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I love my Dexter cattle! They’re smaller than most other breeds, and typically calm.
When I first started raising Dexters, I bottle fed the babies. Now, I let the mamas raise them.
But, while bottle-feeding, I learned plenty of things to help the process go more smoothly. My goal was to provide good nutrition for the growing calves, while not requiring tons of time each day.
Do’s and Don’ts for Bottle Feeding a Dexter Calf
Along the way, I discovered some things that make the bottle feeding process go more smoothly.
I also learned some things NOT to do. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!
What to Do When Bottle Feeding a Dexter Calf
Use good feed.
If at all possible, feed your baby calf the milk from its mother. This is the healthiest, cheapest option for giving your calf nutritious food. You can also use milk from another cow.
I always saved my evening milking from one cow to feed both calves. It worked best for me.
Once I was done milking, I’d fill both bottles. Then I’d feed the calves. Afterwards I’d wash the bottles out and refill them for the morning feed. I just stored the full bottles in our extra fridge to keep them cool.
This saved me from buying milk replacer. That adds up quickly!
But, this isn’t always an option. I grew up on a dairy farm and fed plenty of calves bottles of milk replacer. It works. So don’t stress if that’s what you’re feeding.
Buy the Right Supplies
Before you need to start bottle feeding, make sure you have the right supplies on hand. For each calf, you need a 2-quart bottle and a nipple that screws on.
While you could wash and reuse the same bottle for each calf, I prefer to have one for each. This way I can fill all the bottles at once, and wash them all when I’m done.
It’s an easy way to streamline the process.
Also – don’t purchase nipples that push/pull on. I learned the hard way that calves can pull them off. The screw on ones are much more secure!
Expect the First Few Feedings to Go Horribly Wrong
Your calf is expecting a teat from mama, not a human holding a rubber nipple.
The first few feedings will go wrong. It’ll be a fight, and you’ll wonder what in the world you were thinking bringing this calf home.
The calf will fight you. And you will get dirty.
Take a few deep breathes. You can do this.
Get into the pen with the calf and straddle his neck. Dexters calves are short, so this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Use one hand to offer the calf your finger to suck on. It’ll take this easier than the nipple.
Once the sucking has started, slowly use your other hand to slip the nipple in and withdraw your finger. It will be a messy, slobbery process.
Squeeze the bottle and get some milk to dribble out.
The calf will likely be surprised and throw the bottle out. Then you’ll have to start over.
Continue this process, until you get at least a cup of milk into your calf. It will take a long time.
Bottle feeding Dexter calves won’t always take so long. But plan on it for the first couple of feedings.
Pretty soon the calf will be eating the whole half gallon without fuss. At this point, you can even invest in some bottle holders to speed up the process. I like the ones like this:
They slip over the pen and it’s easy to get the bottle in. Occasionally a rambunctious calf will knock them down, but they’re typically secure.
Expect Head Butting
Have you ever seen a calf nursing? They headbutt their mamas to get the milk to let down.
The calf will instinctively try headbutting to get the milk from the bottle. Don’t be shocked.
The calf is not being mean. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
If you’re expecting this, you can avoid getting a direct hit. Even though Dexter cattle are small, they still pack a punch!
What NOT to Do When Bottle Feeding Dexter Calves
Now that you have a better understanding of how to bottle feed a Dexter, let’s talk about what not to do.
Don’t Forget to Watch their Poop
Scours is hard on a baby calf. Runny, yellow poo is a symptom. So is poop sticking to the rear end.
If your calf develops scours, give your vet a call to find the best course of treatment. I’m not an animal doctor – just a farm girl!
Don’t Get Mad at Your Calf
Your calf isn’t purposefully being ornery. It misses it’s mama and is confused by this whole process.
Getting mad won’t help. But, it could make you resent your calf.
This should go without saying, but never hit your calf.
Don’t Hold the Bottle Up By Your Head
As I mentioned earlier, calves headbutt. If you are holding the bottle too high, it can hit your face or neck when this happens.
Keep your head out of the way!
Don’t Underfeed Your Calf
By the time they were about a month, all of my Dexter babies were eating a full half gallon twice a day.
If you underfeed your calf, they won’t get the nutrients they need. Then they won’t grow as quickly or as well.
Remember that baby calves with their mamas eat whenever they are hungry. It’s important to have some hay and water available to your calf at all times. It’s not the same as milk whenever they want, but they will begin learning how to eat it and be used to it by the time it’s time to wean.
Don’t Wean Your Calf Too Soon
I typically bottle feed my calves for three months. Then for another three months I give them milk in a bucket.
They really do need quite a few months of milk to grow strong, so don’t cut it out of their diet too soon.
Don’t Give Up!
Your baby calf will eventually figure out this eating thing. It’ll get so hungry that it will eat from the bottle.
Don’t give up before that happens. You are not a farming failure. You can teach your little calf how to eat from a bottle.
Bottle Feeding a Dexter Cow Isn’t Easy
Bottle feeding a Dexter isn’t easy at first. But, it will become second nature. Just like any new skill, you’ve got to keep trying.
And though each new calf will continue to fight at first, you will have more confidence in your ability.
Have you ever bottle fed a calf? What tips can you add?