Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bottle Calf 101

I am friends with Jill at Prairie Homestead.  She asked me to be a guest blogger for her (hooray!), so I compiled this story from blog postings over the last year as we raised a bottle calf. 

If you've been following along for a while, you might want to just skip to the end for our TOP 5 TIPS for RAISING a BOTTLE CALF.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Have you heard the saying, "Be careful what you wish for?"
I should edit that to, "Be careful what you mention to a farmer!"

Early in December (2012) I mentioned to a new farmer friend that we might want to raise a bottle calf this year for beef.  Of course I was speaking way ahead of being ready for said bottle calf and truly had no thought of this happening until MUCH later in 2013.

So guess who calls on December 31?!

This farmer had a cow that had delivered twins and was rejecting the female calf.  He was taking care of the calf that night but REALLY wanted someone else to take her the next day.  He reminded me that she would be sterile due to twin pregnancy with male/female combo.  A little research tells me that the female from this set of twins is sterile 92% of the time.  In other words, she is destined to be a beef cow.

I battled the pro's and con's all night.  I tend to work out dilemmas while I sleep.  When I got up I was certain the correct answer was "no" since we simply weren't ready, not to mention It's WINTER!

Then I went outside for chores.  The sun was bright and glorious.  I could sense God's hope and blessing.

When next I talked with the farmer, I said "yes".  He didn't waste any time bringing her and a bottle over to me.  She wasn't as vigorous as I had hoped when she arrived, but she was ok.  She had just been fed, so we snuggled her into a stall to rest for about an hour.

When I went to feed her, she was chilled and very weak.  She couldn't stand up or drink from the bottle. 

All my medical background and Mommy instincts kicked in. 

I picked her up and took her directly into the house.  We set up our ICU in the laundry room (which just happens to be my sewing nook, too!)  We warmed up hot packs and bundled her in blankets.  I started dripping warm colostrum (saved in the freezer from when our Jersey delivered in September) down her throat with a turkey baster (thanks Dorothy).  She couldn't even struggle.  Sometimes her eyes would roll back and I was sure she was dying.  She had no muscle tone. 

I called my Mom and asked for prayer.  I knew it would be a miracle from God if she survived the night.

This process all started around 4pm.  At 9pm she pulled her legs up under her.  Minutes later she stood up....wobbly, but up.  We put a dog crate in the laundry room and tucked her in with blankets. 

First days spent in the laundry room!

The next morning she was alive!  She even gave a little moo when I went in to feed her.  She took milk from my trusty turkey baster, but couldn't suck from a bottle.

Around 3pm on January 2, she took the last bit of her first quart of colostrum.  It had taken nearly 24 hours to get just one quart in her.  I knew she would get dehydrated if we didn't pick up the pace a bit.  Then another miracle occurred!  She latched onto the nipple of my calf bottle and started sucking.  Next thing I knew, she had drained her 2nd quart of colostrum!!  Praise God!  I broke out in songs of praise.  What a victory! 

"You want me to do WHAT?!"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our little New Year's bottle calf has had a rough time getting a foothold in this world. 

At one week of age, her umbilical stump was obviously infected.  She was exhausted and puny.  The vet gave me an arsenal of shots to give her including antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory, and Vit B. She perked right up!  Hooray!

Then about 5 days later, she tanked again.  This time with a respiratory infection.  She became fairly lifeless and I thought she might die.  Our vet (Thank God for vets!) said that she needed a different antibiotic to knock this out. 

The vet explained that cows have bacteria that live in their trachea.  The bacteria never cause a problem until the cow gets stressed and her resistance goes down.  The good news is that this too was promptly eradicated with antibiotics!  (Thank God for antibiotics!)

My sweet dairy cow, Bambi, has not officially adopted the calf, but does allow the calf to nurse just before I milk her. 

The calf doesn't seem offended that Bambi has to be restrained in a steel head gate before she will allow her to nurse!  I believe she is thinking, "Rich, creamy milk...Who cares how you get it!!"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

So any guesses as to what I've been hauling in my van?

Yes, that's Bob the calf.  Apparently some of you didn't get the memo---Last Tuesday was "Take Your Calf for a Drive" Day!  At least it was around here.  The calf needed to visit the vet and all I could think to do was stick her in the back of the Mom Mobile!  We've hauled chickens, dogs, cats, and skads of kids in why not a calf?! 

We did get a lot of funny looks.  I'm glad no on ran into us while they were pointing and gawking.  She practiced her very loud moo the whole way there!

Bob was much more subdued on the trip home after having the abscess in her navel drained. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Growing big and strong. 
We are still battling the umbilical infection. 
This infection necessitated yet another van ride to the vet about 3 weeks ago to incise and drain the abscess again.  Apparently abscesses can reach quite deep and are difficult to cure....(Bob and I can testify to that!)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I've been afraid to say this out loud, but I think it's safe to proclaim that Bob the Bottle calf's navel abscess is healed!!  ALL the Glory goes to God!  He blessed me with a great vet with lots of ideas, who also respected my thoughts and observations.  God gave me patience and endurance to doctor Bob's wound twice daily for about 3 1/2 months.  God also put my previous training as a nurse to good use. 

Annabelle and Bob
(Bob is sad with this new "milkless" arrangement!)

In the end it was most definitely God who strengthened Bob and gave me courage to let the abscess heal over and encapsulate (this flies totally in the face of all that past training!).  I still check Bob's belly periodically and have to sing a little verse of praise every time I realize that the infection has resolved!!

Shortly after the infection healed, I had to make an executive decision and wean Bob away from Bambi (my Jersey milk cow).  I really wanted to let her nurse longer, but Bob was starting to scare me.  That probably sounds strange....I'll try to explain.  Because of so much handling by me, on some level Bob thinks of me as her mother.  This leads to a myriad of problems since Bob rapidly outgrew me in size and strength.  As long as Bob nursed I needed to lead her in and out of Bambi's paddock (unless we didn't want any milk that day).  Bob grew really pushy with me....literally.  She would no longer walk at my side, instead she shadowed right behind me and tried to bump me along with her head.  She would even come running up in the pasture and start head bumping me to get my attention.  Trust me, she had it.  It gave me the creeps and I started being fearful for myself and my kids, too. 

December 2013

Bob continues to be strong and healthy.  She now weighs about 600 pounds.  She is an easy keeper and maintains her weight and condition well on pasture and hay, being fully grass fed.

Unfortunately she still thinks I'm her mama.  This sounds kind of cute, but in reality it's quite dangerous.  Cows use their heads and the strength of their necks to bump each other, push one another around, and even charge to get another cow out of their way.  Because Bob relates to me as a cow, she tries to push and bump me with her head.  She also gets excited when she sees me in the pasture and runs to "greet" me.  I'm thankful that this behavior doesn't get exhibited with any other members of our family.  I've learned to be very cautious in the pasture and work near the fence.

Top 5 Tips for Raising a Bottle Calf

1.  Choose a healthy calf. 

Colostrum at birth, especially during the first 24 hours of life, is the key to long-term health and survival.  The colostrum is filled with antibodies and nutrition that helps build a strong, healthy immune system.  During that first 24 hours, the gut is fully open and ready to absorb those antibodies.  Here is a really good article about colostrum, antibodies, and the gut.

Ideally a bottle calf will spend it's first few days (a week is even better!) with it's mother getting all the colostrum it needs.  But if the mother died or if she is being used as a milk cow, the calf may not have gotten this luxury.  Be sure and confirm that the calf was with its mother for initial colostrum OR that the calf was given colostrum by bottle right away after birth. 

This is key. 

2.  Be prepared.

This is really a tie with #1.  You need to be prepared for the arrival of your calf. 
You will need:
** a calf bottle
** colostrum if taking calf as newborn
** fresh milk or milk replacer
** shelter for inclement weather--cows typically don't require much in the way of shelter, but remember that a bottle calf is already stressed without it's mama, so you want to protect it from any harsh weather. 

3.  If you have a milk cow, use her!

If you are blessed to have a family milk cow, get her in on the action!
When your milk cow delivers her own calf, save some of her colostrum in the deep freezer.  Don't think that you are robbing her calf of these precious nutrients.  Your milk cow produces an over-abundance of colostrum those first days, so store some away.

Give your bottle calf fresh milk from your family milk cow.  This will be a huge savings and is, of course, packed with the best nutrition. 

Consider letting the calf nurse your milk cow when she is secured in the milking stanchion. 

Allow calf to pasture with your milk cow.  One of the ways that mama cow's identify their calf is by the smell of its giving the bottle calf milk from your milk cow, your bottle calf will start to smell like her calf.  This aides in the adoption process.

4.  Cows are herd animals.

Your bottle calf will do best growing up with other herd animals.  Some people raise 2 bottle calves together to accomplish this.  You can also raise your calf with horses, sheep, or goats if you don't have another cow around to befriend it. 

5.  Don't get attached.

I wish I could tell you that this is easy, but it's not.  Calves are cute!  Your bottle calf doesn't have a mother and you may feel compelled to fill this need.  Resist!

Because of Bob's poor initial health status, I handled and mothered her entirely too much.  I hope you will learn from my mistake. 

Also remember that getting attached will only complicate the situation when it comes time to haul away your grown cow--either selling to someone else or taking to the meat processor.  Most homesteaders raise a bottle calf with plans to use the meat themselves.  You will be better able to carry out this plan if you get the bottle calf out into the pasture with other animals asap and let him have a healthy "cow" life. 

So will our family raise another bottle calf?  Yes, most likely. 
Will I follow my own advice--I sure hope so! 

best wishes to you on this journey,

Praising God Today!!

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