Orphan Calves -- "An opportunity
Comments by James. I. Sprague, Livestock Nutritionist
Feedlot Orphan Calves As a Bucket Calf Project
An excellent family activity is the raising of a feedlot's orphan
calves. This could be as an opportunity for feedlot employees, or
as "4-H Bucket Calf Project." Many things can be learned
about livestock "husbandry" with this activity, including
the importance of feeds and feeding.
Ryan Olbricht of Newton, Kansas, has three years experience raising
bucket calves. Ryan, with the help of his parents, uses a high quality
milk replacer to start the calves. The next step is to get the calves
started on a dry grower grain mix. They supplement the grain mix with
"Calf Manna" to increase the protein of the ration. They
grow and finish the calf on a commercial grower mix.
Two Important Lessons
First, when increasing grain to cattle, change slowly. Decrease the
amount if the calves do not clean up the feed or the calves have loose
Second, feed what they will clean up and throw away stale feed.
Modern Baby Calf Feeding Programs
Many commercial feed manufacturers have programs for growing young
weaned beef and dairy calves and their nutritionist and representatives
are more than willing to make suggestions to 4-H and FFA members.
For example Nelson Martin, nutritionist for Ranch-Way Feeds at Fort
Collins, Colorado has a program that starts the calves as soon as
possible on a specialized textured mixture. Their formula is an 18
percent protein ration, containing steam processed grain and a palatable
supplement. He said, the grain mixture must be very palatable including
the formulation of the supplement portion. At 200 to 250 pounds of
calf weight the dairy calf program of Ranch-Way changes to a 14 percent
grower mixture and continues without any roughage until the cattle
weigh 700 pound for dairy heifers and when beef cattle are ready to
start on regular feedlot rations.
Home Mixed Rations for Calves?
Yes and no. Most bucket calf and club calf rations are purchased from
a local feed mill or feed store. The mixtures from the commercial
industry also may supply the feed additives that are used by most
Yes, home mixed rations are possible, and the experience of using
home produced rations provide a valuable educational experience for
This orphan calf turned into Ryan Olbright's 4-H
project.A practical home mixed calf ration can be formulated with
whole, cracked, or ground corn and supplemented with soybean meal,
cottonseed meal, or linseed meal. The grain can be fed separately
and the protein source sprinkled on top of the grain. Then bone meal
(or a commercial cattle mineral) and trace mineral salt are fed free
choice. (This is the old fashioned way of growing and finishing cattle,
and it will still work.) Hay is fed free choice.
Another way is to home mix grain and soybean meal.
Eight parts of corn and two parts of soy is nearly a 16 percent protein
mixture for recently weaned calves. For 400 pounds and heavier calves,
I suggest a mixture of 8.5 parts of corn and 1.5 parts of soybean
meal for a nearly 13.5 percent protein ration. A cattle mineral and
a trace mineral salt should be mixed with the ration or offered free
choice. A limited amount of hay is offered free choice. Keep the hay
fresh by discarding stale hay each day.
Many grain sources can be fed. Dry rolled milo is
not very efficiently digested. Fine ground milo can be fed if attention
is made to have the animal clean up the ration each day. Steam rolled
barley and steam rolled oats are excellent calf feeds if available
locally. Steamed rolled wheat is an excellent cattle feed. Do not
feed finely ground wheat, because it may cause bloat and excess rumen
acids resulting in loose manure which later may lead to feet and leg
A limited amount of high quality alfalfa, grass or a mixture of alfalfa
and brome hay is fed with the grain mix to provide a roughage factor.
Ground corn that contains the cobs ("corn and cob meal")
mixed with a cattle finishing supplement is also suggested. During
the finish phase, this can be self fed, but I prefer hand feeding.
Feed Additives for Calves
These important tools for feedlots should be considered for bucket
calf and club calf projects. Health problems with the calves need
to be addressed with the help of a veterinarian. Feed additives can
be discussed with your veterinarian, a nutritionist, or a reputable
feed supplier and their representatives. The feed additives Rumensin
in the finish ration will help control bloat if fed at the correct
level. Rumensin is also cleared with Tylan, which will control liver
abscesses and help prevent foot rot. Work with your feed supplier
to supply this additive. ©