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Bottle-Feeding With Calf Milk Replacer 101 [Full Guide + Review]

Having spent most of my life in the city, I learned on the fly when I moved to my homestead. I managed well with a few horses and a couple of chickens, but I was shockingly unprepared for bottle feeding and calf milk replacer!

Luckily, I learned quickly. I have bottle-reared several calves successfully since. If you’re new to bottle-feeding with calf milk replacer, then let me share my best tips and insights with you!

Sound good?

Let’s begin!

My Quick Guide to Calf Milk Replacer 101

adorable calf drinking from milk bottle
Milk replacer is much more popular than I thought! Around 50% of US dairy farms feed their calves milk replacer. Milk replacer is convenient – and can be more affordable and more stable than regular milk. It can also save the lives of calves (and other baby mammals) without adequate calories!

Learning how to rear and wean a bottle calf is an essential skill!

Success requires knowing the how, the what, and when of using the best calf milk replacer available to ensure your calf is healthy and grows into a big strong bull or cow.

(When caring for your calves – now isn’t the time to skimp and scrimp! Always go for the best you can afford.)

While I was somewhat intimidated by that first mix of milk replacer and wondered if I had done everything right, my first bottle calf was soon having calves and turned into the best milking cow.

Here is what you need to know if you’re new or want to start on the best footing.

How Much Milk Replacer to Feed a Calf?

Feeding small or baby animals is tricky. Overfeeding them might be dangerous! I was terrified that I would be either overfeeding my calf or that I might offer too little, and the calf would get sick and die. 

My vet came to the rescue, and he calmly said I had to feed my calf 10% of their weight per day, split into the number of meals per day. A calf needs at least two meals per day, so I had to feed 5% of their body weight per meal.

(We also read a reliable source that says baby calves need around 12% of their body weight when using milk replacer. So – between 10% and 12% of the calf’s body weight daily. We advise you to consult your vet to ensure your calves get enough to eat. Or, drink!)

My next issue was how I could weigh a calf that’s much bigger than a dog and quite a bit heavier too! 

Fortunately, my vet suggested I work off an average estimate of 50 pounds at birth if the calf is small. If it’s a heavier calf breed, like Chianina cattle, I could double that up to 100 pounds at birth

Since the calf would gain around 1-2 pounds per day, I could recalculate this, and I knew I had to increase the milk replacer quantity each week or so.

Read More – Best Milking Cow Breeds! – These Are the 7 Best Dairy Cows!

How Long Do You Bottle Feed a Calf With Milk Replacer?

Most calves are bottle-reared until they are ready to wean at four months old. I discovered the trick was that the calf had to be prepared to wean. The four-months-rule didn’t apply when a calf was underweight or sickly, like one of my bottle calves was.

A calf needs to eat roughage such as hay and silage. Calves also need to graze in their small pasture. The bottle-fed calf also needs to drink adequate water and eat some grain before stopping the milk replacer. 

I also prefer to do the weaning process a little more gradually with a bottle-fed calf. By diluting the milk replacer more and more each day, the calf will soon end up only drinking water from the bottle, which will make them lose interest and graze more instead. 

How Long Does Calf Milk Replacer Last After Mixing?

Milk replacer can last for months in powder form.

Once it’s mixed? It lasts for around 24 hours in the fridge.

My first batch of milk replacer ended up being way too much for my bottle calf, and I didn’t know better, so I threw it away.

When I again mixed too much of the formula a few days later, I quickly called my neighbor for advice. (They have a ton of experience weaning calves.)

You can store milk replacer for up to 24 hours in the fridge, which means I could mix enough for the whole

day. Well, this certainly made my busy homesteading life much easier as I could prep my calf’s bottles in the morning, simply reheating the second bottle by placing it in a bucket with hot water for a few minutes. 

What Is the Best Calf Milk Replacer? 

I bought the first calf milk replacer I could find at my local co-op for my first calf. When I ended up with another calf to bottle-rear, I decided to investigate a little more carefully as I wanted the best calf milk replacer available.

The following milk replacer options ranked highly in my reviews:

  1. Sav-a-Caf Calf Milk Replacer
  2. Sav-a-Caf Calf Milk Replacer

    I was excited to learn that the Sav-a-Caf Ultra Milk Replacer was not only suitable for calves! It's also perfect for other young animals that need bottle rearing.

    The wide use was great as it made more sense to have a couple of pounds in stock in my home dispensary. 

    The milk replacer contains 20% milk protein and 20% fat, making it a nourishing meal. Blending was also easy due to the crystal structure of the formula.

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  3. Purina All-Milk 22-20 Calf Milk Replacer
  4. Purina All-Milk 22-20 Calf Milk Replacer

    For that extra oomph, I found that Purina Calf Milk Replacer contained more protein at 22%, with the same fat content as Sav a Caf’s calf milk replacer.

    Purina milk replacer is perfect for calves who had a rough start in life. I managed to save a weak calf stuck in a fence for a few hours and got rejected by the mamma with Purina’s milk replacer. It's perfect for those cases!

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  5. DuMOR Special Calf Milk Replacer
  6. DuMOR Special Calf Milk Replacer

    For older calves, use a mixed milk replacer that contains milk and plant proteins such as soy proteins that may be intolerable to a young calf. From the age of three weeks, I feed my bottle calves Dumor as it is safer for older bottle calves to drink Dumor than other mixed milk replacers.

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  7. Manna Pro Suckle Select
  8. Manna Pro Suckle Select

    Manna Pro Suckle Select is a non-soy colostrum supplemental milk replacer. It is new on Tractor Supply and contains 20% protein and fat.

    It is ideal for very young calves, and it helps to balance their gut biome soon after birth.

    Manna Pro is also easy to mix and prepare, so you can help your hungry calves gain weight quicker!

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  9. Sav-a-Caf Colostrum Replacer
  10. Sav-a-Caf Colostrum Replacer

    One year, I had a tragedy with a mamma cow that died giving birth. The newborn calf was in a pickle as it had no access to the mamma’s colostrum or first milk. Feeding regular milk replacement wasn’t going to cut it. 

    That's why, I like Sav-a-Caf Colostrum Replacer. It's a colostrum supplemental milk replacer. A non-medicated milk replacer like Sav-a-Caf is similar to the mamma cow’s colostrum. Sav-a-Caf also has excellent reviews.

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Handy Facts About Calf Milk Replacer 

feeding milk replacer to brown and white calves
One of the best advantages of milk replacer is shelf stability. Most milk replacer lasts about six months in powder form. If you were feeding your calves with natural milk, your supply wouldn’t last nearly as long.

People often ask me how I manage to bottle-raise so many calves successfully each year, and I always tell them it’s the milk replacer and love!

But it is also in the little things like mixing the milk replacer correctly or knowing what to use if you’ve run out of milk replacer and desperately need some at two AM in the morning!

Calf Milk Replacer Mixing Instructions

  1. Mix the calf milk replacer powder into water that is at 110-120℉.
  2. Use a manual whisk to gently fold the powder into the water, lightly stirring to dissolve the powder.

When large batches are needed, like when I ended up with four bottle calves simultaneously, I suggest mixing large quantities of milk replacer in batches. 

Here’s how to batch mix milk replacer.

  1. Add half of the hot water to a large bucket. You can use other food-safe containers, too.
  2. Spread the milk replacer powder over the top.
  3. Wait a few moments for the powder to start sinking.
  4. Then whisk thoroughly, ensure no lumps in the water.
  5. Pour the rest of the hot water over the top of the mixture, then stir again.  

Medicated vs. Non-Medicated Calf Milk Replacer

Knowing when a calf needs medical help can decide whether to feed a non-medicated or medicated calf milk replacer. If a calf is sickly, weak, or traumatized after birth, you can choose the milk replacer that best suits what your calf needs.

As always, we urge you to seek a competent veterinarian or cow nutritionist to help formulate the best diet possible for your calves!

Can You Make Homemade Calf Milk Replacer?

Yes!

Farmers have been saving calf lives for centuries with homemade milk replacer recipes. While powdered milk replacer with specially designed formulas is a real help, you can still make your homemade calf milk in a pinch. 

Consider this recipe if you suddenly need milk replacer and don’t have any on the homestead

  • 10 ounces full-cream milk 
  • 10 ounces warm water
  • One tablespoon each of cod liver oil (make sure it’s wildcaught and pure, like this one) or castor oil (make sure this one is cold-pressed and organic like this one) and glucose or sugar
  • One egg yolk separated and thoroughly whisked

Mix the ingredients well, ensure the temperature remains consistently 110-120. Dispense into bottles with teats and feed. 

When to Wean a Bottle Calf

A bottle calf should wean at four months, depending on the breed. Larger and heavier cows may require more time on the bottle to optimize growth. 

How to Wean a Bottle Calf

Dilute the milk replacement formula a bit more each day until there is only water in the bottle. The calf will lose interest, and you will have weaned your calf easily.

The idea is to introduce solid foods to your calves over time. If you rush the process, your calves will have a rough transition!

Read More – 275+ Funny and Cute Cow Names! From Donald Rump to Moodonna!

Best Milk Replacer for Calves – FAQs

black and white calves drinking milk replacer
Look for a milk replacer that contains plenty of crude protein and crude fat! Most contain around 20% protein and 10% to 24% fat. Fiber content is usually about .5%. During winter, err on higher fat content milk replacer to help calves through the cold season!

Raising calves on your homestead is a lot of work – and choosing the best milk replacer is tricky!

That’s why we put together these best milk replacer FAQs. We hope they help you and your baby cows!

What Kind of Milk Replacer Is Best for Calves?

All-natural 100% milk-based milk replacer is best for young calves. Most milk replacer contains roughly 20% to 24% fat and around 20% crude protein.

We recommend that you always get the highest-quality milk replacer available. Don’t skimp when it comes to the health of your cows – or your calves!

How Much Milk Replacer Does a Calf Need Per Day?

Feed 10% – 12% of a calf’s bodyweight spread through two or more daily meals. For example – if your baby cow weighs roughly 100 pounds, it would need around 10 – 12 pounds of milk replacer per day.

Also, consult the instructions of the milk replacer you use. Different milk replacers may contain variable quantities of crude protein and fat. Always double-check to ensure your calves get the calories and nutrients they need!

How Do You Make Homemade Calf Milk Replacer?

Mix equal parts of water and milk. Add in a tablespoon of sugar and castor oil each. Whisk the yellow of an egg and add to the mix. Be sure to keep the temperature at 110-120℉.

We also advise double-checking with your veterinarian to ensure your calves get enough nutrients with your homemade milk replacer!

How Long Should Calves Be on Milk Replacer?

Calves should be on milk replacer as long as the calf needs the extra protein for better growth! Or until they are eating plenty of roughage and drinking water daily. It depends on the calf. There are also different weaning systems and philosophies.

Your best bet is slowly weaning your calves off milk replacer by gradually introducing solid foods over many weeks – or months. Usually, calves eat starter grain to ready their rumens to digest solid foods.

Consult a trusted veterinarian to develop a weaning plan unique to your calves!

Read More – How Much Hay Do Your Cows Need During Winter? This Much!

Conclusion

Raising calves is one of the most adorable things any homesteader can achieve.

Feeding them is another story. Sometimes, it’s tricky. And difficult!

We hope our best milk replacer guide helped straighten out some of the mysteries.

We invite you to chime in with feedback about feeding calves.

Do you have any milk replacer tips, recipes, or weaning strategies?

We love to hear about your milk replacer experience. And – we thank you so much for reading.

Thanks again.

Have a great day!

Author

  • Talitha went from city girl to farm girl and now manages a large South African horse ranch with public stabling facilities for 80 horses. She turned to professional writer after over a decade as a teacher and now she combines her skills to teach others about farming, living closer to nature, raising and training animals, and specializes in equine training.