Use bottle holders for newborn calves

Ideas for more
efficient dairy

by Gunnar Josefsson,
Marcia Miquelon and
Larry Chapman

University of Wisconsin, Madison
Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project

Newborn calves are often fed milk in bottles during
their first 3-7 days of life. This can be both timeconsuming and backbreaking. Using bottle holders can save labor costs and eliminate the need to stoop for long periods while the youngest calves feed.

Benefits of using bottle holders

Less stress on body. When you hand feed newborn calves, you must hold a milk bottle (4.5 lb. when full) for 1-4 minutes or longer twice a day while the calf consumes it. This means up to eight minutes per day per calf of standing in an awkward, stooped position. This often leads to back fatigue and pain. Also, holding the bottle while guiding the calf to drink puts stress on your arms.

Efficient and easy to use. Most calves will quickly learn to drink independently from the bottle. Depending on the calf, you can either drop the bottle and leave, or monitor the calf with your back straight . With bottle holders placed at the front of pens, built into hutches, or placed on front-runs (wire panels), you can feed bottles without entering the pen or hutch. Slow-drinking calves can take their time without slowing your work down.

stooping to hand-feed a newborn calf

Stooping to hand-feed newborn calves is tiresome and awkward.

using a bottle holder to feed a calf

Bottle holders ease the strain of wet feeding.

Are bottle holders cost effective?

One case study indicated that an average healthy calf may take 96 seconds (about 1.5 minutes) to finish 2 quarts of milk in a bottle. Using these data, we estimated the labor time saved, using the following assumptions: Calves are bottle-fed for the first five days of life, and out of this 5 day period, calves are able to drink independently for 3 days (day 3-5). Some farmers use portable bottle holders (wire-type) while other farmers prefer stationary bottle holders in each hutch or pen. The cost for portable bottle holders varies from $2.00- $5.00 each. More durable stationary bottleholders can be purchased for about $6.00. The number of bottle holders required depends on the herd size, seasonal calving, and work routines used. The financial calculations are summarized in table 1.

Some farmers may have a lower cost for hired or family labor. Calculations based on $5.00 per hour reduced the annual cost savings by about 55%, and increased the pay back time from one to about 2 months.

Cost-Effectiveness of Using Bottle Holders
Calves raised per year1) Avg. daily # of calves bottle-fed Annual labor savings 2) Cost of bottle holders (investment) Net annual cost savings (labor saved minus cost of holders)3)
60 1.25 $100 $8 $92
120 2.5 $200 $16 $182
240 5 $400 $32 $368
480 10 $800 $60 $740
1) Number of calves born and fed milk in bottles up to 1 week of age
2) Labor cost estimated at $ 10.00/hr (including benefits)
3) Assuming bottle holders have a life span of one year
This material was developed by the Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project, whose goal is to find and share work efficiency tips that maintain farmers' health and safety and also increase profits.


· Regardless of herd size and labor cost, using bottle holders appears to be a good investment with a short pay-back time of investment costs, i.e. 1-2 months.

· Using bottle holders reduces the time spent working in awkward and inappropriate postures. Those working postures predispose for future back and hand/arm injury.

· Using bottle holders is a cost-effective way of improving labor productivity as well as work safety/health.

Where Can I Get Bottle Holders?

Portable bottle holders are available in several designs. Some may be more durable than others. If you are not satisfied with the quality of what is available on the market, ask a skilled local welder to make stronger portable bottle holders, use nipple pails or install stationary bottle holders. Permanent bottle holders are manufactured as accessories to hutches, but can also be installed as permanent features of pens. They are made of a strong plastic material (“Poly”). Farmers can purchase bottle holders from local feed and farm equipment suppliers, and from hutch distributors.

For more information, call (608) 252-1054 or visit our website at http://bse.wisc.

Material is not copyrighted. Feel free to reproduce; please mention source: University of Wisconsin Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project, August, 2000; Second Edition.

Authors: Gunnar Josefsson, Marcia Miquelon and Larry Chapman, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, 460 Henry Mall, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706.

Research for this publication: was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Work Efficiency Tip Sheet: Use bottle holders for newborn calves