Bottle-feeding Dairy Calves


Samantha BiggersMay is always the busiest month on the farm or so it seems. Everything starts in May. It is when we get our first order of broiler chicks to go in the brooder, buy calves, get the garden in full production mode. This year we have the added obligations of finishing our house and beginning the adventure of home dairying.

Recently we purchased two Jersey-Holstein bull calves that are still nursing. If you live in an area where there are dairies you can often get a still nursing calf at a bargain, usually for $100 or less. This is our first year raising calves on a bottle. We had been told in the past that raising calves on a bottle was expensive and a big hassle because you absolutely have to give them a bottle at least twice per day. So far we have found that these assumptions are simply not true. Yes milk replacer can cost up to $37 for a 25-pound bag in our area, but a bag goes much further than we were led to believe.

Each calf will require about 2-3 bags of milk replacer powder to get them to a weaning age of 2 months. It is also highly recommended that with commercial dairy calves that you use a good 16 percent protein calf starter (grain) as soon as they start nibbling. This should be fed free choice when calves are very young (less than a month old). After that you may need to monitor their feed intake a bit especially if you notice that one or more of your calves are prone to overeating.

Even taking in to account the expense of feed you are looking at $74-$111 for milk replacer and $100 or less for the calf. There will also be some miscellaneous expenses such as bottles and medicine or electrolytes if your calves need treatment for scours or any other illness. These expenses are usually quite minimal, and the bottles can be reused for many calves. The nipple is what will wear out first and this can be easily replaced. This adds up to some cheap beef if you have the grass to grow your calf up on. There is actually more dairy beef consumed than any other beef. This is largely due to the fast food industry which buys up dairy cows that have passed their prime.

cattle pen

The main problem most people have with raising calves up on a bottle is that you have to have the time to give the calf a bottle quite early in the morning and right around dinner time. If you work an outside job from 8-5 this means you would need to feed your calf before you go to work and right when you get home. This also means that you have to go directly home and feed your calf. You can be an hour or so late feeding them if you have to, but it is not a good idea to be later than that.

6/19/2016 5:09:47 PM

I wanted to let you know how much i enjoyed reading your article. I have been raising hundreds of calves for a long time and I have a few points that I would like to make. The biggest problem one faces when raising baby calves is scours. When I first started out when I had a calf that was scouring I did as the vet said and held back the milk and only gave the calf electrolytes as well as various scours medicine. In most cases the scours stopped, but the calf died of malnourishment. Calves are born with a limited energy supply. By depriving them of milk replacer they are at a huge nutritional disadvantage. I searched and found an all natural nutritional supplent, Recover, that would combat calf scours. I talked with the owner who assured me it has been successful used on hundreds of calves. The big surprise came when he told me I could drench the calf with it and also add it to their milk replacer. I was shocked to say the least!! I was always told that this was a no no!!! To make a long story short, I did use it and it worked as he said. Now, the first thing that I do when I receive new calves is to drench them with Recover and add it to their milk replacer. This has been a lifesaver for me. I found the product at Thanks again for an informative article.

2/18/2015 6:56:41 PM

I would like to buy some baby calfs please get in touch with me at 859 358 2064 thank you

Nebraska Dave
7/22/2010 8:09:26 PM

@Samantha, your post brought back many memories of high school early morning cow milking and nipple bucket calf feeding. We never medicated our calves either and never had much trouble with sours. It was always a challenge to change the calves over from the nipples to just drinking out of the bucket. Our herd of milk cows was a mixture of Holstein, Jersey, and a mixture of the two. It was only 13 strong but it was good enough to keep me in gas money for the old ’57 ford, supply our family with fresh milk, cream, butter, butter milk, bring in a little extra money for Mom’s groceries. We had two milking machines and one hand milker (me). It took about an hour and a half to milk the cows, separate the cream, and feed the calves both before school and after supper. That was usually 6am and 7pm. You know those milk cows don’t take the weekend off. You have to keep right on milking every single day. Not even a holiday. It sure kept me out of trouble during high school. We never had any bulls on the place and the bull calves we sold as feeder calves when they were weaned. Welcome to the Grit blog community. It’s always good to hear from new folks in other parts of the country.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters