Calf care checklist: Choosing between bottles and pails

Posted on April 24, 2023 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Ann Hoskins, Vita Plus calf program manager

“Should I feed milk in bottles or pails?”

The most honest answer is that I don’t care as long as it’s clean.

This topic has long been debated and yet the body of research does not indicate clear superiority of one feeding method versus the other.  Bottles and pails each have their pros and cons.  Like so many things, the best fit depends on your farm’s unique facilities and management.

Bottles Pails
Slower rate of passage: It takes calves longer to drink from a bottle and they are thus more satiated post-feeding. Calves drink milk in pails very quickly, especially older calves.
Bottles allow for a more consistent volume of milk fed. Unless you have a metered feeding system, the milk volume can be inconsistent from one feeding to the next.
Bottles cap your potential for volume fed. Pails give you more flexibility if you want to feed higher volumes of milk.
Drinking from bottles increases saliva production.
In my l observation, it seems a calf that is not feeling 100% is more likely to drink from a bottle than a pail.  Calves can overcome a challenge quicker if they stay on milk versus dropping their intakes.
Bottle-feeding is sometimes a more hands-on process, which allows for closer calf observation. Pails generally allow for quick and efficient feeding.
Calves may dunk their heads too far into pails and aspirate the milk.
Attention must be paid to proper bottle-holder height and position, and this changes as the calf grows.  The calf’s nose should always be below its eyes when drinking from a bottle.  This may require more training of staff to recognize proper bottle holding. The pail height should also be adjusted as the calf grows.
It is difficult to clean and notice wear inside a bottle.  That said, bottle-washing technology has improved throughout the years. Pails are easy to clean and identify wear.
Nipples need to be replaced regularly.  The rule of thumb is that, if a bottle tips over and milk drips from the nipple, it needs to be replaced.

Category: Animal health
Starting Strong - Calf Care