Bottle Babies, Growing Up

This weekend on the farm was pretty relaxing. My parents are in town. Pretty much the only people we’ve hung out with since covid… we haven’t seen them in almost 8 months! The weather has been fantastic and, even with the threat of rain, the breezes and mild temps have been something to be thankful for. Making s’mores with the kids and spending the majority of the time outside was just what the doctor ordered.

Here are some very candid iPhone pics 😂

Otherwise, we were very excited and nostalgic because we have weaned our bottle calves!! Seems like only yesterday that we picked them up and brought them home, even though it was mid-April. Back then, we were still wearing toboggans and Carhartts; trudging out to the barn in the cold and [sometimes] snow.

Today is actually the first day that they have been completely off bottles and [so far] it seems like they don’t even notice that we haven’t made the journey out to the barn with their regular milk bar + have only supplied them with feed and hay. They have been doing well during the transition the last couple of weeks but, of course, we have been keeping a close eye on their progress. A part of me will miss playing the part of mama to these babies and seeing the bond that the kids got from caring so intimately for them.

Before committing to the task of raising calves, we (aka hubby) joined a lot of Facebook groups, read books, and did a whole bunch of online research. One of the most important things we learned, starting out, is how valuable it is to get your calves from a reliable source. So, if you get your calves from an auction, you have no idea usually if they have had colostrum from their mother, what bacteria’s they have been exposed to, if they have scours…etc. However, if you get them from a local farm, they will be able to provide you with information regarding their health and wellness.

So, we got in touch will some farms in our area and, fortunately, found one (dairy) that was basically willing to give us as many calves as we wanted for a price that is so low it’s not even worth mentioning. Their bull calves were, obviously, not useful for their field, so we gladly accepted- at first- one. Being that they were about 5 minutes away, it was good for the calf and us because of the low transport time and easy transfer. Within one day, we knew we were going to get more.

Cows are social animals and I couldn’t bare the thought of having one lonely calf. Especially, since we haven’t yet expanded our pasture enough to have other larger animals, like horses…etc. Also, we are still contemplating what species we would like to include here and can reasonably care for. That being said, we knew that several bull calves would be available within the week. And within that time, we acquired two more. Now, I have to insert that, in our livestock vet’s opinion, it is wise to get all of your calves from the same place/herd because each farm/group of cows has its own strain of bacteria and germs that it carries with it. If you calves are all from the same homestead, they are less likely to get ill and contract viruses.

Every person/family decides to do things differently with their calves. If there is anything I’ve learned from reading online feeds it’s that hardly any person does the exact same thing to care for their animals. So, you have to find what works for you.

We started out giving ours two bottles a day; one in the morning and one in the evening. The formula we used was DuMOR milk replacer from our local Tractor Supply, and we accompanied the morning bottles with DuMOR probiotics. We did struggle with a little bit of diarrhea at the beginning, sometimes tinged with blood, and, being newbies, we didn’t really know how to handle it or if it would truly be considered scours. So, we began giving the calves Theracaf electrolytes but, when that didn’t work, we reached out to the farming community to find out what other solutions may be better. An overwhelming amount of people came back with the response to use Spectogard Scour-Chek. That made a HUGE difference, and our calves recovered [almost] overnight. We never noticed them suffering from loose bowels again.

They started gaining weight quickly, although one of ours is a runt. And they are still fattening up pretty nicely. I guess I should’ve mentioned before now, but we have Jersey calves. If any of you have Jerseys, perhaps you have had others comment on our “skinny” or “sickly” they look. If you’re new to bottle calves, like we were/are, don’t let that get to you. If you’re concerned about your calves being too slim or their rate of growth, my best advice is to find a livestock vet you feel comfortable with (ours was recommended by the farm where we got our calves) and have them give the calves a once over. We had some comment on the fact that our calves seemed to be very bony, but the vet had told us already that they were doing 100% perfectly. Also, TRUST YOUR GUT. Just because you might have not done this before doesn’t mean your a dummy. A first time mom still intuitively knows what her baby needs, and shouldn’t listen to unsolicited advice. Neither should you when it comes to your calves!

Whiskey (left), Reuben (middle), Hiccup (right)

Early on we started leaving sweet feed and hay/alfalfa out for them to munch on, to get used to the idea of more solid food. They took to it pretty regularly around month two. As well as chomping on pasture grass. Now, these babies are ready to be eating more substantial food full time. We will definitely, however, be providing them with treats. I don’t think the girls could stop feeding them dandelions, if they tried. These calves would wait all day at the fence for just one of those.

Of course, baby cows are mischievous. We’ve had one get caught in the fence and turned upside down, we’ve had them break out of the fence, and they have certainly tried to drag the elderberry bush into the pasture to devour. But, all in all, raising these babes from just days old to, now, three months has been a rewarding experience. Especially for the kids. They have learned a lot of responsibility, a lot of compassion, and a lot about how the ‘circle of life’ works.

Our intention is to take three to the butcher when they are somewhere between 18 + 24 months. I never used to think that I would be able to accept that fact. I always just wanted to have a cow as a pet. But, the longer we have them, the more I realize that to have a sustainable lifestyle on a homestead, it’s just not practical to have three cows chillin’ out on your land for their whole life; 18-22 years! (Now, if I ever get my Highland, that’s another story! haha)

For now, we are just enjoying the process and acquiring a lot of knowledge along the way. If you all have any tips for us starting out this ‘adolescent’ phase with the calves, I’d love to hear them! As well as anything you would do differently at the start. We will definitely be getting more calves after these ones so I’d really appreciate any opinions or ideas.
Happy Monday!

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