Saturday, June 6, 2009

When It Rains It Pours..Calves! How To Save an Orphaned Calf

So, we had been camping out at the primitive property on Memorial weekend with a group of our friends until an intense short lived storm took out several tents and put a damper on staying out in the wilderness. We opted to move the camp out to our farm house and have a nice roof and dry bedding for everyone to enjoy.

Memorial Day itself could not have been prettier, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing and several newborn calves were about to take a very different path (that inevitably leads straight to the misfit corral).

We took a couple of our friends and their 2 children (ages 6 & 3) for a farm tour. First up, a visit to the chicken coop. I knew it was a bad omen when my broken beak hen had passed away in the night (she had a broken beak since day 3 of her life and I guess it caught up to her). The kids took it much better than I did, so we carried on (no time to mourn my chickens untimely demise). We fed treats to some of the donkeys and calves and even had one of our 2000 pound Brahma mommas stick her head in the SUV window to lick the toddler. Not sure if she was amused but all the adults sure were!

A trip to the back pasture proved even more interesting as we encountered two things happening at once. One of our cows was in the throws of labor and another cow had extremely swollen udders and could not feed her newborn.

Life lessons for our little city slickers - as we watched one being born the other had to be lured to the corral area with her calf so we could take control of the situation. We left the other cow in labor alone, as everything looked like it was going along fine. Which, I have now learned, never assume things are going along fine on a farm.

After our friends had the eventful tour, they headed back to the city and we headed back to the pasture. By this time we had called in back-up, my cowboy's momma and sister had come to help too. The first piece of business was to get old cross bred momma into the corral with her calf. Easier said than done, but let's just say we are good truck wranglers.

As we returned to the pasture we were shocked at what we saw next. The purebred registered Brahma had died while giving birth (prolapsed uterus)and there was no calf on the ground. Everyone assumed the worst but as we drove off, I noticed something happening in the cow herd.

To my surprise, far off in the distance I could see a newborn calf trying to suck on every cow it went up to. I knew this was the orphan. We raced over and snatched up this little blue eyed bull, brand new umbilical cord and all and made our way back to the corral. Not before I got a pretty good hoof to the chin.

We named the heifer baby Pink Olive and the little bull King Nandi (in honor of our farm guests that day). They are now almost two weeks old and alive and well.

All in a days work....another circle of life, death & everything in between on the farm.

How to Save an Orphaned Calf:

1) It is important for the calf to receive Colostrum within the first few hours of birth. It's chances for survival increase drastically. If there is another heifer who has just given birth in the same pasture, corral her and her offspring and place her in the shoot where she can be milked or can be still so the orphan can drink.

2) Place the orphaned newborn on her udder and see if it will begin sucking. Be patient, this could take several attempts. Be sure the surrogate heifer is restrained because her instinct will not be to allow this orphaned calf to suck. Meanwhile, collect enough colostrum in a large baby calf bottle for back up and to scent the calf (more about this in a minute).

3) If you do not have a surrogate heifer available, you should keep an emergency kit on hand that includes a bag of instant colostrum, use this if no other colostrum is available. Even better, fresh colostrum freezes very well and can keep in your freezer for up to a year. Harvest fresh colostrum from one of your cows every year and place it in a ziplock gallon freezer bag. If you end up with an orphaned newborn or some other situation, just gently unfreeze the colostrum in some warm water and feed it via baby bottle or large oral syringe.

4) Once the newborn is fed, the next step is to get the surrogate to except him/her as her own along with her other calf. I had always heard that you can "scent" the calf and fool the surrogate. We rubbed down the real calf real well with our hands and then rubbed the orphan down with the real calf's scent. We also dowsed the orphan with a lot of the surrogate's colostrum/milk. This trick worked. She had no trouble accepting the orphan.

5) If all else fails, ALWAYS have electrolyte gel packs on hand to give the newborn and a bottle full of milk replacer. Tractor Supply has all of these things and if you live far from one like we do, it is always better to have all of this on hand. We learned the hard way.

Epilogue: In the end, the surrogate cow had plenty of milk for both calves but had a serious case of mastitis. Her milk was bad because of this. Both calves are being fed with milk replacer by bottle. I am proud to report that both are fine and now think we're their momma!


  1. Hello, I just had a baby calf born Tuesday June 9th, the momma cow has keep it away from the main herd and I haven't seen it nurse, so today Sunday the 14th I started watching it closer. I tried to get milk in it but the cow is very protective. I finally got it to the corral at dark and had a pint of replacer milk with an egg in it just in case and I got it to suck the bottle. Now what do I do? Do I try to make it suck the momma or try to milk her and give him the milk or just let nature take its course? Or do I just bottle feed? I have had one die that was 3 mts old and one had the scours last week but I think he is gonna be ok. Talk about raining! I'm having a HAIL STORM, LOL
    Thank You for any advice.

  2. Hi justholdon,

    At this point, if the momma cow is rejecting the calf or not allowing it to suck for whatever reason - isolate the calf in the corral without the momma.
    We have Brahmas and they require a lot of milk replacer so ours drink about 8 pints at a time. I use the bottles from Advance E-Z Nurse available at Tractor Supply.
    We use a 22-20 milk replacer made specifically for calves.
    I would not put any egg in it.
    Always sterilize the bottles in the sink in a little bleach water. This will reduce the chance of scours.
    I mix the milk replacer as directed with warm water.
    If the baby is rejecting the bottle, put some molasses on the end of the nipple (they love molasses). Once you get the nipple in the calf's mouth..squeeze the bottle and move it in a up and down motion to simulate the udder. Sometimes it helps to sprinkle some milk drops on their nose and let them smell the actual milk. If they are hungry they will get the idea.This has worked for us every time.
    If this fails, fill a large oral medication injector with the milk replacer and squirt it in the calf's mouth (be sure and hold the calf's head up).
    We feed ours 8 pints twice a day. They start licking and smacking their lips when they see us coming with the bottles.
    Good luck, keep me posted!

  3. Thanks for your quick reply.
    I got the momma in a head gate and put the baby at her side and squirted some of her milk in his mouth. I put the teat in his mouth and worked with him and he started sucking. Her teats are so LONG he just can't get them into his mouth. As long as I put the teat in he sucked. I hope he will get enough stength after a couple of sessions with help that he can manage on his own.
    I just wonder if he got any clostrum those first hours or was he just surviving on his own since Tuesday. I think he may have some issues with his left eye it is watering and he did poop while he was nursing this morning.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH for listening to me my husband says I over react that they know how to take care of themselves. I just panic when I lose one she had scours at 6 weeks old and just never was right after that she died the morning this one I working with now was born. How strange is that.

    South Mississippi girl

  4. The milk was red when I went to fed him this evening. What is up with that. His poop was red and I thought he was bleeding inside but then I discovered that the milk he drank was red.
    SOOOO confused.

  5. STOP giving the mom's have to give him some CLEAN milk replacer. At this point, concentrate on helping the calf. She probably could do with some electrolyte replacer too. I like the kind you get in a small pack (red & black writing, not sure of the name). It turns to GEL. This will help the calf with fluid loss. The stuff costs about $3.50 or $4.00 but is worth it. It smells a bit like coconut. Give the calf this either in a bottle or in the big oral syringe.
    I alternate feedings with this and the milkk replacer.
    About the milk being red...colostrum has a tinge of reddish brown to almost has a caramel tone to it (it is very high in fat). If the udders were clogged up then this could just be pent up colustrum. But if the momma cow has mastitis or some other ailment then it could be blood in the milk.
    The old momma cow that you see pictured in this post and is the mother of Pink Olive passed away on Saturday. She never quite recovered from the birth and had severe mastitis. Her bag was so back up and big, we used milking needles to relieve the pressure but she still suffered from minor paralysis in her hind quarters. We gave her large amounts magnesium tubes (dissolved in her water tank) but she was very old and just could not overcome.
    Now we have the two orphaned calves to feed by bottle but they are doing great. Today I let them out into the baby pasture with my other former bottle fed babies and the miniature donkeys.
    Let me know how you do!

  6. Hello again,
    It've had a rough time since I last wrote you but here it is if you still wanna know.
    Yesterday, when I got to the lot he was very hot so I splashed him with water and rubbed him. I tried to give him a bottle but he would not take it. I poured some in his mouth a little at a time till I got about 3 cups in him. I had made up the emergency liquid and poured about a cup into his mouth a little along. When I went back 3 hrs later he was stretched out flat I just knew he was dead but I saw his ear wiggle and went on in and tried the bottle again. No luck poured a little more down him and milked the mama dry and went home for the night. 5:30 am today I gathered up a few things to mix the milk at the lot if I needed it and went back looking to carry him off to the graveyard I just had NO hope that he had made it but to my suprise he was sitting up and stood up before I got into the lot and he was calling for his mama.
    I tried the bottle but he would not take it. My back has been hurting since I've been working with him. I also have to be at work at 7 am with a 20 mile drive so my time working with him in the mornings is very limited. I put the Mama in the head gate and put him at her side and as long as I put the teat in his mouth he sucked. He finally got to where he could get the back ones by himself. When I got home today, he had left the lot so I got them in the lot again and started it all over again. He really worked on her today with my help. I just hope he learns how to latch on to the front ones without me.
    So, it looks like he is gonna make it I DON'T KNOW HOW OR WHY.
    Today, I had another one born and I just thought the teats were big on the one I'm dealing with, oh my gosh you should see the front teats on her but at least the calf has sucked the rear teat a little.

    This should be the last baby for awhile I need a break. LOL
    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH for your concern and advice I really was desperate for help.

  7. I will cross my fingers for you. I know all to well that feeling of apprehension right before you get to the pasture or corral...hoping to see the little guy up and around.
    My cowboy's very old third cousin raised cattle his entire life and said that multiple swollen udders on a whole herd usually happens when the grass is super green and very rich. It happens when rain has been plentiful (as is the case with us during this past spring). Even though we are begging for rain!
    My advice would be to continue making a gel electrolyte bottle or oral injector and take it with you out to the pasture each time for the next few days. Keep trying to give it to him, it won't hurt to keep him as hydrated as possible. This also helps with scours.
    Our first bottle fed calf, ZZ Topinha, was at deaths door until we administered a shot of dextrose to her neck.
    She had been listless on the ground prior to that but bucked around like a rodeo bull after the injection.
    I would only do this in extreme emergencies but if all else fails, give it a shot. You can get a big gauge needle and the dextrose at Tractor Supply too.
    Our two newest additions are doing great and are hungry as can be for their bottles.
    Take care and JUST HOLD ON!!!

  8. Hello again,
    Well this morning when I got to the corral he was lying where I had left him the nite before only he was flat. I said well I guess it is true you have to get better before you can die.
    I was opening the gate to let the mama go when I seen his ear move. I couldn't believe it he was still alive. So I let him nurse he was very weak though and when he finished he went and lay in the corner of the corral. There are no trees or top over my corral. I left the gate open thinking he would follow his mama to the shady part of the lot but he didn't when I got home he was extremely hot it was so sad and I was furious that I didn't think about leading him to the shade before I left for work. His little tounge was hanging out of his mouth and he was really breathing fast. I got him to the shade as best as I could and fed him cool gatorade for about an hour and fanned him. Later I went back and led him to the corral where his mama was and he nursed on his on for the first time. He didn't take much I guess he was full of gatorade. lol That lil guy has really fought to live I just hope he does.

    I've been in the cattle business myself all my life (53) and it has really been hard since I started working full time the last five years. Everything is so expensive you can't make ends meet even if all goes well. WE DO IT CAUSE WE LOVE IT I GUESS!
    Thanks again for listening

  9. I have a week old calf with waterey poop, She drinks her bottle down and I have been giving her scour meds, but now I notice that she is trying to lick her butt all the time could it be raw from all the poop? what can I do for her??

  10. I have a week old calf with waterey poop, She drinks her bottle down and I have been giving her scour meds, but now I notice that she is trying to lick her butt all the time could it be raw from all the poop? what can I do for her??

  11. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back from again. webstagram


happy hour @ FMF

happy hour @ FMF
party till the cows come home