Practical Tips for Calf Rearing

Attention to detail and management is the key to any calf rearing system being a success.  The following tips are practical and should be adhered to for a successful outcome to calf rearing.


Good dry cow management

Ensure the cow is dried off in sufficient time to allow her calve down in a condition score of 3.0-3.5.  Cows that are too thin or have excess condition may have calving difficulties resulting in undue stress on the newborn calf at birth.


Hygiene in the calving pen

A clean, dry and well bedded calving area reduces the risk of infection for both the cow and calf.  Remove the calf from the cow after the birth to a clean environment.


Milk the cow out and feed the calf with a teated bottle

A number of options exist for feeding colostrum to newborn calves; allowing the calf to suckle the dam, feeding with a teated bottle or feeding with an esophageal tube.  Research has shown that up to 40% of calves that are allowed to suckle the dam do not obtain sufficient colostrum intake within the required time.  The best approach is to milk out the cow and measure the volume of colostrum required by the calf and feed with a teated bottle.  This increases the concentration of the antibodies in the colostrum and raises the level of antibodies absorbed by the calf.  Target intake of colostrum in first feed is 10% of bodyweight (E.g. A 40 Kg calf requires 4 Litres of colostrum).  Feeding with an esophageal tube should only be a last resort if the calf does not suckle voluntarily as the milk does not reach the ‘true milk’ stomach of the calf.


Continue to feed colostrums for 3 days

Even though the absorption of antibodies diminishes within the first 12 hours of birth the mother’s colostrums is rich in energy and protein and the antibodies help to enhance gut development and stop harmful ‘scour causing bacteria’ from attaching to the gut wall.


Provide clean water

Milk alone does not provide enough water for the young calf so you must always provide access to clean water from birth.


Introduce dry calf feed in the first few days

Cereals and digestible fibre help rumen development so offer a calf starter feed, ad-libitum, from day three.  Research has shown calves prefer a larger 6 mm pellet rather than a smaller 3 mm pencil and this encourages higher intake at an early age.


Feeding hay/straw

Allow limited access to hay or straw at an early age.  Do not introduce hay or straw as a major proportion of the diet until at least 5 weeks of age or one week before weaning.  Forages increase gut fill and reduce the potential for concentrate intake, leading to ‘pot-bellied’ calves.



Gradually reduce milk feeding and wean when calves are consuming at least 1 kg of concentrates for 2 consecutive days.  This increases the dry feed intake and reduces a growth check at weaning.  Do not change the calf starter feed until at least one week after weaning.

Contact details

Brett Brothers Ltd.,
Co. Kilkenny.
Tel: 056-7755300

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