How to Feed an Orphaned Calf

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A calf that has been orphaned at or soon after birth requires some special care for survival and good health. Every orphaned calf should be given colostrum, which will provide important antibodies. For specific information on feeding an orphaned calf, contact a local veterinarian who is familiar with calf care.

Things You'll Need

  • Colostrum
  • Bucket or nipple bottle
  • Milk replacer


  1. Give the orphaned calf colostrum, which is an important source of immunoglobins. A calf should receive the colostrum within the first 12 hours of life. Traditionally, farmers have given an orphaned calf 2 qts. of colostrum as soon after birth as possible and then again 12 hours later. Research now indicates that this may not be enough and that specific amounts should be based on the calf's weight and the amount of antibody in the colostrum.

  2. Choose whether you will feed the orphaned calf from a bucket, a nipple bottle or a nipple bucket. Use whichever method is easiest for you and the calf. It is harder to teach a calf to drink from a bucket, but nipples can harbor bacteria and other harmful elements. If you choose to use a nipple, make sure that it is cleaned and sanitized regularly to prevent the calf from becoming ill.

  3. Buy milk replacer that is at least 22 percent protein and 15 percent fat. Follow the directions on the package to prepare the replacement milk for the calf.

  4. Feed once or twice daily an amount based on the calf's weight, age and milk replacer used. Consult the replacement package or a veterinarian to find the correct amount to feed. While feeding twice daily is more time consuming, studies have shown that calves that are monitored frequently are healthier overall.

  5. Offer small amounts of grain starter and water beginning several days after birth. This will help the rumen part of the stomach develop to better digest grains and forage. Gradually, the calf should begin eating greater amounts of the starter in preparation for weaning.

  6. Wean the calf off the milk replacer after the rumen has had time to fully develop. Generally, weaning takes place sometime after four weeks of age but it is dependent on how much of the starter the calf is eating

  7. Consult with a veterinarian who is familiar with the specific issues of orphaned calves. He will be able to offer suggestions on feeding amounts, types of milk replacers and the right age for weaning.



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