Abandoned Calf - June 2001


Greetings, Dr. Hauer, from HunkerDown Ranch!

Two weeks ago we were blessed with twin buffy calves. Predictably, Momma Bison abandoned one. We decided to intervene - as a pack of coyotes were on-site and ready for lunch. Ernie made a stunning capture - using a large fish net. We have been bottle-feeding "Bucky" but have some concerns:

1) We gave bovine colostrum for the first couple of days, then integrated lamb milk replacer. Subsequently, we learned that bison milk replacer was available and purchased that. I've been mixing 1/2 and 1/2 of the powders (to use up the bag of lamb product).

We initially fed Bucky on the demand-feeding basis - and just about did him in! He ate so much he could hardly walk after! Now we are limiting his intake (1 cup formula to 3 cups water), and offering 4 feedings daily. But we are unsure about this and would greatly appreciate your advice.

Also - Bucky does not seem to be interested in eating grass, but likes to lick & eat dirt quite a bit. He has a blue salt block - but has not licked that so far. Does this indicate a mineral deficiency? Is it anything to worry about? Or are we just over-anxious "parents"?!

Thanks so much for your help.

Linda Stagg




It sounds like your calf is doing fine. It is normal for them to overeat if you give them as much as they want. This often leads to digestive upsets and diarrhea. It is best to keep them a little bit hungry at the end of each feeding. How much milk to give at each feeding depends on a few things but I usually recommend about 500-800 mL (2-3 cups) of milk replacer 4 times a day for the first few weeks. As the calf gets older the frequency decreases and the volume increases. By the time it is 6-8 weeks old twice a day feedings of a 1 1/2 -2 litres would be OK. You may have to adjust these numbers a bit for your own calf once you get to know how much it takes to almost fill him up.

The dirt licking is normal for young calves. It serves 2 purposes. One is that is one of the ways that they explore their environment. They taste it. The other is that need are colonizing their rumen (first stomach) with bacteria and other micro-organisms that are important for the digestion of feed once they start eating. It important that calves have access to a pen with dirt and grass for the normal development of their stomachs. Calves will nibble at grass, hay, or grain when they are a few weeks old but don't really consume very much until they are a little older. When the calf is a couple of weeks old have some grain or hay available to help supplement his diet. He will eat when he is ready. The sooner you can get him eating solid feed the less milk replacer you will need to buy.

The dirt licking does not indicate a mineral deficiency but it would be wise to have a free choice mineral for him to lick if he wanted. Don't expect him to each very much because he probably won't at first.

Using a surrogate mother is another option for feeding your orphan. I know of 2 bison calves being raised by beef heifers this summer and I know of people that have used goats in the past. It certainly cuts down on the work.

There is some information on our website about feeding orphans. It can be found in the Resource Library under Production Information for Established Producers in the Nutrition section.

Gerald Hauer, Bison Specialist
Bison Centre of Excellence

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