Weaning Bottle Calves
The first big milestone for your bottle calf is weaning. Weaning can take place as early as a month of age, but I wouldn't recommend weaning that early unless it is unavoidable. Every week that you can give your calf milk or milk replacer puts him in a stronger, healthier position to handle the stress of weaning. Usually calves are given six to eight weeks on milk or milk replacer before the owner weans them.
Of course if you are buying milk replacer you probably can't wait to stop paying for milk. However, if your calf is ill or you are dealing with unusual weather extremes, you probably want to hold off on weaning until things are fairly stable. Don't wean your bottle calf when he's already experiencing stress.
Heading Toward Weaning-Calf Starter
Calf starter is a type of grain ration that will help your calf continue to grow and develop. Some grass fed beef farmers may hesitate to offer their calves calf starter. However, if you don't plan on giving your bottle calf any calf starter at all, you must bottle feed him until he is four to six months old.
The calf starter is more than just a grain treat. This grain mix contains a great amount of nutrition that the calf needs to grow normally. Additionally, the calf starter helps the calf's rumen develop. The bacteria in the rumen help the calf break down hay and grass. Until the bacteria in the rumen are working properly, he may nibble at hay, but he won't get a whole lot out of it.
Put the calf starter out for the calf starting when he is a couple days old. When he's eating about two pounds of starter each day, you can start to wean him.
Cut Back the Bottles
As you begin to get close to the bottom of the last bag of milk replacer you plan on buying, cut back your feedings to once a day. Your calf will probably complain loudly, but he will be okay. Just make sure that you have provided him with plenty of grain, minerals, good quality hay, and water.
On the day that you give your calf his last bottle, you should vaccinate him for Black-leg with a seven way vaccine. The bottle calves that we have lost almost all died within a week of weaning when we neglected to vaccinate. Most milk replacers include a bit of antibiotics. The calf's immune system comes to depend on this antibiotic, and the calf can be susceptible to all kinds of diseases when you stop feeding the milk replacer. Go ahead and give him his shots to make doubly sure that he will not fall ill right after weaning.
Your calf will probably be very unhappy about your cutting out his bottles of milk replacer. It's okay. This is a natural part of growing up for the calf, and it won't be long before he'll get hungry enough to fill up on hay and calf starter. Continue to feed him calf starter for about three months, at which time you can gradually switch over to a normal grain mix. Feeding the calf grain will help him gain weight since he won't be nursing on a mama cow like a regular calf will.
Weaning means that your calf is growing up. Although the bottle-feeding phase was plenty of fun, it's time for your calf to join the herd as an older calf. This time is stressful on the calf, so make sure you are taking good care of his needs and paying close attention to his health status.