Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
This is a guest post and entry in Round 1 of the Farm Dreams writing contest. The prizes for this round include: First Prize: A $300 gift certificate toward any purch
This is a guest post and entry in Round 1 of the Farm Dreams writing contest. The prizes for this round include:
First Prize: A $300 gift certificate toward any purchase of Featherman Poultry Processing Equipment, including pluckers, knives and more!
Second Prize: A 164' roll of electric poultry netting from Kencovevalued at $140!
Third Prize: A large heirloom pack of assorted seeds from Baker Creek (northern or southern region) plus a copy of Jere and Emilee Gettle's recently published book The Heirloom Life Gardener.Valued at $125!
Fourth Prize: A $55 gift certificate good toward any purchase at Lehman's!
Round 1 ends began January 15 and ends March 15 so GET BUSY WRITING and email your entry to us today!
When you raise livestock one of the things that you never want to have to do, yet always secretly hope to have to do, is bottle feed an animal. Whether you raise animals for profit or pets, you want them to be born strong and from good genetics. An animal that requires bottle feeding is most likely neither. The need to bottle feed often comes from a tragic situation such as the mother died during labor, neglected her young, or could not produce milk for her baby. These problems can be passed on genetically which means that the offspring is not from your most hardy stock and likely not an animal you want to add to your breeding line. Other possibilities for needing to bottle feed can come from a weak baby or a runt that is not able to force their way to feed. These are also not qualities that you want to carry on in your breeding program and sets the little one up for many challenges in their life.
The last reason to bottle feed an animal is if it was purposefully taken away from it’s mother to be raised by a human, such as how lambs are often taken away to be raised by students in 4H or how calves from milk cows are taken in order to give the milk to the farmer. While these are not negative situations, it can often lead to a weaker animal because they were raised on artificial milk or a dangerous one when they are full grown and have no fear of human interaction. Due to factors such as poor genetics, traumatic situations, and the unnaturalness of milk replacer and humans bottle feeding animals, it can often be a roller coaster of events where the babies have many strikes against them. If you are going to take on a bottle baby, be prepared for heartbreak and sleepless nights.
Having said all that, bottle feeding a baby farm animal is one of the most fun experiences you’ll ever have! When it works, there is nothing better than holding a fuzzy newborn lamb or a calf nuzzling your leg looking for something to eat. And when they grow up big and strong you’ll feel proud to say that you got them there!
There are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to bottle feed an animal. First of all, remember that this is a baby who, like human babies, is not fully mature and developed. Baby animals use warm milk from their mothers to regulate their body temperature until they are able to store enough fat or metabolize energy in such a way to keep themselves warm. They require many feedings per day just to remain warm. To warm up a cold baby you must give them a belly full of warm milk and keep it full all day. Also, their digestive systems are not fully developed and so they require different food. For example, a baby calf cannot eat grass. When they are born only their abomasum is developed. This is the stomach that digests milk. Their rumen, which digests grass is not even working yet. Be sure to understand the developmental stages of the animal you are raising in order to give them what they need to survive.
Second, the baby animal has instincts that are intended to help it survive. Some of the instincts that cross species lines are the instinct to get up and walk as soon as possible, sniff out milk, suckle, remember their mother’s scent, and to follow the herd. If your bottle baby is weak or has had a traumatic birth then these instincts may not be present. A difficult delivery where the baby has been deprived of oxygen may damage their brain to the point where they lose the reflex to suckle. This may never come back, but if the baby is tube fed milk directly to their stomach, then they could gain strength and repair the damage. If your newborn animal is lacking in many of the expected instincts, then no amount of bottle feeding will bring them back. It can be a difficult decision to make, but sometimes you must allow nature to take it’s course.
On the other hand, in healthy animals the instincts are so strong that you should be prepared for them. For example, a calf will head butt their mother’s udder in order for her to let down her milk. They will see you as their mother and will not hesitate to head butt you as well! Also, being glued to their mother’s side is an instinct that helps the baby gain protection. Before you know it you will have a shadow of a baby lamb following you everywhere you go unless you have a proper pen to keep them in.
Third, you are not their mother. Even if the baby is taken to be bottle fed as soon as they are delivered, the animal will still know that you are not their mother and that the bottle you are shoving in their mouth is not natural. They will resist you and no matter how many times you tell them you are trying to help them, they still will grit their teeth and shake their head when you introduce the bottle for the first time. They know what their mother’s teat is supposed to feel like and even if you have selected the appropriate plastic nipple for the species, it still doesn’t feel like mom’s. They also know that artificial milk replacer is not natural and will not be drawn to the scent of it like milk from their species.
After you bottle feed an animal a few times you will get the hang of it and will realize how to work with their instincts to help them survive. The first few animals, however, will no doubt leave you with many questions. Here are some common questions you may have:
How do you know it’s time to intervene and bottle feed?
If you have not taken a baby for bottle feeding but are concerned and unsure if an animal is getting nutrition from its mother, then there are some signs to look for. Healthy babies will nurse every couple of hours. They will latch on to their mother and stand and drink for several minutes. Usually, if they are getting milk then you will see signs such as happy wagging tails or frothy foam at their mouths. They will also be energetic and play when not nursing or sleeping. If mom calls them, then they will jump right up and run to her for feeding. An unhealthy baby who is not getting proper nutrition will seem very lethargic. They will appear weak and will not play regularly or jump up to follow mom. They may stumble when they try to walk and will move slowly. If the mother is rejecting the little one then you will see her kick or head butt it away or not stand still when the baby tries to nurse. If the mother is being attentive, but not producing adequate milk, then the baby will try to nurse excessively, but will give up quickly each time from frustration, moving from teat to teat or head butting the udder many times trying to get milk out. The baby will also be very thin. If concerned, you should check the babies abdomen many times during the day to see if it is sunken in or distended. If a baby goes all day with a sunken stomach then it means it’s been empty all day. They will also feel cold and may shiver because they haven’t been able to regulate their body temperature. More than one day of this will mean death, so don’t wait too long.
How do I get them to take the bottle?
If possible, always use fresh natural milk and a nipple with a large hole so that you can get the taste of milk in their mouth soon in order to build a connection. Either way, you will have to back the animal into a corner and pry their mouth open for the first feeding. Put the animal between your legs or knees against a corner so that they cannot back up. Have the animal standing and in the most natural feeding position as possible. Stretch their neck out and hold their head up with one hand under their chin. Use the index finger and thumb on this hand to push into the corners of their mouth so that their mouth opens. Once it does, have the other hand ready to put the bottle in. Quickly swing your hand around from under to the chin to a position where you can hold their mouth shut with the nipple inside so that they can’t swing their head back and forth to shake it out. Usually this will end you up with your thumb over their nose and your fingers under their chin.
At this point, you can help them suckle by squeezing their mouth gently which will force the milk to squirt out of the nipple. This is where a larger hole in the nipple comes in handy. Hold the head up so that the milk squirts down their throat and forces them to swallow. Don’t do this too much or they will choke. Just get them started and once they get the taste and feeling for it, then they will latch on themselves. If they resist too much, then try it a few more times, but don’t overstress them. They are tired from being born! If need be, stop, let them rest and try again in a half hour. If after trying a few times, they are still not getting it or if they are very weak, then you may have to tube feed them in order to get some energy in them to give them the strength to eat on their own at the next feeding. Once they do understand how to drink from a bottle then feeding will become very easy. This usually only takes about 3 feedings or so and then before you know it they will be screaming for more just about the time you are getting ready for the next feeding and they will jump on the bottle and suck it down faster than you can believe! At this point, you will want to change to a nipple without such a large hole because the action of sucking harder will produce saliva which will help stimulate their digestive system. After a full belly of food the babies will want to rest. Make sure they have a dry and warm place to sleep it off. You will notice that their bellies become distented and full and you can hear a sloshing sound when they move about. This is normal.
What is colostrum and is it really important?
Colostrum is the mother’s first milk. It is different from the milk she will produce during the rest of her lactation, as it is thicker and more yellow. It is made up of different nutritional values and carries the antibodies that the mother has gained over the years. Antibodies are passed on to a newborn through the colostrum and gives the baby a level of disease protection during a time when their immune system is not fully developed. If a baby is not given good colostrum, then they will be very vulnerable to contracting diseases until their own immune system develops and they can begin to produce their own antibodies by fighting off invaders.
Colostrum is one of the most important things you can give your bottle baby. If at all possible, get the baby to nurse their mother’s colostrum immediately. In a situation where the mother is rejecting her young, you may have to confine the mother and hold the baby to the teat in order for them to nurse the colostrum. You might also be able to milk some colostrum from the mother into a bottle to feed directly to the baby. In a situation where there is no natural colostrum to provide, then you can buy powdered replacements. Make sure you get species appropriate colostrum since antibodies and diseases do not usually cross species lines.
There is a narrow window for feeding colostrum. First, the mother will only produce colostrum for a short period of time, with the colostrum directly after delivery being the most potent and decreasing over time as the milk turns to regular milk. Second, the baby can only use the contents of colostrum for a short period of time. After a while, their body can still get nutrition from the colostrum, but they will block the antibodies and will no longer get a positive effect from them. The times are different for each species, but the goal is always to get the colostrum in the baby as soon as possible and definitely within the first 12 hours of birth.
How much do I feed and how often?
You can find many references about how much to feed different species, but a couple of things to consider is that feeding based on body weight is much more accurate than a general statement such as a calf should be fed 2 quarts of milk 2 times a day. A 100 lb. calf is going to need more food than a 65 lb. calf, so look for guidelines that tell how much to feed based on the current weight of your animal.
Also, consider the natural feeding habits of your animal. A mother will typically nurse her baby many short feedings throughout the day. Artificial milk replacer has fillers and slower digested proteins which can allow you to feed more at once and cut back to just two feedings per day. Although this may work and is easier on you, it is not what is best for the baby. Try to feed the baby 4 times a day for the first week or two, then you can condense to three feedings per day. Prior to weaning, you can condense again to feeding twice per day, but at this point you should be offering supplemental feed.
Do they need water?
Yes. You may not notice your baby animal drink water in the first week or so, but you should always have fresh clean water available for them. When they want it they will find it on their own and you will not have to teach them to drink it. Be sure to use a species and size appropriate bucket for water so that they can easily reach it, but cannot get inside it. If a baby animal accidentally falls in the water then they can get chilled.
How do I tube feed?
At times it may be necessary to force feed a baby their initial feeding in order to give them the strength to learn to feed the next time you introduce the bottle or to ensure that they get proper colostrum intake. You will need to have a tube feeder for your species on hand. This basically looks like a bottle, but instead of a nipple there is a long tube. Be sure to get one where there is a large plastic knob on the end of the tube. This will stop the tube from entering the trachea and flooding the lungs and you will be able to feel the lump of the knob sliding down the side of the neck which will show you it is in the right position. Check your tube length by holding it up to the outside of the baby. See that it is long enough to go down their throat, but not longer than the area to their stomach. To tube feed, you will need to get the animal in the same position as bottle feeding. Since these are gravity fed, begin with the bottle part down lower than the head so that the milk does not pour out until the tube is in place. Now, open their mouth and slide the tube into their throat. Once started, use your hand that was under their chin to feel the side of their neck. You are feeling for that large plastic knob. If you can feel this bump sliding down their neck then you are doing it right. If not, stop and try again. Do not push the tube too quickly and if the animal will swallow then it will help it down so allow this. When the tube is in place, slowly raise the bottle to let the milk flow down. Regulate this so that it doesn’t go too quickly. You will be able to tell by the baby’s reaction. They should be relatively still and calm and breathing through their nose. If not, then pause, relax, and try again. Remove the tube slowly so as not to scratch their throat.
What if the baby gets scours?
Scours is basically baby diarrhea and it is very common, especially in bottle fed babies. Sometimes overfeeding can lead to scours, other times poor colostrum or the inability to fight off bacteria will contribute. Either way, if not controlled immediately then it will surely result in death due to dehydration. The baby will become lethargic in less than 24 hours to the point where they can’t eat. There are two goals in treatment: stop the scours and don’t let the baby dehydrate. Most of the bacterias that cause scours feed off of milk, so you want to limit the amount of milk you give, however, the baby needs the milk to survive, so you must balance it with electrolytes to ward off dehydration. You can buy powdered electrolytes or make your own from things like baking soda, salt, and sugar. Look up a recipe specific to your species. If the baby won’t eat the electrolytes then you must tube feed them. For treatment, increase feedings to every two hours and alternate between feeding electrolytes and milk. When you feed electrolytes feed more than you were of the milk and when you feed the milk give less than you originally were. This way, the baby is getting mostly electrolytes for hydration and energy and is limiting the amount of milk they get. Once you notice that they are no longer scouring, then slowly decrease the amount of electrolytes you feed and slowly increase the amount of milk until you are back on schedule. If the scours return at any point, then go back to the original treatment.
When and how do I wean?
Different species are weaned at different times and it will depend on your adult feeding schedule. If you are strictly grass-fed, then calves should be weaned onto grass, not hay, at around 6 months. Lambs and goats should also be weaned onto grass and not hay around 3 months. If you feed grain, then you can begin weaning at about half this time. Piglets can begin to be weaned onto feed around 2 months old.
If you are weaning onto grass then it is relatively easy. The animal should be on pasture most of the time during the bottle feeding period so that they can begin to take grass when they want it. In this case, you simply just start cutting back the amount you feed them, but make sure they have plenty of grass to choose from. Start by reducing the amount of milk you feed each feeding, then cut back the number of feedings per day. Calculate your reduction so that the animal is slowly taken off milk in about a two to three week period. If you are weaning onto feed, then begin introducing feed at least 2 weeks before you want them weaned. Mix the feed with some milk and let it get soft and mushy. Let the baby explore it and get a taste for it. Slowly decrease the amount of milk you add until you are just feeding regular dry feed. Also during this time you will be reducing the amount of milk you bottle feed the same as listed above.
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