We have a new little one at our house! It’s a girl and she has the cutest red hair you’ve ever seen. Meet little baby Scarlet! She’s a bottle calf.
What is a bottle calf?
Scarlet is what’s called a bottle calf. A bottle calf is a calf that has somehow ended up as an orphan.
Scarlet was about one week old when we found her mom lying in the pasture with all the other cows and calves, and she had passed away. It’s a sad, but true, fact that cows are a lot like humans and sometimes they pass away unexpectedly from things like a heart attack or stroke. We believe that’s what happened to Scarlet’s mom.
Why do you have to feed a calf a bottle?
Although Scarlet was in a field of other cows and calves, a cow will only allow her calf to nurse on her. She won’t accept another calf.
In order to keep Scarlet alive, we brought her back to our barn and we bottle feed her multiple times a day. The bottle-feeding process is somewhat similar to feeding a human baby formula.
How do you feed a bottle calf?
Every day, 2-3 times a day, we mix the appropriate amount of calf milk formula (a.k.a. milk replacer) and water, and pour it into a large bottle. Then, we walk to the barn and feed scarlet. She loves it.
What happens when you bottle feed?
If you’ve ever watched a calf nurse from its mama cow in a field, you probably saw them head-butting her udder. This is normal behavior for a calf. It stimulates the udder to “let down” additional milk for the hungry calf, and it doesn’t hurt the mama cow at all.
When bottle feeding, a calf still has this reaction. The calf doesn’t know that head-butting the bottle will not make milk come out any faster.
Another fun fact about a bottle calf, is that as they drink from a bottle, their tail starts to get higher and higher. When it belly is full and happy, the calf will wag its tail like a puppy dog.
When do you stop bottle feeding a bottle calf?
When Scarlet is about 3 months old, she will be able to start eating calf feed (i.e. calf baby food) and then she won’t need a bottle. She’ll also be able to go back into the pasture with the other calves at this time, and have a normal cow life.
If you’re wondering what happens to Scarlet in the long run, there’s a happy end to the story. She is a heifer (girl) so she will stay on our farm for her entire life. Eventually, she will become one of the cows we breed for future calves. Scarlet will always be extra special to everyone on our farm since she started as a bottle calf.
Why is her name Scarlet?
There’s a cute children’s book called “Daddy’s Girl” by Greg Huett that we like and read to our daughter. The story features a red heifer named Scarlet, so we decided to name our little red-haired heifer the same thing.
Here are some other Q&A that you may find interesting about bottle calves:
Can you start a cow herd with bottle calves?
Yes, some people do start a cow herd with bottle calves. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to start a cattle herd but takes a long time.
What are some other ways calves are orphaned?
- Some calves have lost their mama’s, like Scarlet.
- Some calves mama’s won’t accept their calf and allow them to nurse. This is especially true if the cow has twin calves or sometimes happen when heifers have their first calf (the new mama cow doesn’t know how to take care of its baby calf.).
What equipment does it take to bottle feed a calf?
- Calf Bottle
- Milk Replacer (this is similar to a baby’s formula)
- Bottle holders. These are great if you don’t want to always hold the bottle while the calf is drinking the milk. Remember, they head-butt….and this means they’ll head-butt you too!
One more thing!
Do you want to learn more about beef? Below are a few popular beef posts and recipes you may like. In addition, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a farmers perspective.
- What is Grass Fed Beef?
- Farm Life: How We Feed Cows
- What’s the Difference Between a Steer vs Bull? Cow vs Heifer?
- Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?
We have a weekly e-newsletter where we share about farm happenings, beef recipes, and when our next beef will be available to order. When you sign up, you’ll get a cheat sheet with 9-must-ask questions before buying beef directly from a farmer.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are our own and we only recommend products that we truly believe in.
We participate in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. See our disclosure policy for more details.