Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

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Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby BeltedGallowayMama » Mon Nov 13, 2017 1:12 pm

We have a calf that is about 4 months old. Me and my husband have read multiple times or just let the calf tell you when its ready to wean. We have been going with just having her tell us when she is ready. Is this a good way to go about weaning? She does seem to want the bottle. She is also eating hay out with the other steers we have during the day. We are not sure what to do now going into winter. I also have another question.....I have read that you need to clean a calves bottom when it gets all messy from pooping and I have been doing that, I'm just wondering when I can stop.?. She is a Belted Galloway so she is pretty hairy.....could i just trim the hair in that area to help with the matting? Any help would be greatly appreciated thanks.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby MRRherefords » Mon Nov 13, 2017 2:46 pm

We actually just had one of our first experiences with a bottle calf and read a lot of the same things you did. What worked best with ours was to put a bowl of feed in front of it at about 3 1/2 months and let her curiosity take over. We did not take her off the bottle completely, but did decrease her milk. Over the course of the next month we increased her feed and decreased her bottle. Finally she was down to only a half a bottle a day and was relying quite heavily on feed. We then took the bottle away completely and she bawled every time she saw us for the week or two. She was totally on feed when we took her off and then went to a lot of hay and grass as well. I guess what I am saying is to get her on feed before taking it away from her and make sure to decrease the bottle, and it is probably old enough at four months to be relying on other food by now. About the poop on the rear, if it gets really matted to the point when you think there may be a problem I would zip it off. I had to do it once to ours and I used a small hand held clipper. Hope this helps and good luck with her.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby farmerjan » Mon Nov 13, 2017 8:06 pm

Most bottle calves are introduced to grain and hay any time after 2 weeks. In nature a calf will start to mimic momma at about 2 weeks and you will see it "grazing" which of course it isn't really eating much but it is learning what "cows do". I raise alot of calves; some on nurse cows and some bottle. I have calves that are getting into the feed trough with their momma, trying the grain by a month. And I have seen them actually eating/chewing a bit on the hay before then.
A calf should be eating 2% of it's body weight when it is weaned off milk, so that it continues to grow and not have a set back. Letting a calf dictate when it is ready to be weaned is not really reliable. I have calves that haven't wanted to be weaned at 6 months unless I push the issue. Also, too much milk and not enough concentrates and hay will cause a heifer calf to get a "fatty udder" and can actually cause her to have problems down the road.
The stomach has 4 chambers, and the roughage (hay) and grain causes the rumen to develop so that the calf can survive and thrive on grass/hay/other roughage and grain. They are designed to utilize this most efficiently. It needs to be developed early in life. Again in nature, a calf will still be nursing at 5-7 months, but they are getting very little, and they are eating grass and hay and the rumen bacteria are digesting this and turning it into fuel that the body can absorb and grow on.

Most dairy farmers are weaning their calves at 6-12 weeks; depending on their program. I like to get a calf completely off milk replacer by 12 weeks. The ones on the nurse cows will stay for about 4-5 months, but they are eating good by then. Part of it is also the expense. Good quality milk replacer is $60-75 a 50 lb bag. If you are raising very many it can be quite costly and the grain is a better investment.

Yes, you increase the grain and decrease the milk/bottle. If you are feeding alot of milk, they have no incentive to want to try much solid food either. 1/2 to 3/4 gallon milk a feeding is more than enough for most calves, and they will be chewing on anything they can find in the pen after a week or so. I cut the milk to no more than 1/2 gallon a feeding by the time they are 4-6 weeks to encourage them to try other food. Usually I will go to once a day feeding if the calf is consuming a decent amount of grain by 8 weeks; then taper off so by 12 weeks it is done with the bottle. Most dairies will allow the calf to have it free choice in the beginning, and working up to the calf getting enough and then get grain 2x a day.

The momma cow will clean the calf's butt. That said too much milk and not enough solids will cause the calf to continue to have soft manure and keep the problem going. I don't clean any butts unless they get scours and I don't want them to get scalded. If she has alot of hair I would clip it and get her on more solid feed so the manure is more solid. Occasionally, you will get a calf that is too lazy to pick up it's tail when it does manure. Again, more solid manure tends to make them naturally pick up their tail. Clip it short now, before winter, and hopefully it will not continue to be a problem as it matures.

Good luck.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby BeltedGallowayMama » Mon Nov 13, 2017 10:41 pm

She is on 50/50 corn and oats with minerals now. We have been thinking of starting her on calf starter which is a better way to go.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby Son of Butch » Tue Nov 14, 2017 5:40 am

Bottle fed calves usually weaned at 40-70 days. 4 months = 120 days = way past safe weaning time
Use up the milk replacer you have left and stop. Always keep clean fresh drinking water available.
Buy a 50 lb bag of 16-18% textured calf starter. (she'll eat it better than the pelleted type)
After she finishes the bag (you can buy a 2nd bag if you wish) then change her over to your corn/oats mix.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby BeltedGallowayMama » Tue Nov 14, 2017 8:47 am

Thank you!
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby SPH » Tue Nov 14, 2017 10:07 pm

We'll put out a pan of feed when the calf starts to show interest in something other than the bottle and once they show they are consistently eating that we'll cut back on the bottles. Three months is about right probably, you'll know when they are ready if you are offering something other than the bottle to them. We usually try to find a 4-H kid looking for a bottle calf project whenever we have a bottle calf as it's nice not to have the hassle that comes with a bottle calf. If its a heifer calf we usually retain ownership which benefits both us and the kid as some of these bottle calves can get pricey for the kids to buy and also gives us the option to keep the heifer too.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby Lucky_P » Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:44 pm

We always tried to have bottle calves weaned by 4-6 weeks; earlier the better. Milk replacer feeding is the most expensive and labor-intensive part of raising them. I'd have good quality calf-starter ration available from Day One... and would cram a handful in the calf's mouth after every feeding - and any other time I happened to be passing by.
Once they're eating about a pound and a half of grain ration per day, you can just stop the bottle and bump up grain consumption pretty rapidly.

Dairy nutritionists/rumen physiologists have been, for years, recommending AGAINST feeding hay prior to 8 weeks of age(maybe even later)... grain consumption drives rumen functional development and capacity much faster than consuming indigestible forage materials like hay.
I guess feeding hay to those younger calves is part of what causes so many of them to have that pot-bellied appearance that's so common.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby Son of Butch » Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:55 pm

Lucky_P wrote:Dairy nutritionists/rumen physiologists have been, for years, recommending AGAINST feeding hay prior to 8 weeks of age (maybe even later)... grain consumption drives rumen functional development and capacity much faster than
consuming indigestible forage materials like hay.
... feeding hay to younger calves...causes pot-bellied appearance that's so common.

:nod: :nod:
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby farmerjan » Wed Nov 15, 2017 9:51 pm

I have 7, one month old calves on 3 nurse cows that are already eating some grain. They are going in the feeder with their mommas, and after I turn the cows out, I put grain in there so they can pick at it when they want. This evening I turned the cows out, got a couple lbs of "sweet feed", textured type, and put it in the feeders and 3 calves went right in to get some. I haven't put any in their mouths, but again, they are mimicking the cows. They have some real "bladey" nice orchard grass hay and a couple will pull a little out and chew on it. Since they are on the nurse cows, they don't get the "hay-belly" but I like them to have it if they want it. I have found that there is a fine line to tread with high grain intake and no hay. I have seen some scour type manure and calves will sometimes actually go off feed. I believe it is acidosis, but I am not a nutritionist. I think the little bit of hay they consume helps to keep their manure firmer and gut bacteria more balanced.

Again, I am not a nutritionist. I don't believe in pushing the hay with little or no grain. I also think they tend to not get so bored with some hay to chew on, especially in small pens. But I like the way the calves look when they get milk a little longer, and have watched over the years the different baby calf rearing techniques of farmers. Milk replacer is expensive, but I am willing to spend a little more to see the calf looking sleek and well rounded. Most of the registered dairy farmers that I milk test for, that do some showing, do keep their calves on milk for up to 8-12 weeks. I also look at our beef cows, and figure that if mother nature provides for that calf to be able to nurse 5-8 months, then my feeding milk for 8 plus weeks while getting a bottle calf going good on grain isn't all wrong.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby Son of Butch » Thu Nov 16, 2017 8:30 am

You have the right to pamper yours and spend your money any way you want.

Back in the day, I saw for myself a Holstein bull way over a year of age (he later went on to the World Dairy Expo)
being given a 2.5 gallon pail of milk after the evening milking. He got milk twice a day. Yes he looked fantastic,
but it did not improve his genetic merit one bit. A real farmer would go broke raising every animal in that manner.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby farmerjan » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:05 am

Can't imagine giving a yearling bull milk like that !!!!! Talk about spoiled!! I am sure he looked fantastic and no, you are right that it wouldn't improve his genetics one bit. Some of the farmers I test for had followed the trend to wean sooner, and I mean 4-5 weeks. After a year or two, most felt that it was not giving them the benefits that they wanted and the calves just weren't as well grown out as they could have been. Most all have gone back to the 7-8 week range and I think that has worked best for most. And I am talking farms that have 75-80 lb milk average, so they are good farmers.
I remember raising some veal for sale and had a good market for the calves. They were getting 4-5 gallons of milk A FEEDING up until they were nearly 4 months old. But I also gave them some straw for bulk and the veal was light pink rather then pure white. That is actually making them iron deficient; but that is what the market dictated. They were so tender you could cut it with a fork. I think veal has no taste, so I didn't keep on with the program after about 2 years.
Think how good beef calves look at 5-8 months being weaned off a cow. I have some heifers that are about 7-8 months, ready to wean and they are some of the nicest I have ever had. We had good grass until late in the summer when it stopped raining. But you sure can't justify raising a dairy calf like that, I agree. And some of the heifers can get too fat like that in my opinion.
Last edited by farmerjan on Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby Son of Butch » Thu Nov 16, 2017 9:12 am

It's what I hate about the show ring, there is very little reality behind many of the winners.
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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby TCRanch » Thu Nov 16, 2017 10:41 am

farmerjan wrote: I also look at our beef cows, and figure that if mother nature provides for that calf to be able to nurse 5-8 months, then my feeding milk for 8 plus weeks while getting a bottle calf going good on grain isn't all wrong.

I may have given her a bottle a little longer than 8+ weeks ;-) .

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Re: Bottle calf....When to start weaning?

Postby Lucky_P » Thu Nov 16, 2017 11:13 am

I'll admit to feeding a good heifer on the bottle on out to around 8 weeks, even after she was consuming calf starter ration well...especially if she was potentially going to stay here... but steers... they don't get that luxury; once they were eating their pound and a half of grain ration per day... the bottle stopped and they got more grain, rapidly increasing their feeding level to 5#/day.
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