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Jersey Calf Not Wanting Grain

2050 Views 30 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  topside1
I have posted this on another site, but I thought people here may have more suggestions, and/or may have had this problem in the past. I raise sheep, and have zero experience with cows.

I bought a "weaned" Jersey heifer on July 8th. Supposedly, she was eating plenty of grain, and had been off milk for two weeks. She was born April 1, so a little over 3 months old. She seemed healthy and alert, and weighed about 110-115 lbs.

The problem began when we realized she was eating less than a pound of grain per day. We tried two different types of calf starter (including what she was eating at the seller's place), regular sweet feed, alfalfa pellets, crimped oats with molasses, molasses poured on the feed, etc. The vet said she should have been eating 2 lbs of grain per day to even be weaned. She eats plenty of grass, and we have lots of it. When I spoke to the seller about it, they admitted that she ate with the other calves and cows, so they were not really sure how much she was eating, and while she was separated from her mother, they could not be sure she was not stealing milk from another cow (they had several nurse cows in the pasture).

We became concerned when she began losing a little weight, so after a week, we put her back on a bottle. She acted like she was starving, so we kept her on 2 qts, 2x/day for a couple of weeks. Her grain intake improved, and she was eating between 1.5 and 2.5 lbs per day. So, upon advice, we started reducing milk intake, and took her off entirely 3 days ago. The problem is, that instead of grain intake going up with reduction of milk intake, it's been the exact opposite.

She has reduced her grain intake in the past 3 days since no milk to 1.7 lbs, then 1.5, and only 12 oz last night. I give her free access to grain all day, but she will not eat it while out on grass, only when in a stall at night.

I guess my question is, should I keep her on a bottle? She is now 18 weeks old. Should I be concerned about her lack of interest in grain? She has been vaccinated, wormed, and is active and alert. I am not sure if she will start losing weight again, but everything I read, and everyone I talk to says she should be eating at least 3 lbs of grain until she is at least 6 months old in order to grow properly. She does not have worms, and no temp, although she did cough a bit when she drank her milk in the beginning, but we fed her more slowly, and that stopped. But it is one of the reasons I really don't want to put her back on a bottle, but will if necessary. The cost of the milk replacer is not a problem. I just want her to grow well and be healthy.

She now weighs 142 lbs, and comes from a smaller Jersey cow.

Any advice about how to get her to eat grain, whether or not it's important that she does, or if I just need to keep her on a bottle until she is 6 months old would be greatly appreciated.
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Does the milk replacer have BVT or its equivalent in it? Coccidiostats/ionophores have the side effect of making livestock hungry. That may explain the increased appetite while getting bottles. I personally wouldn't even consider trying to wean a cow at 142 lbs.
No, the replacer does not have BVT, and is non-medicated. At what weight would you consider for a smaller Jersey to wean?

I have added a few pictures so you can see how she looks. I know dairy breeds look thinner, so not sure if this is normal or not.

Thank you for responding.


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Does she have access to loose minerals and salt?
Yes, and she seems to eat them readily. She did eat 2 lbs of starter last night, and I have been sprinkling the starter with a handful of soybean meal to increase protein. I figured that she is eating an average of 1lb 11 oz grain per day, and gaining about 1.1 lbs/day.

I also checked her weight last night, and she was up to 146 lbs.
Hmmm.... I want to suggest probiotics but honestly have no clue if that would help or not
I have probiotics, so I can try them. I guess my biggest question is whether to put her back on milk replacer until she reaches a certain weight (not sure what that should be), or she is eating a lot more grain. I don't want to stunt her growth.

I know people raise cattle and calves on grass only, but not sure if that's the best for a smaller dairy calf. I raise my sheep and lambs on pasture only, but I don't wean the lambs until they are 3-4 months old, so it's never an issue.
I'm personally one of those people who likes to wean later and not earlier.
If you feel like she will benefit from later weaning then definitely follow your instinct.

Probiotics certainly won't hurt...kind of half wondering if it's a digestive issue of some kind? What's the status on worms and worming? Your first post does say she's wormed but it's worth considering.
Thank you, I am thinking it might be best to just put her back on the replacer for the foreseeable future. There are just so many opinions, and since I have never raised a calf, I just want to make sure I am doing the right thing. I have had people tell me to get her off the milk to get her to eat more grain, but that did not work. The most grain she has eaten was last night after 3 full days of no milk.

My vet did fecals even though the seller wormed her the day I picked her up, and they came back fine.

Her stools are fine, and she is drinking plenty of water. She just does not seem to care much for the grain. As I stated in my OP, she eats plenty of grass, but I am just not sure it's enough. She has not lost any weight since taking her off the milk though.

Maybe I am just overthinking it, and should take your suggestion of following my gut. I appreciate the advice.

I also favor natural weaning in my sheep, and will only wean earlier if they are on a bottle, but still not before 3 months, which is fine for lambs, but I assume it's much later in calves.
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Some people like to wean their calves way young, at 8 or even in some instances 6 weeks. I get that milk replacer is expensive but think that's a bit young for weaning
Supposedly, she was 14 weeks old and weaned when I purchased her, but I cannot be absolutely sure since she is not papered. I don't have a problem buying the milk replacer if it's what she needs. I just thought at this age, she would be more interested in grain, and old enough to wean. Maybe she is not as old as they said, or they did not expose her to grain early enough?
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Try cutting back her access to grass and make sure she is drinking plenty of fresh water. She may be getting the bulk of her liquid intake from the bottle. Clean fresh water is the most important part of a feeding program. Is she in an area that you can monitor her water intake?
She has not had milk for 3 full days now, but she was drinking a lot of water even on the bottle. I fill a 5 gallon bucket, and put it in the stall each night, and in the yard where she grazes during the day. When she is in the pasture with the rams, I cannot monitor as well because they drink out of a tire tank, but she seems to go it often. I have been keeping her up near the house since I have been monitoring her feed intake more closely.

Should I just let her graze for a couple of hours each day? Maybe first thing in the morning, and late afternoon, and keep her in her stall at night and midday?
Try cutting back her access to grass and make sure she is drinking plenty of fresh water. She may be getting the bulk of her liquid intake from the bottle. Clean fresh water is the most important part of a feeding program. Is she in an area that you can monitor her water intake?
I took your advice, and have been letting her out of the stall later, and she ate 2.5 lbs night before last, and 3 lbs last night. I put another 3 lbs in tonight, and see how she does. She suddenly seems to be hungry for the grain. She goes into her stall on her own, and has been waiting for it the last couple of days. Hopefully this means we are over the hump!
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Your calf appears to be in similar condition to the one I have here the same age that is on hay and grain.

Calf isn't pot gutted, hair is smooth not rough, body condition looks good. I would say she is do alright. I would keep trying to get her to eat the starter at least some to keep her familiar with eating grain for when the grass isn't as good or your feeding hay. My goal is to keep them growing when dealing with calves this size, building frame, they stay on the lean looking side untill they get some more age.

Is the starter you are feeding a complete feed or made to feed with roughage? When grazing or feeding hay one made for additional roughage is best.
I am glad to hear that she looks OK. I am used to seeing my neighbor's beef calves, and she looks pitiful compared to them. Yes, I am feeding her a complete ration, plus grazing fresh bermuda/fescue/rye mixed grass.
What sort of forage is she grazing?
I have been keeping her in the yard around the house so I can leave grain out for her. It's a mix of bermuda, fescue, perennial rye, and clover (our yard used to be pasture).
She's probably going for the rye and clover, probably her last choice would be fescue. But going into her stall and waiting for grain is a good thing. Basic training for milking later on.
She seems to like the bermuda as well, but does pick out the clover and taller rye. We also have a few spots of brome which she keeps short :)

She was waiting in the stall again last night, and ate another 3 lbs of starter, then ate a pound of alfalfa pellets this morning before I let her out to graze. I think she may be getting the hang of it. I was also thinking coming for grain in the stall would be good training for milking later. I am also halter training her, and making sure I can touch her all over, especially her udder.

Thanks to all for the great advice! I am now more hopeful that she will continue to grow as she should, and hopefully I will have some great milk in a couple of years!
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I didn't read this entire thread, but are you feeding a specific calf grower/starter? 16-18% protein? If you are I'd try feeding from another ration mixing company/brand. A Jersey weighing 145# does not need milk replacer...My quick opinion. Topside
Thanks for responding. Yes, I am using Tindle calf starter, which is 16% protein, and also alfalfa pellets with 17% protein. The original problem was that she just didn't like any grain that I gave her, and I tried 5 different brands of either complete starter or grain.

She seems to be doing fine without the milk now, and since she has finally started eating the starter, I will not put her back on it.
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