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Bucket verses bottle feeding calves: is one method better than the other? (The cow barn).


When I started to bottle feed calves, I just used the standard one-half gallon and red rubber nipple system sold by the local co-op. (See photo.) However, while attending a Stockman Grass Farmer conference some years ago, one of the speakers was Paul McCarville, a commercial dairy farmer. He told of his search for a more efficient, less labor-intensive way to raise his calves. After hearing his presentation, he convinced me to change my system.

What he said was this, as extracted from one of his brochures with permission:

"Pressures of modern farming tend to make the average stock farmer completely disregard the physiology of the calf's digestive system. But knowledge of this system and consequent requirements is vital if it is to be reared successfully.

"When a calf is born its fourth stomach (the abomasum) is three or four times the size of its first stomach (the rumen). This is because the fourth stomach is the main digestive organ in early life.

"When it starts sucking--wagging its tail and bunting the cow's udder--a groove at the bottom of the oesophagus (food tube) forms a pipe. The suckled milk runs through this pipe directly into the abomasum (bypassing the first, second and third stomachs).

"When the calf is fed from a bucket so that its head is down, the pipe does not become fully formed and some of the milk gets into the rumen where it is wasted. (And, thus, the drawback of feeding out of buckets or pans at ground level.)

"When sucking, the calf will feed often--approximately every two hours--and each time it does so a clot forms in the fourth stomach. At the end of the day this stomach is packed full of a number of comparatively small clots, each being acted upon by the digestive juices, leaving no space for any other foodstuff.

"From birth, fresh clean water should be provided. As the calf grows, he nibbles more solid food each day and drinks the correct amount of water. All of this goes into the rumen or first stomach, which gradually develops and grows.

"When a calf is ready for weaning at around six weeks, the rumen is three times the size of the abomasum and is capable of taking on the main task of ruminate digestion."

More importantly, he went on to say the American nipple system actually works to the determent of the calf. The red rubber nipples are both too soft and the opening far too large, resulting in the calf guzzling the milk or milk replacer, rather than having to suck hard for it, as if it were coming direct from momma. Also, if buckets are used, they need to be elevated to approximately the same height as momma's udder.

After some searching, Paul found a black, hard-rubber nipple from New Zealand. It forces the calf to have to suck hard, resulting in ample saliva being formed. That saliva then enters the calf's digestive system, aiding in the digestion process.

I purchased several of these New Zealand nipples from him and changed my system to feeding out of a fivegallon plastic bucket hung on the fence. Two appropriately sized holes were drilled in the bottom side of the bucket and the nipples snapped into the opening. Milk replacer would simply be made up in another five-gallon bucket and poured into this bucket, It took only one training for the calves to learn how to belly up to the new milk bar. They would have to suck so hard excess saliva would drip to the ground.

Since the bucket was just hung on the fence, periodic cleaning was easy; however, I seldom needed to. The 2" x 6" board at the back of the bucket tilted it just enough to where almost all of the milk replacer would be sucked out of it.

(If the calves still seemed hungry but I didn't want to give more milk replacer, I would pour warm water with some sugar into the bucket.)

Also, if you still want to use the coop's bottle, the black, hard rubber nipples slip nicely into the red rubber one, creating the same "suck hard" system. Here you need to pull out the nipple occasionally, as the sucking will want to collapse the bottle.

Due to the interest generated in Paul's calf-rearing systems, he started a company to supply others. His system can be modified to suit one calf up to groups. He has also produced two brochures explaining his system, "McCarville's Calf Rearing System: The bottom line is healthier calves `make' healthier cows" and "Raising Calves Isn't Just for Kids." Both are available by sending $1 and a business-size, self-addressed envelope with a first class stamp attached to McCarville Dairy Supplies, 322 High Street, Mineral Point, WI 53565.

Overall, I found McCarville's system to be far less effort than my previous bottle feeding method, plus I think it was better for the calves.
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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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