Calf & Heifer Rearing

Rearing calves into heifers and on to mature cattle is a major investment in both money and labour. By making sure that each calf receives the best possible treatment as a matter of course, the aim is to produce a strong, productive and profitable dairy cow.

  • Any problems with calving will inhibit calf vigour

  • Aim for at least 2 calving pens per 100 cows

  • Avoid having more than 1 cow in a calving pen at any one time

  • Re-bed and preferably clean out the calving pen after each calving; manure contains pathogens for scours, navel infections, mastitis, Johne’s and metritis

  • Let the cow lick the calf dry, then remove the calf

  • Disinfect the calf’s navel

  • Give the calf its first feed of colostrum

  • Aim for 3 to 4 litres of good quality colostrum (>50lgG)

  • Feed colostrum through a stomach tube or teat within the first few hours

  • Pasteurised, mature cow colostrum is best

  • Put the calf somewhere clean, warm and dry to sleep it off

  • House calves individually, to reduce transfer of pathogens

  • Feed no more than 1.5 litres per feed in the first 4 days

  • Try and feed them 3 times a day during this period

  • Feed more often rather than increase milk per feed

  • Feed milk powder rather than whole milk

  • Cows milk has too high a fat to protein ratio

  • Cows milk is low in magnesium, iron, vitamin E & selenium

  • Milk powder is a consistent composition

  • Milk powder better matches the calfs needs

  • Milk powder has a zero infection risk

  • Never use milk from antibiotic or poorly cows

  • Aim for 25% more pens than calves to allow for cleaning and disinfecting

  • Monitor airspeed and avoid draughts. The air speed at calf level needs to be below 2m/second

  • Make sure there is plenty of fresh air; this helps kill bugs!

  • Keep moisture to a minimum as it harbours a lot of bugs

  • Be aware of the temperature; calves get cold!

  • If any of these are sub-optimal, calves need to be kept warm to keep them growing - known as the lower critical temperature

  • Calf jackets are a great idea - as long as they’re breathable

  • Use a fan and duct system to provide plenty of fresh air without creating a big draught

  • Make sure the pens and building can be cleaned out easily

  • Be wary of scours; calves are at significant risk for the first 4 weeks & especially in the first 10 days. One case of scours costs around £50

  • Feed and bed your younger calves first, before moving onto older ones

  • Offer a rapidly fermentable calf pellet from 5 days old

  • Calves eating bedding have an increased risk of coccidiosis and diphtheria; offer roughage separately

  • Calves need to be eating at least 1.5kg of dry feed before weaning starts