Artificial: made or created by humans, not natural.

We have talked about natural methods of calf rearing, Single Suckling and Multiple Suckling, and now we are going to discuss artificial methods. It is important to realise that, because these are not natural methods of rearing calves, they call for a very high standard of management and stockmanship. Under effective management, they will work very well, and they are cheaper for the farmer; he does not have the cost of maintaining cows just for the purpose of rearing calves. The most important requirement is attention to detail in looking after the calves – housing, feeding and hygiene in the calf-house.


The steps to follow when feeding calves on whole milk by bucket are set out below. The main thing to remember is that a lot of people tend to feed calves on too much milk rather than too little, and this is fatal. The calves develop scours and often die. You may recall from your Animal Structure and Function Lectures that ruminant animals have a compound stomach; in effect, they have four stomachs, of which one, the abomasum, is the true stomach, equivalent to the single stomach of the non-ruminant. In all ruminants, when the young animal is born and for some time afterwards, it does not use all its stomachs, because it is only feeding on milk and does not require the other three stomachs to break down the milk for digestion and absorption. Milk is a complete food and is easily broken down and digested. In the young calf, or lamb, the milk passes directly into the true stomach, the abomasum, where it is broken down by the enzymes pepsin and renin, and the products of this breakdown are absorbed in the small intestine. The other three stomachs are not used at all, and it is not until the calf starts eating solid food that they develop and start functioning. The Single Suckled calf running with its mother and getting all its milk from her, will begin to pick at grass at about one month old, but it will not eat very much until about three months old.

Rumen: the first stomach of ruminating animals such as cows, sheep or goats, all of which have four stomachs. It is used for storage of food after it has been partly digested and before it passes to the second stomach.

The rumen, which is the main organ for digesting and breaking down food in the ruminant, will develop slowly, and the changeover from milk to grass in the calf will be gradual. By the time the calf is weaned at 6 – 7 months old, it will be dependent on grass for its food and will be getting very little milk from its mother.

In artificial rearing, the important thing to remember is to get the calf eating solid food as soon as possible, so that the rumen will develop early, and it will be able to live on solid food when it is weaned away from milk; because weaning takes place earlier in artificial rearing than it does in natural rearing. By the time the farmer stops feeding milk to the calf, it must be eating enough solid food to keep it alive and growing.

The steps to follow are:

  • Leave the calf with the cow for the first four days of its life, to make sure that it gets the right Colostrum. This is most important because, as we have seen in earlier lectures, the Colostrum gives the young calf protection from disease. Artificial rearing is nearly always done with dairy calves, and it is illegal to sell milk from a cow until the fifth day after she has calved; because it is not true milk, but Colostrum, so you are not losing any income by allowing the calf to suckle this.
  •  If, for any reason, you do not wish the calf to suckle the cow, milk the colostrum out of the cow and feed it to the calf; either way, it cannot be stressed enough that the calf must have the colostrum from its dam.
  • After 4 days, take the calf away from the mother, and place it in the calf-house, preferably in a single pen away from other, older calves. The cow will now come into the milking shed for normal milking, and her milk can go into the can with all the rest of the milk for normal sale. The milk for the calf can be any milk which is available.
  • At this stage, the calf must be taught to drink from a bucket instead of sucking milk from the dam. The best way to do this is to place a small amount of warm milk in a bucket, and stand with the calf’s head between your legs. Put your finger in the calf’s mouth, and wait until it begins to suck your finger; once it is sucking your finger, slowly lower the calf’s head into the bucket, and it will begin to suck some of the milk up from the bucket; if it continues to suck well, slowly take your finger away and it should continue sucking up the milk from the bucket. This whole process requires time and patience; it is no use thinking you can teach a calf to drink from a bucket in five minutes, because this does not happen. You must remember that a calf’s natural instinct is to drink from above, so it may take a little effort to teach it to drink from ground level. However, once it does start to drink, it will drink quickly and you will not be required to repeat the training process.
  • For the first week in the calf-house, feed the calf three times a day; early morning, midday, and late afternoon. Feed 1 litre of milk at each feed, making a total of 3 litres a day – do not feed more than this. The calf will drink its litre of milk quite quickly and look around for some more, but do not give it any more. The whole idea with artificial rearing is to restrict the amount of milk fed to the calf, so that it will start eating solid food as soon as possible.
  • At the end of the first week, the calf can be put onto feeding twice a day, once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon; the midday feed can be left out. The amount of milk at each feed must, therefore, be increased to 1 ½ litres, and the total daily amount kept at 3 litres. About half-way through the second week, begin to increase the amount of milk gradually until, at three weeks old the calf is getting 4.5 litres of milk a day, fed in two feeds. Do not increase the amount of milk above this level.
  • At 2 weeks old, introduce a small amount of good quality hay; this should be put in a rack where the calf can reach it, and it should be changed every day. At first the calf will not take much notice of the hay, but quite soon it will begin to nibble at it.
  • Furthermore, at 2 weeks old, give the calf a bucket of clean water to drink from; again, this should be changed twice every day, and always make sure that the bucket and the water are clean. It is important to encourage the calf to start drinking water because the amount of milk it is being fed is restricted. Before feeding the milk, the water bucket must be removed from the pen, and only put back 1 hour after feeding the calf the milk.
  • At 3 weeks old, start giving the calf a little concentrate food, either in a bucket or in a small trough. A handful of concentrate is enough to begin with. The concentrate can be a calf meal bought in from a feed firm, or it can be a home mixed ration. The feed firms all make a calf meal with 20% crude protein, which also contains all the essential minerals and vitamins which are most important to the young growing animals. It is also ground fine, so that the calf can digest it quite easily. Some farmers feed the same concentrate that they are feeding to their dairy cows, but this is rather low in protein and is often rather coarse. It is better to buy an appropriate calf concentrate.
  • Milk should be fed at blood heat, 38°C, and always at the same temperature. Nothing upsets a calf more than feeding milk which is too hot one day and too cold the next day. If the milk is too cold, warm it up by putting the bucket that contains the milk into another bucket with hot water and allowing the milk to draw heat from the hot water; do not add hot water to the milk, as this dilutes the milk and the calf ends up ingesting a watery mixture instead of pure milk.
  • The calf should carry on with its milk, fed at 4.5 litres a day in two feeds, together with clean water available at all times. Fresh, good quality hay and fresh concentrate should be available at all times. It is most important not to allow the calf to run short of water, hay or concentrate; it must be there all the time, so that the calf can eat and drink whenever it feels like it.
  • The farmer has a choice when it comes to weaning the calf off milk; he can do it at 8 weeks old or at 12 weeks old. In general, the larger breeds, Frieslands and Ayrshires can be weaned quite well at 8 weeks and the smaller breeds like the Jersey, at 12 weeks.
  • Weaning is done by simply stopping the feeds of milk to the calf, and continuing to allow it water, hay and concentrates. Milk can be withdrawn gradually by cutting the feeds down from twice a day to once a day for the last week, and then giving no more feeds of milk. The important thing is that the calf is eating solid food and drinking water.
  • Once the calf has been weaned, it can be moved into a larger pen with other calves of the same size, as this makes feeding easier. Provided they have enough trough space, where they can all feed together, and have access to hay and water, they will be quite happy. It should be remembered that the calves are still getting concentrates ad lib (an unrestricted supply which they can eat at any time).
  • A calf that has been weaned at 8 weeks should be kept on the calf meal for at least another month. A calf weaned at 12 weeks can be gradually changed onto a meal with less protein; the meal that the dairy cows are getting will do, but always remember any change in food for any animal, should be done gradually. Start by mixing a small amount of the new meal in with the old, and add a little more each day, taking about a week to change completely from the calf meal to the new meal.
  • The calf weaned at 8 weeks will use about 220 litres of milk, and the calf weaned at 12 weeks will use about 350 litres of milk, allowing for 4 days on colostrum.

    To sum up the feeding of young calves:

  • Feed the correct quantity of milk at the correct temperature (blood heat);
  • Feed at the same times each day – be regular;
  • Make sure the calf has clean water, good hay and fresh concentrate available, at all times;
  • Cleanliness is very important; clean buckets, clean food, and clean hands.