Jenifer Cruickshank
EM 9280 | Published February 2020, Reviewed 2023

People who purchase a calf need a record of the animal and an account of its history. Here are some answers to common questions that can help new owners properly feed, house and care for calves.


  • Milk or milk replacer at 101–105 degrees F. (Use thermometer to check.)
  • 2–4 quarts milk (1–1.5 lbs dry replacer) two times a day (20% of body weight daily).
  • Milk replacer: Follow mixing instructions; 20%–22% protein (milk source), 15%–25% fat (higher in winter).
  • Check nipple condition. (Should just drip when bottle is inverted; do not enlarge nipple opening.)
  • Free choice high-quality calf starter (coarse texture, more than 50% grain, 18% protein, less than 9% molasses, less than 4% fat), starting at a few days old.
  • Chopped hay starting at 5–7 weeks (preweaning).
  • Clean water available at all times.
  • Sanitation of bottles, buckets and feeders is critical.


  • Clean, dry bedding; deeper in cold weather. (Straw is ideal.)
  • If air temperature is outside of comfort range (50–75 degrees F), provide calf jacket, fans, etc., as appropriate.
  • Good ventilation (fresh air) but no drafts.
  • Monitor ammonia odor at calf level; if noticeable, change bedding and improve ventilation.
  • Control flies.

Disbudding and castration

  • Do both as early as possible.
  • Provide pain relief such as meloxicam; discuss with veterinarian.
  • Disbudding: burning or caustic paste. (Learn from veterinarian or someone experienced.)
  • Castration: rubber ring banding or surgical removal.

Health care

If calf has diarrhea and is standing or appears strong and is drinking all milk: give an oral electrolyte solution containing sodium bicarbonate between regular milk feedings. Do not combine electrolytes with milk.

When to contact a veterinarian:

  • Calf has diarrhea, is not drinking milk or is dehydrated, depressed or unable to stand.
  • Calf has temperature over 104 degrees F.
  • Calf has snotty nose, drooping ears, elevated respiratory rate, bloat or other signs of illness.

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