Many homesteaders begin adding cattle to their farm by buying a calf to raise. Whether this calf is going to be a future milk cow or is going to be hamburger and steaks, there are some simple rules that will help insure a successful experience with your new baby bovine.
Avoid Sale Barn Calves
Many people buy their first calf at a sale barn only to regret the decision later. The sale barn is the worst place to buy your first calf. Sale barns are full of every disease and pathogen you can think of, and stressed out baby calves are the perfect host. When buying a calf at the sale barn you have no idea where it came from or whether or not it received colostrum or had it’s navel dipped. Sale barn calves are just to much of a liability for a novice calf raiser. Instead, you should buy your calf from a local dairy farmer that you trust. Offer him a little more than the going market price for properly started calf. It’s a win/win situation for both parties.
Provide Dry, Draft Free, Well Ventilated Living Conditions
Be prepared to provide the proper living conditions for a healthy calf. Calves must have plenty of dry bedding. Wet calf pens will result in sick calves. Calves also need good ventilation to prevent pneumonia. In the winter you must be sure that calves are not in a drafty area. While ventilation is important, a cold draft directly on a calf in the winter will also result in sickness. Keep feed and water containers clean.
Be Observant and Prepared
Watch your calf carefully and be observant. Keep an eye open for droopy ears, a wet nose, a wet tail, coughing, heavy breathing, and any odd behavior. At the first sign of anything out of the ordinary, take the calf’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. A calf that is developing pneumonia will have a high temp. Pneumonia can be treated with penicillin or organically. Be sure to have electrolytes on hand. If your calf develops scours, electrolytes will help to keep the calf from becoming dehydrated. Dehydration kills calves and sometimes does so swiftly. Being alert to any changes in your calf’s behavior, making the proper diagnosis, and treating in a timely manner can be the difference between life and death.