Bucket Training Tips and Tricks

Buckets buckets buckets. Some farmers would rather quit their job than try to bucket train a new born calf. It can be the worst part of your day if you don’t approach it the right way.

At our farm, we train calves to drink out of a bucket the first feeding after colostrum. We do this for a few reasons.

The first reason we do this is it over all makes our life easier. Once you get the initial training over with, your calves should be nearly maintenance free. Just like you have to bottle train, you have to train a calf to drink from a bucket. Also, instead of leaving their bucket with them, you have to take the bottle every single day, at least twice a day, and wash it. Leaving a bottle with the calf isn’t an option.

The second reason we bucket train is for cleaning purposes. We give our calves a bucket when they arrive and they keep that same bucket until they are weaned at 7 weeks. The bucket is rinsed daily, sprayed down with DK-ll, and hung to dry. They share buckets with their 15 pen mates. No one gets sick because of the buckets not being clean, because they stay clean. I monitor the cleanliness of the buckets with our ATP meter. This machine measures bacteria in RLU (relative light units). Below are some of the reading I have received from swabbing buckets that were quickly sprayed down with DK-ll.

Click here to see what we use to clean all of our feed equipment!

Lastly, we do this because of our set up. We had the choice of buckets or auto feeders. We knew how to navigate buckets because of previously raising veal, so we stuck with what we knew best. Bottles wouldn’t work with our headlocks.

That is a little bit of why we do what we do, back to how frustrating it can be to bucket train a calf. I have 5 tips on how to make you not want to pull your hair out!

First things first, you need a healthy calf. If you calf wasn’t handled well in maternity/at birth, they are cold, have scours, or just aren’t very vigorous overall, you are going to have a very difficult time getting them to start on a bucket. This is half the battle. Many time, when we are unloading calves out of our mini van (calf hauler), I am able to tell you which ones are going to give me a hard time when we go to bucket train them.

Second, you need to make sure the milk stays WARM. If the milk temperature drops below 105 degrees F, they will turn their nose up at you. Along with this, you need to make sure you are either only taking as much milk as you can use in about 5-10 minutes, or you are making multiple trips to the bulk milk area to keep the milk as warm as possible. It will make your life much easier.

Third, you need to be in a good position. When I start calves, I have the best luck when I am straddling the calf’s torso, standing behind its head, and reaching over their head with the bucket. I then have control of the calf, and I can lean over and hold the bucket with my left hand and help with my right. The trick is, the calf can’t find you to suck on you instead of looking for it’s milk. With you behind them, your legs/belly/arms aren’t an option for them, only the bucket and your helping hand.

Fourth, you need to know when to STOP helping. Time and time again we have employees that refuse to stop letting new calves suck. Once they realize that you will stay there with your hand in their mouth until they eat, you will have a fight to get them to drink on their own. My rule is one feeding they get the chance to suck, after that they get one chance for me to show them where the milk is again and then they are on their own. There are times where I have to let them go without a feeding because someone let them over suck and they won’t eat without help. They get hungry and eat the next shift. Be aware of how many feedings they go without milk. Maximum two. After that, you need to be looking into other health complications that may be causing the calf to refuse milk.

My final tip. BE PATIENT! They are BABIES! They have no idea what you are asking them to do. They barely know how to walk, let alone go drinking liquid out of a bucket. They need you to be loving and patient with them for this to be successful.

Some people have “the touch” some people just don’t. Find someone to add to your team that has it, if you choose to go town the bucket route. They will be worth their weight in gold.

Again, these 5 things will lead you to success. Healthy calves, warm milk, good positioning, know when to stop helping, and PATIENCE.

Good luck! If you need more help, employee training, or a video tutorial, contact me today!

Brooke Vanderloop ~ (920)-428-0782 ~ vanderloop12@gmail.com

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