Rearing Calves

Critical Tips On Rearing Calves


Because a calf is the future of the herd, rearing calves is one of the most crucial jobs on a farm. A calf that is not properly taken care of in its first few weeks of life will not meet target weights, will be more susceptible to illness and, consequently, will cost more to rear. The following are tips on how to properly rear calves.

Feeding milk

• Rearing calves on milk replacer or whole milk should be done at least three days after birth. For the calf’s first three days of life, let it feed on its mother’s colostrum.
• Whole milk or milk replacer should be introduced to the calf gradually over a period of days.
• Avoid giving zero skim milk replacer to calves under four weeks of age. Zero skim milk replacer does not form a clot in a calf’s stomach. As a result, the calf’s small intestine can become overloaded.
• Skim based milk replacer, on the other hand, forms a reconstituted milk clot in the calf’s stomach. This slows down the release of milk proteins, which results in fewer incidents of digestive upsets and scour.
• When giving calves milk replacer, make sure that it is at the correct temperature, as this affects the willingness of the calf to drink the milk. Giving milk replacer at wrong temperatures can also lead to bloating and fat breakdown.

Dehorning and teat removal

• Dehorning should be carried out at three to four weeks of age.
• Use a local anesthetic when dehorning.
• Perform teat removal at the same time as dehorning.
• Only veterinarians or experienced operators should be allowed to perform these procedures.


• Weaning is one of the most stressful stages in the process of rearing calves. Try to lessen the stress by weaning calves at eight weeks of age.
• Make sure that the calves are healthy and disease-free before attempting weaning.
• Make sure that the calves weight at least 65 kilos before attempting to wean them.
• For at least three days before weaning, make sure that the calves consume at least 1 kilo of calf mixture per calf per day.


• When rearing calves, make sure that they are in a clean, dry, and warm area.
• House calves younger than three months away from older calves.
• Calf housing should be in a location that encourages close observation and quality care.
• Calf housing should minimize disease risk and support high growth rates.
• Calf housing should be easily disassembled for cleaning.

Preventing illness

• After a calf is born, make sure that it gets enough colostrum.
• When preparing milk replacer, make sure that you follow mixing instructions to the letter.
• Make sure that calf pens are draught-free and that beddings are dry.
• Make sure that calf pens have effective ventilation.
• Hose down and disinfect calf pens before putting in a new batch of calves.
• Avoid putting calves of different ages and from different sources in the same calf pen.
• Thoroughly clean and disinfect each calf pen at least twice during a calving season.
• If sickness from E. coli or other bacteria is a persistent problem, vaccinate against them.
• Make sure that calves don’t get too stressed out from dehorning.
• If you are rearing calves together in one shelter, isolate calves that are sick as soon as possible.



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