Are you thinking about adding bottle calves to your homestead? Keep reading for my 6 must know tips before you make a the plunge into buying and feeding bottle calves!
In November 2017 we brought home 2 Jersey bottle calves “Ben” and “Jerry”. What was supposed to be a fun new experience quickly turned south. It was the first time I truly felt desperation in my life. Maybe I had romanticized bottle calves just a little. I thought we would be drinking coffee while they drank their bottles under a winter sunrise. I was sorely mistaken.
Had I known these tips before purchasing calves we would have been much better off. But then again I wouldn’t have gained all that knowledge.
6 Tips for Buying Bottle Calves
Buy from the Farm
The best way to buy a bottle calf is direct from the farm. Although sales barn/ auction calves are less expensive the risk for an unhealthy calf is much higher. Multiple vets have told us to avoid sale barns. It’s where people send their problems. There’s much higher chance of your little bottle baby being exposed to stress and sickness. Buying direct allows you to ask questions before and while you’re picking up the calf. Take time to inspect the calves condition (keep reading!). You definitely do not want to feel rushed into making a purchase, or worse, it could be one you regret.
Colostrum is the mother’s first milk and is full of antibodies and nutrients. It should be consumed by the calf within the first 24 hours after birth and gives it the absolute best start, and chance in life. Although you can only take the farmers word that the calf was fed colostrum, if the farmer says no I would walk away. Unfortunately colostrum is time sensitive and not something that can be given at a later date.
When you arrive at the farm it’s important to watch the calf for a few minutes. Having some small talk near the pen will make this easy. You want the calf to be alert and perky and their ears should never be droopy. Try to pet the calf or better yet, get in the pen with them. They should want, and be able to get up and move about on their own. You should never have to pull a healthy calf up onto its feet.
Sucking your finger
In addition to being perky the calf should have a strong sucking urge. You can stick your first two fingers into the calves mouth and be able to feel them sucking for milk.
I plan to write an entire post on our traumatic fiasco with calf scours, but for now I’ll just say you want a clean bum. Under no circumstances should a healthy calf ever “squirt out poop”. If their rear end is caked in feces or you see very watery stool walk away. This is a sign of calf scours and something you really don’t want to deal with.
I’m a sucker for Jersey cows. Their big buy eyes and easy temperament make them an amazing family cow, but when it comes to bottle calves I avoid them. Jersey calves are notoriously fickle and very, very easily get sick. You can pick Jersey bull calves up in our area for about $25, even sometimes free since the farmer just doesn’t want the headache. If you are looking to add a Jersey to your farm I would highly recommend paying more for one that is already on calf starter.
Do you have any other tips for buying bottle calves? Let me know in the comments below!