Calf Rearing

James McCall Calf ClubSelection of the Calf

Calves are best sourced from a local farmer. Buy a healthy calf that is at least four 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 bacteria and viruses. Calves at the Tuakau Saleyards do undergo a presale inspection, by saleyard staff and a Franklin Vets Veterinarian, providing some security.  Calves purchased at other salesyards should be checked over particularly well.
Take note of your calf’s date of birth as this is required on your entry form for Ag Day.
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 of age
  • Halter and lead
  • Brush
  • Drench
  • Vaccine
  • Cover

Calves feeding LRFeeding

Feed a newly arrived calf electrolytes only for the first 12 hours after arrival. This can help prevent stomach upsets from stress and change of milk feed (e.g. cows’ milk to milk powder).
There are various calf milk powders available on the market. 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. Provide access to reasonably long grass everyday once it is over two weeks of age.

Vaccination and drenching
6521,ultravac-5-in-1Your calf should also be vaccinated with a 5 in 1 vaccine at six weeks of age and then given a booster shot at 12 weeks. This vaccine prevents pulpy kidney disease, tetanus, black disease, malignant oedema and blackleg.
Treat for worms from 6-8 weeks old, unless otherwise advised by your vet. It is important to use the correct product, as there is significant resistance to some types of parasite products.  Talk to your veterinary clinic staff for advice.  Pour-On, oral or injectable products are available.  Pour-On (down back bone – from base of neck to top of tail) is the easiest method, however it is best to sit the calf on its tail and apply from the brisket to the groin to avoid the risk of coat damage, or skin irritation to the products which can occur.

If applying pour-on it is best to sit the calf on its tail & apply from the brisket to the groin to avoid the risk of coat damage.

Lice Control

Lice are a common problem.  These can be controlled either using pour-on or injectable parasite products or Permoxin.  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. 

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


Certain cattle breeds will grow horns. These can be dealt with quite easily and inexpensively when the calf is young. Franklin Vets will come to your home and de-horn your calf with local anaesthetic using an electric iron to burn off the horn stubs. This is humane, quick and effective.


Each school has slightly different judging criteria, but generally ribbons are presented in three age groups – Junior, Intermediate and Senior and an overall winner in the following categories:

Leading - the 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 or jerking the halter. Standing beside the calf’s shoulder, the right hand should grip the lead palm up 15cm from the halter and should remain on the lead at all times. The left hand should grip the lead knuckles up.

Rearing – the date of birth of the calf and breed will be taken into account in assessing growth. An under conditioned calf will be penalised. The judge is looking for a sleek and well groomed appearance of coat, skin and feet with no loose hair or dry dirt.  Judges will often want to know whether you know the five elements of 5-in-1 vaccination, along with the breed of your calf.

Dairy type – the judge will look to see if the calf is a good example of a dairy calf and will look for alert eyes, good teeth, strong and straight legs, a straight back and wide ribs. They will run their hands over the calf and look from the front and rear for balance.

Beef type - the judge will check as for dairy type to see if the calf is a good example of a beef calf. 
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 some judges will ask.
Points to remember
  • Ensure long hair under its tail is kept clean (no dags)
  • 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 clean and 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. Make sure you include a fence post or piece of wood so the calf gets used to stepping over it. They mustn’t touch the wood.
  • When leading the right hand should grip the lead, palm upwards and be some 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.
If at any time you have any concerns about your calf's health, contact us.
Too often we are contacted when it is too late.
We are happy to give advice over the phone on whether an animal requires treatment.