A quick and easy way to get started in cattle is to buy a bunch of bottle calves. (many) Dairy farms strip the bulls from their mothers the second they see it’s a boy without even letting it nurse once. They sell it for next to nothing (we got ours for $40 each) and milk the mother. This means you get colostrum in the milk you buy at the store, but the calf that will die without it does not. The bulls wind up getting scours every time where they are shot up with antibiotics, anti-diarrhetics, and about half survive. Why they don’t leave them with their mothers and sell them later for meat for over 10X the price is beyond my understanding. Especially considering how little milk they consume. That’s another topic.
We did buy a few of these. I refuse to buy them now because we don’t have to anymore. We are established. I won’t even let Marcus get another one because I refuse to support such a horrible industry if possible. But because we did, we now have experience in nursing calves back to health.
We recently had a problem with one. Little Paprika, our first heifer to actually be born here, wouldn’t get up. Pepper, her mother, had her in the woods and she wasn’t nursing. We carried her to the barn and kept her and Pepper separate from the others. We started antibiotics once a day injections for five days, per the vet’s advice, and tried to tube feed her.
Tube feeding a calf is hard. One reason is you know it hurts, but you don’t have a choice if you’re going to save them. But Paprika is a Dexter calf. They’re little, I mean LITTLE. She’s about the size of a goat now. A regular Holstein calf is quite a bit bigger, but it’s still hard to get that tube down their throat. They don’t sell smaller sizes, and that tube is NOT going down! (If you do decide to tube feed, be sure to do great research, and lube the end with cooking oil. If they’re strong enough to fight you off to where you can’t do it, they don’t need it.) So we pray her life into God’s hands and try to get as much in her as possible. She will not take a bottle or teet, and can barely stand with support, let alone without.
I was racing late for work b/c I spent time trying to do the afore mentioned, but was able to learn during break that Arlis found her standing in the watering bucket with a full belly. That night we tried again, but she fought back more-YES! Then the unthinkable happened. She mooed for Pepper, and Pepper mooed for her, and she nursed. We all stood there still and silent for fear of scaring her away or making her stop. When she went and laid back down, we gave the fake milk to one of the lambs and went to bed hopeful.
(You can see how bad she looks)
The next morning, we gave her her second shot of antibiotics. We brought a bottle. One look at it, and she bawled for momma. Here came Pepper, and she nursed.
Day three brought more hope as we gave her a shot, and by evening, she was up running around and nursing on her own. Keep in mind, drought hits here around August for about two weeks. We planned for it with long hoses and a sprinkler to water our half acre garden that feeds us for the next year in staple crops, and for temporary joys as well. We do NOT plan for the drought to hit NOW and last for four weeks, and do NOT plan for 100 degree weather when we have snow storms that keep us home for a week or more at a time, especially in JUNE. But Paprika is holding on.
Day four, we give her a shot, and work outside a bit. We pour water on her, and a bit later, put a box fan that blows over, but not on her. Even Pepper likes this, and returns to the barn enjoying the “wind”.
Several days later, Paprika has put on weight, nurses normally, and has energy. (I love this age because they run around with their tails straight up in the air-too cute). At near one month old, we put her back into the lower field with all the others. Fargo was thrilled to death and immediately began sweet talking Pepper. The calves played together with fair fun, no bullying.
Whew! One more calf nursed back to health.