How to Care for an Orphan Calf

It's amazing that a mother cow knows exactly what to do when her calf is born. Sometimes the mother cow shuns the calf, they become separated in large herds or the mother dies, leaving a calf orphaned. If you find one of these orphaned calves, you need to take care of it or the calf will die.

Things You'll Need

  • Colostrum
  • Calf bottles and nipples
  • Calf milk supplements
  • Safe sheltered area for the calf
  • High-quality feed and hay


    • 1

      Look around for the mother cow when you find an orphaned calf. If you're sure of the mother-and-calf match, try to reintroduce the calf to the mother cow. This may work great, and your work will be done.

    • 2

      Place the calf in a safe area. This needs to be in a barn or other sheltered area where the calf will feel safe and secure and is out of the elements of weather. Try to find a location where the calf is in a stall or penned area alone rather than with other calves or farm animals.

    • 3

      Get the correct nursing and feeding supplies rounded up quickly for the calf, especially if you can tell it's just been born. Call a vet or feed supply store that handles livestock for your supplies. First, make sure that you get colostrum for the new calf. This is what the calf would receive from the mother cow in the first day or two of life. It contains much needed nutrients and antibodies to put the calf on the road to health. As small as a calf may appear, it needs to consume at least two quarts of colostrum for it to get the needed benefits.

    • 4

      Start a nursing and feeding schedule for your new calf. You will have to perform the tasks of the mother cow in teaching the calf how to nurse and eat. Use calf nursing bottles and nipples to feed calf milk supplements to the calf. You might have to coax or teach the calf to take the nipple. Carefully, stick several of your fingers that have been dipped in the milk into the calf's mouth to get it to suck. Then ease the nipple in the mouth. Some people like to try to bucket-feed a new calf. This is a bit harder to do, as this isn't natural to the calf at this point in its life. The bottle or bucket-feeding will have to be given to the calf very often, perhaps every two to four hours at first. It goes without saying that you're going to need some help with this schedule.

    • 5

      Offer clean fresh water to the calf often and keep a bucket available that the calf cannot turn over. It will eventually learn to drink water. Gradually add to the diet of the calf. Mix in some dry calf feed and some very high-quality hay. The hay needs to be greenish in color and contain fresh grasses and legumes.

    • 6

      Talk to a vet about administering needed newborn injections for your calf. It's going to need Vitamin A, D and E injections. Depending on the health of the calf, it may need more, so it's a good idea to have a vet come to examine your calf.

    • 7

      Keep the area where the calf is clean. This is a job in itself. You'll need to sweep out any soiled hay and wash down the area if necessary. It's important that this be done so your calf does not become sick.

    • 8

      Watch the calf closely for any signs of sickness or illness. If your calf develops diarrhea or has vomiting or any strange oozing from its mouth, call a vet. Also, check the calf for ticks, fleas, lice and other bugs that can spread disease. Spray to alleviate flies and mosquitoes as well.

    • 9

      Contact a high school 4-H organization if you are not able to care for the calf. The young people in these organizations raise farm animals for their school projects and have teachers and sponsors for guidance, help and support. Other options for alternative care would be to contact a county co-op center in a rural location for individuals who raise cattle or to call your vet for suggestions.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have one of more calves to care for, it's best to keep them in separate pens to avoid spreading illnesses and to keep them safe from injuries.
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