I know that post with the super adorable calf is so very tempting.
I know that you have dreamed of having a family milk cow.
I know that you would love to raise your own beef for your family.
I know that price is just too good to pass up.
But don’t do it quite yet.
Raising a newborn calf or young calf (under 90 days) is not for the faint of heart. It requires you to do your research, be prepared for it prior to purchasing, as well as being prepared to properly take care of the calf if he/she becomes sick.
Over the years we have found that many people get caught up in the moment, oftentimes it is because they see a cute calf posted for sale or they see a good price they just cannot pass up. More often than not these folks have never raised a calf nor have they done their research on how to properly care for it. This can and has resulted in the loss of the calf. Unfortunately probably many calves.
My hope is that if you are looking into buying a calf to raise your own beef or have a family milk someday that you read this entire post before doing so.
Cost. On our farm our calves are fed warm whole milk for the first 90 days of life. We feed 2 quart bottles for the first couple weeks then depending on the calf bump them up to 3 quart bottles twice a day.
Each calf is provided calf grain at a week old. After weaning (90 days) they are given a combination of hay and grain. The amount of grain and hay you will need will vary with age and breed. The chart below gives you somewhat of an idea by weight what a calf might consume.
Progressive Dairyman is a good resource, click here to read the article for the chart above.
Consistency. Calves need consistency. Consistency on their feeding times. Consistency on the temperature of their milk. Consistency with the amount of calf grain they are fed. Consistency with clean, dry bedding. If you have a job that doesn’t have a consistent schedule or at least allows you to feed a calf at the same time morning and night then maybe this is not a good time to purchase a calf.
Housing. Please for the love of Pete, do not take a newborn calf home and leave it out in the elements. Keeping calves warm and dry is so incredibly important. Can they have outside exposure? Of course they can. They do however need something with a roof to keep them out of the rain. It doesn’t need to fancy, just needs to keep them dry and block the wind.
Common Illnesses. Do you know the basic signs of a sick calf? The sooner you catch it, the easier it will be to help the calf get to the other side of the illness. If you catch it late, you increase the chances of losing the calf. There are a variety of calf viruses and bacteria that could cause the calf to scour (diarrhea) within the first 90 days of life. Cold ears, dry nose, scours (diarrhea), lack of appetite, etc. are all signs of illness.
From my experience, knowing exactly what you are dealing with helps you treat it properly. That takes a lot of time and experience to get that down. What type of poo do they have? Is it thick? Is it watery? What color is it? How many days old are they? All those questions help narrow down what illness the calf has so it can be treated properly. With that said, the most important thing you can do IMHO as soon as you notice your calf is off is to offer the calf electrolytes. In my experience, if you lose a calf it is typically from dehydration due to scours.
Keeping that baby hydrated is so incredibly important.
I can/will say Hydrafeed is my absolute favorite supplement for calves with scours. Rarely do I ever have to give them a second feeding of it. Each farm has their preferred electrolyte. I honestly do not even know how many brands we have tried over the years. This is hands down my favorite and the most successful one we have used. Make sure you have electrolytes on hand before you need them.
There are times when antibiotics are absolutely necessary and it is incredibly important as an animal owner to have some sort of relationship with your local vet. Have you reached out to your local vet or called around so you know who does large animal vet work? Knowing before you need them is important.
Raising a calf could be such an amazing experience for your family. I love that so many people are interested in raising calves. Do not let this scare you away from raising a calf. Instead use it as a learning opportunity to give the calf you bring home the best possible chance at life.
Do as much research as possible, have the proper housing for it, and establish a relationship with your local vet before you need him/her. Have fun!
If you ever have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I am not a licensed veterinarian. I do not give advice on antibiotics administration.
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A Tale of Two Missing Calves
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