pry open the calf's mouth since it will not understand that you are trying to feed it.

Once it has learned how to drink from the bottle (after 2 - 3 lessons) it should not need holding this way and will drink freely on its own.

photo source

What to Feed the Calf

As mentioned a newborn calf needs colostrum, after that it can be fed whole milk from the cow, or cow replacement formula. Do not feed the calf pasteurized milk from the store. The milk needs to be warm, this will be more natural for them to drink, and will help kept them warm. Do not make it too hot or you may damage some of the proteins.

Cow milk replacement formula may be purchased in powdered form from a livestock supply store. Try to select one with at least 22% protein and at least 14% fat. Mix according to instructions on the bag.

How Much to Feed a Calf

The calf should be getting about 1 pound (1 pint) of milk for every 10 pounds it weighs. Use caution not to over feed your calf as you may cause scours (diarrhea).

The calf will also be able to eat hay after it is a few days old so should have a hay feeder. It will prefer leafy hay. It can also get a small amount of grain fed twice a day. The calf also needs fresh water at all times.

Pail Feeding

Some people find it easier to feed the calf from a pail that has a nipple attached. The calf still needs to learn how to drink from a bottle but can be switched to the pail soon after. Pail feeding requires less work, the pail can be hooked up so the calf can drink and nobody needs to hold a bottle.

Other Reading

How Cows Give Birth

Note that if you have any problems with your calf, or health concerns, please contact a veterinarian.

You can start to wean the calf as early as 10 weeks, 12 -16 is better.  Make sure it is eating a good grain ration, and other foods first, and that it is thriving.

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Comments (3)

I have seen this done and wanted to feed that calf. I was permitted to do, do they suck firmly. I had to hold the bottle with 2 hands so it did not leave me. thank you for the memories I got while reading this.

Thanks Brenda for this nice write on feeding a calf. Voted. Please consider me. Paulose Varghese

Nice and very useful information . . . voted up