Calf Rearing

Guide To Rearing Your Calf

calf rearing-151Selection of the Calf

Calves are best sourced from a local farmer. Buy a healthy calf that is at least 4 days old that has been well fed on colostrum. Look for small dry navels, pricked up ears, firm faeces, clear bright eyes, moist noses, shiny coats (breed dependant), firm teeth and playful movements.
If possible avoid purchasing calves from the sale as they will have been exposed to numerous bugs and viruses. Calves purchased at the sales should be checked over particularly well.

Take note of your calf’s date of birth as this is required on your entry form.
If a bull calf is chosen he should be castrated with a rubber ring within the first 3 weeks to become a steer, otherwise he may become aggressive as he reaches maturity. Ensure both testicles are down before releasing the ring.
Basic rearing needs
  • 2 – 3 10kg bags of milk powder
  • Calf teats are available that attach to a coke bottle, or alternatively a complete re-usable bottle and teat or calf feeder that hangs on a fence can be purchased
  • Pellets or meal from 1 week
  • Halter and lead
  • Brush
  • Drench
  • Vaccine
  • Cover  


Various calf milk powders are available from farming outlet stores that will meet the needs of your calf. Choose a brand that contains an anticoccidial and avoid the cheaper brands as they can potentially provide fewer nutrients and affect the growth of your calf. Mixing and feeding instructions are clearly written on the bag. Once your calf is drinking well feed at the upper limits of the recommendation so it grows well. For best results milk feed your calf twice a day until Ag day. Supplement the milk with a high quality calf meal from a young age to encourage rumen development. Chaffage or hay can also be offered and ensure your calf has access to fresh, clean water every day. Allow to graze on reasonably long grass everyday once it is over two weeks of age.

  • Ensure the calf has had 2 litres of colostrum within 6 hours of birth
  • Minimise stress and chilling during sale and transport
  • House in a dry, draft free, hygienic shed
  • Avoid sudden changes in the type, quantity or temperature of milk or milk powder
  • After significant transport feed electrolytes for the first 12 hours
  • Keep it in a clean, dry, draught free environment and keep warm (put a calf cover on if available)
  • Alternate feeding between 2 litres milk and 2 litres of good quality electrolyte such as Revive or Diarrest® using protocol below
  • Use a tube feeder for any slow or weak drinkers
  • Veterinarian attention should be sought for any calf which is weak, cold in the ears and limbs or unable to stand
  • All scouring animals should be kept separate from healthy animals until they have recovered
  • Spray the pens and equipment with virucidal spray daily (eg Vetsan)
  Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Morning Electrolyte, 2L Electrolyte, 2L Milk, 2L
Lunch Electrolyte, 2L Milk, 2L Electrolyte, 2L
Evening Milk, 2L Electrolyte, 2L Milk, 2L
Overnight Leave 3L electrolyte in feeder overnight
Vaccination and drenching

Your calf should also be vaccinated with a 6 in 1 vaccine at six weeks of age at the latest and then given a booster shot 4 weeks later. This vaccine prevents pulpy kidney disease, tetanus, black disease, malignant oedema, blackleg and Sordellii.
Drench for worms from 6-8 weeks old, unless otherwise advised by your vet.

Lice Control
Lice are a common problem. These can be controlled either using pour-on or injectable drenches .  This should be combined with brushing the lice eggs from the coat, washing the calf’s cover and keeping infected calves and gear away from other calves.  Please ask your vet for advice on which option is best for your pet. 

Housing requirements
A good clean, dry, and draught free environment is required for optimum health. A cover, even used only at night will assist in your calf’s growth as it will not be using energy to keep warm.
Daily care
  • Regular feeding (twice daily for best growth)
  • Wash it’s face to remove any milk residue
  • Walk it on a halter and lead and spend time with it
  • Brush it a least once a day

Ear tag requirements
Your calf must have two tags, one in each ear. One will have a number and farm herd code on it and the other will be the calves National Animal Identification Tracing tag, commonly known as a NAIT tag.

Certain cattle breeds will grow horns. These are best removed when the calf is young. Franklin Vets will come to your home and de-horn your calf using pain relief and an electric iron to burn off the horn stubs. This is humane, quick and effective.

Generally ribbons are presented in three age groups – Junior, Intermediate and Senior; and then an overall winner in the following categories.  Check with your school for details.
  • Rearing and condition of your calf – The date of birth of the calf and breed will be taken into account in assessing growth. An under condition or unhealthy calf will be penalised. The judge is looking for a sleek and well groomed appearance of coat with no dry dirt and good skin condition – not harsh dry, or tight. Try and learn as much about your calf as you can.
  • Leading – Calf needs to walk through the course without dragging or pushing, elbowing, slapping or using the lead to slap, releasing the grip on the lead with the right hand or jerking the halter. Never wrap the lead around your hand as this is dangerous should your calf bolt.
Dairy Type- Calves are judged on their ability to produce weather it be dairy or beef.
NOTE; you should know the breed, age and general feeding requirements (how many times a day it is being fed, what it likes) of the calf as the judges will ask.
Points to remember
  • Ensure long hair under its tail is kept clean, never cut your calves tail.
  • Do not clip or shave your calf – a clipped calf is disqualified
  • Brush your calf often to get a nice shiny finish on the coat and remove loose hair
  • Ensure the halter is loosened regularly or removed so it is not too tight otherwise it will wear the hair off around its neck
Tips for success
  • The child should always feed the calf, mum or dad can assist younger children if needed.
  • Give your calf a treat when leading and calling. Use the pellets or they often like bread (save the crusts and stale bread). Even a hug, pat and a few kind words are beneficial.
  • Spend lots of time with your calf so you build a bond.
  • Set a course up at home and walk your calf daily. Give your calf a rest day before the show so she is not too tired.
  • When leading, the right hand should grip the lead, palm upwards and be 15cms from the halter. The left hand should grip the lead, knuckles upwards. Stand beside the left shoulder of the calf at all times. Try to keep the calf moving at a reasonable pace, but you should walk at the same pace as your calf.
  • Wash your calf on or before Ag day and take a bucket, brushes, an old towel to clean it if it is dirty when you arrive.  Also take its food and water requirements for the day.
Good Luck and most important of all ………..enjoy