A newborn calf can live up to five days without nursing. Ideally, it is best for the calf to nurse within the first five hours of life, but a calf that is delayed until 24 to 36 hours before nursing can still be fine.
There are some factors that are involved in how long will a calf will live without nursing.
If the calf was able to nurse in the first five hours and then something happens and is unable to nurse for some time, it will be able to go a longer period without nursing. This is common in cattle ranching, many times a cow will be able to deliver the calf and allow it to nurse in the first few hours, but then she will lay down to rest. During a difficult delivery the cow will received some injury to the pelvis or muscle swelling afterwards then during this recovery period while laying down may not be able to stand for a few days making it impossible for the calf to nurse.
This can change how long the calf will live without nursing. It can add an extra 48 hours of life for the calf. The opposite will happen when the calf takes longer to recover after a difficult delivery. The cow is able to recover quickly but the calf requires more time thus shorten how long a calf will live without nursing up to 48 hours.
This is the procedure that I follow during calving. It been handed down from my great grandfather. I observe the cow during calving to make sure she can deliver on her own without assistance. Once the calf is born I make sure it is breathing. That is the only thing I’m concerned with. It will take some time for the mother to clean the calf off and for it to stand on it’s own. I also want to make sure the cow is getting up on her own, in normally soon after calving.
24 hours later I will return to observe the pair and see if the calf has nursed. If the calf has not then I will bottle feed the calf and go from there. I know of some ranchers that will shorten this time period to 10 – 12 hours. Without any milk colostrum in the first 24 hours, the calf will be at a higher risk of illness, but I like to give the calf every opportunity to nurse on it’s own.
A few tips on knowing if a calf has nursed or not.
The mother will have one or two clean tits while the other’s still have dirt on them.
The calf has pooped and will have a yellow mustard looking droppings around the tail.
The cows milk bag has decreased in size.
The calf’s face will be wet from milk or foam on it’s bottom jaw.
If the calf has not nursed by then I will start bottle feeding four pints of milk replacer two times a day.
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