Keeping Calves


Practical Advice


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With his many little tummies, quick appetite, sturdy legs

   and very protective mother, you would think this sweet

   rambunctious fellow would be the easiest of all to keep.

  I have sadly found this to be furthest from the truth.

Theories To Happy Calf Keeping

Beef Magazine- Wormer

  • Knowledge and Prevention are worth ten pounds of cure, seven days of sleep, and a big chunk of change from the piggy bank.



  • A calves world is plagued with bacteria and worms even before his feet hit the ground. Calves should be wormed as soon as your veterinarian recommends it. Personally, I use Safeguard on my calves and have had good results.


  • There is a farmer my husband works with who immediately treats his new bottle calves with 2 day Penicillin (6 days which is 3 shots) and two  *Veda-sorb Jr bolus tablets by Vedco (2 days). He also makes the first feeding Re-Sorb and the next half formula and half Re-sorb. He does this for three days. When I get calves again I aim to try it... before I have problems.


If you can not locate the bolus tablets I have also found a source of the same ingredients in bolus tablets made by Agri Labs "Anti-diarrheal Bolus" tablets. They are cow size so chop one up and make a paste using plain yogurt. Nip the tip of a syringe, suck up the gritty mix and put it down the hatch. Calf-liscious! The ingredients are "Attapulgite, Carob Flour, Pectin, and Magnesium Trisilicate, in a sugar and starch base" listed right off the package.


  • Over fed calves are dead calves. Period. A big hefty calf should not be fed more than 2 quarts of liquid at a feeding. I'd caution against three feedings of two quarts unless the calf is older and built up to it. A small calf, like a Jersey, may need half that! Each calf is different. Watch him. The fastest way to get a calf to scour is to overfeed it. They will eat until they drop dead. I've seen it and was shocked. A calf has to separated from its mother if they are in a confined area. If its on her all the time it could very well happily eat itself to death. I watched the calf in the video we made be born, live a happy week, and die because no one saw any pooh. The owners assumed the mother cow was eating the calf's pooh. In reality, the calf's pooh was water. The cow was eating and producing lots of milk. My friends woke up to find a down calf. Sadly, Blizzard died the next day and we all learned a powerful, heartbreaking lesson: Too much of a good thing can kill.


  • The directions on the bag of formula may not be right for your calf. You can feed less, and increase it up to the recommended dosage. At the first sign of loose stools or a change of color in the stool, however, cut back.


  • Changes in a calf's feed or environment can make him ill. Animals are sensitive to field, weather or feed changes. (In the coal mine area where gas wells are constantly being built I know of goats that have aborted because of the sound of drilling rigs.)


  • Music is known for its healing power. Try some calm symphony or nature tapes, especially at night. Can't hurt. I used to put my own daughters to bed to the tunes of their favorite cassette tapes. (I know- what's a cassette tape?)


  • Fresh water should be limited if the calf is scouring. Instead, give the calf fresh water yourself or leave a measured amount in the bucket for him.


  • Do not use the microwave to heat anything but the calf water. Vitamins are zapped by the waves. I learned this in a nutrition class at college.


  • Feed Probios daily in a calf's formula. It contains microorganisms for good digestion.


  • I also feed one-half cup of plain yogurt to my calves (and every bottle fed puppy, kitten, goat kid and donkey) for the first month then "wean" them off it gradually. The yogurt contains lots of good bacteria for the intestinal tract.                           (Good for humans too! The good bacteria create biotin which is essential for healthy hair, bones and nails in animals. A biotin supplement for horses strengthens their hooves.)


  • Body language. The sides of a calf: Sunk in tends to be dehydrated. Expanded he's bloated and could have eaten something. Try a little Pepto for the belly. A tightened body might be digestive cramps. Eyes sunken in to the head is a very bad sign that the calf does not have long to live. The deeper the eyes are sunk in the worse the calves dehydration. This animal needs an IV and a vet fast. A listless head down calf with a weave to its step is in grave danger.


  • Very sick calves could benefit from a foal blanket. I heard yah. A calf that shivers is better off. Bologna I say. If you're sick let's strip you down in a cold room and leave you to suffer in a corner. I'm not saying a down quilt, just a light throw rug to ward off chills that taxes much needed energy to fight off illness. Take it off when the calf perks up.


  • Along the same note, use a heat lamp at night while the calf is sick and on nights that will dip below fifty degrees. I have found that my Jersey calves, in the open barn situation we have, are distressed by the cold variations. A calf "igloo" with a good thick bed of hay would ward off the chill, too. I do not believe, myself, that it is the cold that gets them, but the extreme up and down variations. Be sure to confine a calf so it has to stay in the warm area. I had one decide to stray out from under the lamps after going through a real bad round of scours and die of hypothermia. If that was not completely frustrating I don't know what was.


  • A new calf that won't suck can be encouraged to suck with a little sticky molasses on the nipple. Straddle the back of the standing calf, stroke under their chin and down their neck to encourage swallowing, and bang the bottle gently against their mouth. It's a new trick which can take time. If all else fails use a metal feeding syringe until you can get them nursing. Be sure the calf is swallowing the liquid- don't shoot it down their throat or it could get in the lungs and cause more problems.


  • To get a calf to drink out of a bucket stand facing away from the calf. Cup the calves muzzle and allow them to suck on a finger. Lower your hand into the bucket. Slowly get your finger out of the way. Some calves get it right off, others, like the one I have now, take days to get the idea that they don't need you to get a drink.


  • If you have a mommy cow that will not nurse- do not allow the calf near her. Milk her yourself and feed the calf. If she shows she wants nothing to do with the calf put the calf on another cow and hull the mother to the butcher unless you want to deal with an orphan calf every time you breed her. The reason I sound so crude about this is because a friend of mine tried to tie the mother up in "stalks". She kicked the calf in the head- killing it. Broke my friend's nose and inured his daughter. It attacked another newborn calf later, but, was stopped by the attentive mother. My friend promptly shot her on the spot. He was out hunting woodchucks and witnessed the attack. Some cows, no matter how pretty, or well-bred, are just not meant to be mothers. That is all I have to say about that, and I apologize to anyone whom I offended with the advice. Hopefully, cows like that one are few and far between.


  • Cattle Grubs (warble fly or heel fly) are nasty- double nasty- bee like flies that lay eggs on the hair of an animal. You can read all about them on the internet. Below are some sites that made me cringe at the little boogers life-cycle. The one thing I did learn is, that if you treat an animal with a pour on solution at the wrong time of the season, you could cause unwanted host-parasite reactions like bloat, staggering, paralysis or death. Read the bottle of IVERMECTIN and don't use it at the wrong time! Spray dog flea spray on the legs of animals and hit the eggs with corn oil or baby oil then peel them off with a bot comb, Do not do the last part if the animal is inclined to kick. Bot Flies are just as disgusting!


  • Suspect worms. Worms will kill a calf. The best way to know what type of worms you are dealing with is a microscope. You may want to step up to the injection wormer like Noromectin which covers a wide variety of worms.  Give it three weeks and follow up with a paste for that kind of worm. (You might be interested in discussing wormer for yourself the next time you are in to see the doctor. In talking to our country vet and watching TV I'm pretty convinced a few ailments and cases of depression or fatigue could be cured with a wormer.)


  • Antibiotics can cancel each other out and do no good at all. For example: I was told that if you feed Aureomycin crumbles than you should not give an animal penicillin. Also Sulmet may cancel medicated calf formula. Ask before you double medicate.


  • Use the adult dosage of Pepto Bismal every hour until you can get medicine for a scouring calf.


  • Wash a calf's backside if he is scouring to keep insects away. (He's your calf so don't look at me.)


  • I have successfully treated a scouring calf on its last leg with Veda Sorb Jr bolas tablets (two for two days) and Penicillin (over six day period). The tablets do not contain medicine, but, vitamins and other additives meant to enhance the Penicillin. Depending on how bad the diarrhea I also added feedings in smaller amounts. This calf I fed seven small feedings for three days to equal four quarts of liquid, per day, then gradually brought up the amount and lessened the number of feedings over another three day period until it was back to two feedings a day. I also gave the calf an eighth of a cup of plain yogurt at every feeding.  Knox gelatin once a day. I fed mostly electrolytes using the product Re-sorb. I completely removed the calf from medicated formula. Instead, I gave him a diluted formula (Universal Milk 24) of one half cup to two quarts of water. When he really got weak I gave him Calf Start-4 at two of the feedings for two days.  It took nine days to get him up to full dosage of calf formula. Then I very, very, very slowly started switching him back to the cheaper medicated milk formula. I also put a heat lamp at night on the little fellow, too.


  • Feeding Electrolytes and Milk Replacer at the same time can cause problems. They react somehow.


  • Don't ask me how it works, but, plain old Knox Gelatin put in a calves milk will help bind the calf up. Because it binds with stuff I'm not sure I would add it to medicine feedings. Be forewarned that gelatin loves metal. Use hot water to get it off- the sooner the better. A glass bowl is best for mixing it in. (Looking for some cheap glue...?)


  • Get the calf's gut rolling. He has more than one stomach. Slip a few wisps of grass in his mouth. The tender tips of the grass I would think best. If the grass feels tough and sharp it probably will be on his stomachs too. Encourage the calf to eat coarser parts of hay, not so much the grassier parts. Use 20 cc of plain yogurt between feedings.


  • Calves seem to have a passion for baler twine and rope. Pull it gently back out of his mouth and kick yourself for leaving the stuff anywhere near a baby. I don't know what it does if he swallows it, but, my guess is that it can't be good.


  • My great grandfather used to say that the cows would seek out wild mint plants growing along the creek for a sick belly. (Probably too much baler twine.) Don't know, but, a little can't hurt. Dried, it makes great tea!


  • Get a calf walking. Do you see mommy standing still? Walking gets the body's guts working. Encourage the calf by walking a few steps and shoving several blades of grass in the corner of its mouth. Walk a few more steps and do the same. Crazy, but, I swear, it works. Vary how much walking and grass on the health of the calf.


  • Don't be in a hurry to start grain. Give him nibbles like he would have if Mom dropped some from her mouth.


  • A calf that is drinking its own urine is in big trouble. More than likely he's dehydrated and might be scouring. Don't allow bull calves to "nurse" on each other. Think about it. That just can't be healthy and might do damage to the bladder.


  • Keep bedding area clean. If pooh goes in the mouth you can bet Mr. Calf just gave himself a good does of bacteria or worms.


  • Keep a sick animal  apart until you know why the animal is sick.


  • You don't want a sick animal in a draft, but, you don't want to keep it out of fresh air. A protective space is better than an enclosed stall because fresh air whisks away natural gas build from urine and pooh.


  • Put up the fly stickers. A fly regurgitates every time it lands. Think about that the next time you are at a picnic! Yuck!


  • Keep buckets clean. Use dish liquid. As soon as the bottle is empty clean it. 


  • A calf off of milk for 24 hours has a chance of becoming lactose intolerant because the fragile intestinal bacteria that process it, die off. Try to keep just a little milk in its system. Even a tablespoon.


  • Feed a calf with its head up. The liquid can go down in it's lungs and quickly turn to pneumonia.


  • A teaspoon of molasses or Kero syrup  are some quick sources of sugar. I'm not sure how much a calf can have of these before causing problems. I only do one tsp a day, when sick or weak looking,  because these little guys burn 2400 calories per day- healthy. I might give more to a bigger calf.


  • On hand should be Iodine. Use it on the calf's umbilical cord and his rectum to prevent a tiny fly from landing there, laying eggs and causing a serious worm problem. Don't know, but, two old farmers swear it's the truth.

  • On hand should be a bottle of Pedialyte. This a fast and ready source of electrolytes.

  • On hand should be Pink Bismuth (Pepto).  It coats the stomachs of a distressed animal.

  • On hand should be Calf Restart One- 4.  Energy is quickly lost by a sick calf.

  • On hand should be Re-Sorb- an oral hydration electrolyte product that really does work.

  • On hand plain white rice. Boil it for ten minutes, drain, and use as the water for for formula, drench or electrolytes. It is said to thicken the stool.

  • On hand should be Veda Sorb Jr bolus tablets. I like these because they work with an injection antibiotic so you know the calf got a dose that didn't go out faster than it went in.

  • On hand should be a vile of Penicillin. I like the two day. It's less hassle.

  • On hand should be a gizmo that allows you to put liquid directly into a really sick calf's belly.


  • Sick animals need fed less, but, more often. A sick calf, for instance, still needs four quarts of liquid. In a big dose it will go out as fast as it went in, so I discovered. So I feed several times. (I've done something that got him sick. I deserve the long day.)


  • I've heard of  whiskey, being used by old farmers. Don't know about that one. I'd kind of like to know why the calf's  staggering- and the farmer. (One for you- hiccup- and one for me- hiccup- sort of thing.)


  • Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Treating with electrolyte products be careful of double dosing.


  • In a pinch I've used my goats' electrolyte products.


  • Keep a buddy within moo range. A friend is a comfort. Even if it is a goat or a dog.


  • You can treat ear mites with regular corn oil. It makes a cat look mighty sad for a few days until they get the oil off their coat, but, it sure works and beats paying outrageous prices for stuff that doesn't.


  • An Amish trick for treating scrapes is warm diluted Epsom salts to wash the wound and a handful of black pepper.


  • A trick for treating swelling due to sprains etc... is Preperation H, the clear gel is better than the cream stuff. If it's bad use the Prep H and wrap the leg with bacon, then wrap this with bandage. Change it daily. In about three days you should see a difference. Don't ask me why it works, but, I had a goat I could not get the swelling out of. A farmer suggested the bacon and eyed him like he had lost his mind, but, I had nothing to lose, but my goat. By the way, the trick works on humans, too.


So, what do you do for a scouring calf ?

  1. Check all over the place for what he might have eaten. Check calf for lumps, bumps, and bites. (Spiders or snakes.)

  2. Is his nose wet like it is suppose to be? I've been told a dry nose indicates fever. Take his temp. You first.

  3. Suspect a bacterial source, such as a visiting chicken, cow pooh, or something else a baby would chew on. (Leave it to kids to find icky things.)

  4. Check for pooh. If you can't see it, it might be all water! I hate to say this, but, a calf's pooh will often times tell you he's sick before his body language does. Healthy calves have a healthy, sort of solid brown pooh. Yellowish pooh is diarrhea. White pooh is a very bad sign.

  5. Do not use Penicillin beyond six days without vet consent. Do not use the bolus beyond two days without talking to a vet.

  6. Do not feed a scouring calf grain. Grain can cause a calf to scour. Introduce it at very small amounts and gradually increase.

 He's  got the start of the runs. Immediately go to four times a day feeding (Regiment 1). Too much liquid at once will flush through a scouring calf.

 Note: It is easier to mix the Re-sorb in a 2qt container and use the portion as warm water. For example 1qt of warm Resorb would replace the 1qt of just

           plain old warm water.


Regiment 1 (4 feedings): (Once pooh becomes solid drop the Pepto and the Knox.) 

 Feeding 1 6AM  One Capful of Pepto; 1qt of warm water and half the packet of Re-sorb.   An eighth-of-a-cup of plain yogurt.

                            Give Pepto every hour until noon if you can.          

           Feeding 2  12Noon 1Pk of Knox in 1 qt of warm water and half the packet of Re-sorb. One eight of a cup of non-medicated formula.

                                            Medicated formula will cancel out the penicillin and is too harsh on upset stomachs. An eighth-of-a-cup of plain yogurt.

            Feeding 3  2PM One Capful of Pepto. 1qt of warm water and half  the packet of Re-sorb. One eight of a cup of non-medicated formula.

                                     Probios microbial product- half the dose.

   At 3pm Fresh water up to one quart on hot days( above seventy-five degrees) in a calf that is just loose not full blown diarrhea.

           Feeding 4  6PM     If the calf is a little lose go for 20 cc of Pepto. I personally don't like to give antibiotics unless I have to.

                                      You can tell if the calf is nudging down hill. If he's worse go the penicillin route without hesitation.

                                      Shot of 2 day penicillin (Don't give a shot the following day unless you are using the daily form of penicillin.)

                                      and two bolus tablets (Two days in a row. Ask a vet about giving for more days.) Settle him into a nice bed of hay.

                                     Feed: 1qt of warm water and half the packet of Re-sorb. 1 full cup of plain yogurt mixed in.        

                   (As long as the calf is on an antibiotic you have to replace the good bacteria in the digestive system. The yogurt does this.)

                   (If the calf appears weak give a bottle of Calf Restart at 3pm instead of water and another bottle at 9pm.)


  Regiment 2 (6 feedings): Use boiled rice water at two or more feedings depending on the scouring.

  • You can give the Penicillin earlier if you feel this is an emergency. I like to wait and see if their bodies will react without antibiotics. You might also try splitting the bolus tablets. Give one in the morning and one with penicillin at night. If you suspect a bacterial source has caused the scours, and not a feeding change, I would go with the Penicillin right off from the start.
  • Give 20 CC Pepto every hour until noon.  Drop to 10 cc until night. 
  • Give 20 CC of plain yogurt every hour all day. 


            Feeding 1: 6AM   One Capful of Pepto; 1/4qt of warm water and 1/4 the packet of Re-sorb.   Bottle of Calf Restart One-4.    Two bolus tablets.

            Feeding 2: 8AM   One Capful of Pepto; 1/4qt of warm water and 1/4 the packet of Re-sorb.   A quarter-of-a-cup of plain yogurt.

            Feeding 3: Noon  1Pk of Knox in 1/4 qt of warm water. One Tblsp of non-medicated formula. Bottle of Calf Restart One-4.

            Feeding 4:  2PM  One Capful of Pepto. 1/4qt of warm water and 1/4 the packet of Re-sorb. One Tblsp of non-medicated formula.

                                     Probios microbial product- half the dose.

            Feeding 5:  4PM   Feed: 1/2qt of warm water and 1/2 the packet of Re-sorb. 1/4 cup of plain yogurt mixed in.

            Feeding 6:  6PM   Shot of 2 day penicillin (don't give a shot the following day unless you are using the daily form of penicillin.)

                                      and two bolus tablets (Two days in a row. Ask a vet about giving for more days.) Settle him into a nice bed of hay.

                                     Feed: 1/2qt of warm water and 1/2 the packet of Re-sorb. 1 full cup of plain yogurt mixed in.

                                     Bottle of Calf Restart One-4 if the calf appears weak.


              If the calf is not doing better the next day: (At this point try the rice water and limit calf formula to 1 Tblsp.)

              * Calf is unable to stand or refuses to suckle it more than likely needs the vet to administer an IV.

              * If the calf appears weak, but will suckle, give Calf Restart-4 at first feeding. Use Regiment 2 until the scours alleviates then begin

                        Regiment 1, (slowly start increasing the non-medicated formula) for two days then go to three feedings for two days

                        and back to two feedings. Begin slowly decreasing the non-medicated formula, add an ounce a day the

                        formula you want them on. Decrease the non-medicated  formula until the calf is on the formula you want them on.

                        My Jersey calf is on half and half because he starts scouring. He will remain on this until he is weaned.


               *If the calf is still the same or  gets runnier add two more feeding times.  Regiment 2.  Use Calf Restart at the 6AM, Noon, 6PM and if really

                    weak feed at Midnight, too.  Use 1/4 cup of yogurt at every feeding.

                    Give it 20 CC's of plain yogurt between  feedings. This helps to get the gut rolling instead of sitting for hours.



Day 2:  Calf is doing better in the morning. Follow the same routine minus the dosage of penicillin. Vary the Calf Restart-4 based on weakness of calf.

            Do not vary the Re-sorb. Vary this once you are at day five and ready to go back to normal two day feedings. Go to one pack for day six and seven

            then half a pack for day eight and nine then he should be doing good by then.

           Put the calf where the amount of grass it can eat is short stubble or hay. Check for pooh consistency.



Definite diarrhea. Loose brown pooh, but, baby still has a smile and eager bounce.         


Weak with diarrhea. Sometimes yellow watery pooh. Sides are pinched in from dehydration. May still wag tail when fed.


Severe: Falls and stumbles, listless, eyes rolled or sunk in, diarrhea. White pooh or no pooh at all because it is too watery. We are in deep trouble here.

             This calf needs a vet and an IV.

                     This is what I've done for a fifty pound calf that was on the verge of becoming listless.

            You must get this calf up and moving! Message it gently. Move it's legs. Carry it around for a few minutes. Do this every two hours.

            Get it's head up and put it in stall sling for fifteen minutes. (Put a sheet under it's belly to keep it up if you can.)

            Add 1 Tbsp of Kero corn syrup to 20 CC of plain yogurt feed three times during the day.

            Follow Regiment 2.

            Add half a bottle of Pedialyte at 8PM and another half at 10PM.


Depending on how weak the calf use a heat lamp a few feet away or roll up a hot water bottle and put it nearby. Better yet, a plastic drum filled with hot water to curl up next to. My mother used to put a hot water bottle on my baby brother's belly because he was inclined to colic. This calf is dying. It can't hurt to give the innards a little warmth.

If he won't get up to feed he needs an IV and a vet right now. If you're not sure, best to call and be sure.

Treat this way until you start seeing a pasty pooh.



               If he becomes loose again suspect he's getting too much liquid. This calf would probably  benefit from being

            fed three times a day at one third quart. I've  found this to be true of the Jersey calves.


           Every calf is different and you will find yourself varying in what works and how quick it works.

                  The main things to remember are:

                            Watch the pooh. You don't want to step in it and you don't want it to change colors.

                             Keep the calf warm on nights dropping below fifty.

                             Make changes slowly.

                             Keep the good bacteria in the digestive tract and do not allow the calf to go without a little milk

                                         within a 24 hour period or they may go lactose intolerant.

                              Have what you need on hand. Even if you don't use it someone you know will.