calves management from birth to weaning

How to Raise Healthy Calves from Birth to Weaning & Beyond

Raising healthy calves is about laying the foundation for productive, resilient future members of your herd.

From those first precious breaths to the smooth transition to solid feed, understanding the intricacies of calf management ensures both animal welfare and long-term success.

In this guide, we’ll delve into the crucial stages of calf care, empowering you to raise thriving young bovines.

Pre-Calving Preparations

Before your little one even arrives, preparing your environment and protocols is key.

Designate a clean, well-ventilated calving pen with dry, comfortable bedding.

Ensure adequate space for the mother and calf, and maintain consistent room temperature (ideally 15-20°C).

Disinfect all equipment thoroughly to prevent disease transmission.

Stock up on colostrum replacer, high-quality milk replacer, and a starter grain mix suitable for young calves.

Remember, colostrum is vital for immune system development, so plan to administer it within the first few hours of life.

Immediate Post-Calving Care

The first 24 hours are critical for your newborn calf. First, weigh your calf using a sack and weighing scale. The use of weighing tapes can not give results on the first day.

Most calves weigh 35-37 kg at birth though many are born weighing below 30 kg.

Assist the mother in cleaning the calf and ensure the calf nurses colostrum within the first two hours.

If natural suckling is not possible, use a clean nipple and bottle to administer colostrum replacer at body temperature (39°C).

Monitor the calf’s breathing, reflexes, and navel for signs of trouble, and contact your veterinarian if necessary.

Building Immunity: Colostrum Feeding and Vaccination

Colostrum is nature’s first vaccination, brimming with antibodies and nutrients essential for immune system development.

Aim to feed 4-6 litres of colostrum within the first six hours, followed by repeated feedings over the next 24 hours.

The cow should not be milked all the colostrum once but gradually as the calves feed.

This is to avoid excess withdrawal of calcium from the mother that may cause it to fall.

The calf should drink 6 litres of colostrum per day in the first month before reducing gradually.

The amount of milk the calf will produce in future is dependent on the intake of colostrum in the first 6 weeks.

Monitor the calf’s colostrum intake, using a replacer if needed.

The calf should have access to clean water 24 hrs to drink at its pleasure. the colour water trough should be different from that it feeds milk with.

Develop a vaccination schedule in consultation with your veterinarian based on local disease risks and herd management practices.

Nurturing Growth: Milk Feeding and Rumen Development

Whether fed whole milk, pasteurized milk, or commercial milk replacer, ensure consistent quality and temperature (39°C).

Start with twice-daily feedings, gradually increasing volume as the calf grows. Introduce high-quality dairy meals or calf pellets around 3-4 weeks old, encouraging rumen development and reducing dependence on milk.

By the weaning time (typically 8-12 weeks), calves should be consuming primarily solid feed and water with double birth weight (70kg for calves born weighing 35 kg).

A Clean Start: Hygiene and Disease Prevention

Maintaining a clean environment is crucial for calf health.

Clean and disinfect feeding utensils, buckets, and pens regularly.

Provide fresh bedding daily and remove manure promptly. Implement biosecurity measures, such as footbaths and separate clothing for calf care, to prevent the spread of disease.

Monitor calves closely for signs of illness, including abnormal breathing, diarrhoea, or lethargy, and seek veterinary attention if needed.

Individual or Group Housing?

Individual housing offers advantages in the early weeks, promoting bonding with the caregiver, easier monitoring of individual health and feed intake, and reduced risk of disease transmission.

However, as calves mature, group housing fosters social development, improves rumen function, and reduces stress.

Weigh the pros and cons based on your facilities, management practices, and herd size.

Building a Positive Relationship: Handling and Training

Gentle handling from day one builds trust and facilitates routine care.

Talk to your calves, approach them calmly, and avoid sudden movements.

Utilize positive reinforcement when training calves for halter leading, hoof trimming, and other routine procedures.

Building a positive relationship ensures easier management and reduces stress for both you and your animals.

Weaning with Wisdom: A Smooth Transition

Weaning shouldn’t be an abrupt shock. Gradually decrease milk intake over 7-10 days while ensuring they have access to high-quality starter grain and clean water.

Monitor feed intake and growth rates during this transition, adjusting the weaning pace as needed.

Remember, weaning is not just about stopping milk; it’s about preparing calves for a lifetime of independent nutrition.

calf management from birth to weaning and beyond.

Beyond the Basics: Optimizing Calf Growth and Development

With the crucial early care covered, let’s explore advanced strategies to unlock your calves’ full potential. Consider this section your toolbox for raising robust, thriving young bovines, ready to excel in your herd.

Fueling Future Champions: Advanced Feeding Strategies

Tailored Nutrition: While starter grain/pellets form the basis of their post-weaning diet, consider individual needs.

High-performance calves might benefit from additional energy concentrates, while calves destined for breeding may require more protein-rich supplements.

Consult us for customized feeding plans.

Feed Quality Matters: Invest in high-quality feed ingredients. Moldy or dusty feed can impact palatability and potentially harm their health. Regularly inspect and store feed appropriately.

Hay Introduction: Once rumen development progresses (usually around 8 weeks), introduce good quality hay gradually. Start with small amounts and increase access as the rumen function matures.

Water Access is Essential: Ensure calves have constant access to clean, fresh water. Monitor water intake and adjust availability based on weather conditions and feed type.

From Bucket to Pasture: Introducing Green Goodness

Pasture access offers natural grazing benefits, promoting exercise, social interaction, and exposure to diverse microorganisms.

Gradually introduce calves to pasture starting at around 2-3 months old, allowing their rumen to adapt to the change.

Start with short grazing periods and increase duration as they acclimate. Ensure pastures are safe, free from harmful plants, and provide adequate shade and water access.

Monitoring Matters: Tracking Health and Growth

Regular monitoring is crucial for identifying potential issues early on. Daily observation should include:

  1. Appetite and feed intake: Reduced appetite can indicate illness.
  2. Manure consistency and colour: Abnormal faeces may suggest digestive problems.
  3. Breathing: Listen for any abnormal sounds or laboured breathing.
  4. General demeanour: Assess activity level, alertness, and signs of discomfort.

Weigh calves regularly to track growth rates and adjust feeding plans as needed. Maintain detailed records of health checks, vaccinations, and feed intake for proactive management.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late: Preventative Healthcare

Prevention is always better than cure. Implement a comprehensive biosecurity plan to minimize disease transmission.

Practice routine vaccinations based on your veterinarian’s recommendations. Provide clean, dry bedding and maintain good ventilation to prevent respiratory issues.

Early intervention significantly improves calves’ chances of recovery and ensures the overall health of your herd.

Technology to the Rescue: Tools for Efficient Calf Management

Several technological tools can enhance your calf management practices:

  1. Automated feeders: Ensure consistent milk or replacer availability, saving time and labour.
  2. Temperature sensors: Monitor pen temperature for optimal calf comfort.
  3. Growth monitoring systems: Track individual weight gain and identify calves needing attention.
  4. Milk analyzers: Assess colostrum quality and ensure adequate immune system protection.

Remember, technology is a powerful tool, but proper training and understanding are crucial for effective implementation.

Beyond the Numbers: Holistic Approach to Calf Care

While optimizing growth and health is vital, remember your calves are sentient beings.

Gentle handling, providing enrichment activities, and minimizing stress contribute to their overall well-being. This translates to improved immune function, better temperament, and ultimately, higher productivity in their adult lives.

From Calf to Cow/Bull: Seamless Transition and Beyond

Raising healthy calves sets the stage for a productive and fulfilling life within your herd.

In this final section, we’ll explore navigating the crucial transition to adulthood, integrating young animals into the herd, and ensuring a sustainable future for your bovine family.

Bridging the Gap: Transitioning Calves to Adulthood

Around 6-8 months old, calves are typically weaned completely and transitioned to an adult diet.

Ensure their rumen is fully functional by gradually offering adult feed alongside starter grain during the weaning process.

Monitor their weight gain and adjust feed composition as needed.

Integrating Young Animals into the Herd

Introducing young animals to the established herd requires careful planning and management to prevent stress, injury, and potential bullying.

Start by integrating them into smaller groups first, allowing them to acclimate to the social dynamics.

Monitor interactions closely and intervene if necessary. Ensure adequate feed and water resources are available throughout the integration process.

Responsible Husbandry and Ethical Practices

Raising calves responsibly extends beyond providing proper care. Consider:

  1. Sustainable feed sources: Utilize sustainable grazing practices and explore locally sourced, environmentally friendly feed options.
  2. Animal welfare: Ensure your management practices prioritize animal comfort, minimize stress, and promote natural behaviours.
  3. Disease prevention: Implement biosecurity measures, maintain vaccination schedules, and promptly address any health concerns.
  4. Responsible breeding: Select breeding animals based on sound genetic principles and consider the long-term impact on your herd’s sustainability.


Raising calves with care and dedication requires knowledge, passion, and a commitment to responsible practices. By implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, you can foster healthy, thriving animals, contribute to a sustainable future for your farm, and create a truly rewarding experience for both you and your bovine companions.

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