I'm doing research on the best calf feeding program for raising my Jersey heifers, and since I've received quite a few requests about the best way to raise calves I'm going to share my research with you in this month's CowTales post.
The 1st Day
Newborn calves require at least 4 quarts of colostrum within 12 hours of birth, and I try to get the calf to drink at least 2 quarts within the first 60 to 90 minutes. I milk the cow while she is cleaning off her new baby and rewarm the colostrum to between 35° and 38°C (95° to 100°F) before feeding the calf.
I love the Peach Teats products for feeding my calves. The calf nipples are really great because they mimic a cow's teat for natural nursing, and the 2-quart nursing bottle makes the first few feedings a breeze.
In cold weather, you may want to cover the new baby with a calf blanket after she is completely dry to keep her warm. My fleece calf blankets came from Calf Cozy; other brands recommended by dairy farmers were Genex, Accelerated Genetics, Udder Tech, and Select Sires.
The 1st Week
For the first week I offer the calf 6 quarts of milk a day, split between two or three feedings, remembering to warm the milk to between 35° and 38°C (95° to 100°F) first. The calf might not drink all the milk, but I'm not worried about that if she is alert and drinking at least 3 to 4 quarts of milk a day.
I keep a small bucket of fresh water in the pen with the calf and change it daily, as well as a small bucket with a couple handfuls of grain. Calves are always so curious and will often start to drink water and nibble on grain before they are a week old.
If you live in Canada, your calf should be tagged by the end of the first week, and ideally within the first 24 hours. You can read my CowTales post Tagging Your Jersey Calf, Part I to learn about tagging.
The 1st Month
By the time the calf is a week old she should be drinking 6 quarts of milk a day, split between two or three feedings, and I keep feeding that for the next three months. You can keep bottle feeding your calf or switch to a nursing bucket like the reversible 6-quart calf feeder from Peach Teats, or teach her to drink from a bucket.
Grain is critical for good rumen development, so if the calf is not nibbling on her grain by the end of the first week I will stuff a small handful in her mouth after she is finished drinking her milk. She will quickly learn that grain tastes really yummy and start eating it on her own.
Target weight at 30 days: 93-103 pounds (42-46 kilograms)
Target height at 30 days: 29-32 inches (73-81 centimeters)
The 2nd Month
Your calf should be eating at least 1 pound of grain a day by this point. After the calf is eating at least 1-1/2 pounds of grain per day, you can begin offering a good quality grass hay; second or third cut is ideal.
Target weight at 60 days: 122-146 pounds (55-66 kilograms)
Target height at 60 days: 30-33 inches (76-83 centimetres)
The 3rd Month
A calf can be weaned at 8 to 12 weeks of age if she is eating at least 3 pounds of grain per day, but I will often feed my calves milk for an additional month.
Target weight at 90 days: 155-177 pounds (70-80 kilograms)
Target height at 90 days: 32-34 inches (81-86 centimetres)
You can keep track of your heifer's growth for the first two years with these printable growth charts from PennState Extension. I really like how they've made a chart for each of the six major dairy breeds (Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorn), so I easily check that my heifer's growth is on target for her age and breed.
I'd love to learn about how you raise your calves; please share in the comments below.
I love to share stories and tips from living on my farm in Enderby where I raise Jersey cows and Nubian goats and make cheese. I work part time at the Enderby Museum, and enjoy reffing minor hockey, teaching cheese making workshops, and reading. Click here to read my bio.