So you want to bottle feed a baby calf, huh? Sounds pretty simple. Just hold a bottle of milk up to a calf and watch her suck, right? You’re in for a big surprise, my friend.
Baby calves are the next generation of the “big girls in the barn” so they get the best possible care. Every precaution is taken to be sure the milk they get is just as pure and wholesome as the milk that leaves the farm on the way to the processing plant. Milk for calves is pasteurized and put into sanitized bottles (I bet that’s new information to most of you, right?) Can you imagine the chore of washing and sanitizing all those bottles if you had 600 baby calves? It takes a while. Most large dairies have a wash station with bottle in racks positioned so hot soapy water sprays up into the bottles from below. Something like the upper rack of your dishwasher at home … only many, many times larger.
A calf bottle holds about a quart of milk and can be attached to the side of the calf’s pen in a wire frame that holds it at the correct angle and secured so the nudging calf can’t push it off. It just takes a few minutes for a hungry calf to drain a bottle and be ready to go back to sleep. This feeding process, along with pasteurization of the milk and sanitizing the bottles, is repeated several times each day until the calves are strong enough to be moved to group pens with other calves.
There’s more to feeding calves than just delivering the bottles. During the feeding rounds, these little girls have to be monitored to be sure they are breathing at the correct rate (just count how many times their rib cages expand and contract.)
At least twice a day, often more, baby calves must be checked to be sure they are breathing correctly, any variation from the norm could be a symptom of illness that requires immediate attention. They have to start life out healthy to produce top quality milk later.
For more information on calf care or dairy farming, check out Dairy MAX's animal care page.
This is the third in a series of life on the farm. Next topic: monitoring baby calves.
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