A reader asks:
My husband and I have not been around cattle, but only for a few months now. We have one bull, a steer calf which is now 6 months old, and 5 heifers. We recently purchased a bull calf at the sale barn. I thought I would like to bottle feed another one, as I had done with my steer calf. The bull calf seemed about the same age of my steer, 2 weeks, but we have had him for almost 2 more weeks.
It is very strange to us, but this calf will NOT take a bottle. We tried for several days, but noticed that he wanted to graze. So we let him graze but also purchased starter feed and added dry milk powder to it. He would NOT eat it. We have totally eliminated any form of milk, and he seems to do fine. He grazes, eats feed, drinks water, etc.
He has put on some weight, but he is only 4 or 5 weeks old and surely he is not getting the nutrients he needs. Also, both of his eyes are watering daily. It doesn't look like pink eye, but could it just be his deficient diet? We don't know what happened to his mama, if he nursed or not and for how long.
Possibly he needs vaccines, but what at such a young age? What do you recommend? The only problems we see with him are the watery eyes. He's not as active as our steer was, but our steer took a bottle for a long time. Is there anything else we can be feeding him, or is this it? We can't even force a bottle on him, milk in a bucket, or anything. I know this is probably uncommon, but is it okay for him to eat this way so young?
I would simply allow the calf to graze and continue to give it calf starter. He should be OK with the nutrients from that. Even at his young age he will eat mineral, so I would put mineral out in front of him free choice. As far as the eyes watering, if the eyeball itself looks normal, then it could be some other type of irritant. Sometimes young animals have abnormal eyelashes that are inverted and can cause problems. Check for that as well as the possibility that the eyelid may be turned in on itself rubbing then on the eyeball.
As far as vaccine, I would advocate going forward with a vaccination program. He will benefit; and with an unknown history, we don’t know if he received adequate colostrum (the early mother’s milk). My advice would be contact a local veterinarian and see what they recommend. The basic program would be a modified live vaccine for common viral pathogens and 7-way Blackleg vaccine. Disease risk in your situation should be minimal as it does not sound like they will be exposed to other cattle.
Dan Goehl, DVM, and his wife own and operate Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, MO, where Dan works primarily with stocker and cow-calf beef operations. Dan is also partner in Professional Beef Services, LLC, which offers herd consultation and helps in data management and marketing of beef cattle.
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