LIC | Looking after your calf

Looking after your calf

Each time you are with your calf, take careful note of the way it is acting - is it 'bright and breezy', running to you to be fed; is its coat shiny and its eyes bright; are its motions yellow (if it is on a milk diet) or dark green if it is eating meal and grass.

If your calf's motions become runny, very pale in colour and/or smelly it could mean it has scours. If this happens, immediately tell your parents or the farmer as it will need antibiotics from a veterinary surgeon to get better.

Remember – to avoid your calf getting scours, make sure everything it eats out of is spotlessly clean. Also make sure that its bedding (it may have sawdust on the floor of a pen) is always clean – rake any soiling out of the bed regularly so your calf has a nice clean, dry place to rest.

And remember to always wash your hands carefully after caring for your calf, and before eating.

Dehorning - Most calves grow horns. When your calf is very young you will feel little lumps between its ears – these are the horn buds. The farmer who bred the calf will tell you when it will need to have a special paste applied to these buds so the horns don’t grow. You should ask him/her to apply this treatment.

Innoculations (disease prevention) - Right from the first days when you have your calf, talk to the farmer about what innoculations it needs to remain healthy. He/she will be the best guide and will probably provide the innoculations as they do their other calves.

Veterinary Care

For the first three to four days of its life, your calf will normally drink colostrum which is the first milk produced by a cow (it's mother) after giving birth. It has special ingredients that protect the calf from infection and help it become strong in the first days after its birth.

When the calf's care is passed to you, it will generally have finished this colostrum phase (when it will usually have been with other calves in an indoor pen drinking from a calfeteria) and should know how to suck from an artificial teat.

You will by now have arranged to have a pen or small paddock where your calf can be kept on its own, or with other calves which are being hand-reared. For the first few days as you become friends, it will help if this is a small area so, wherever you are in the pen, you are close to the calf - it can hear your voice and will soon begin to trust you. The best way to forge a friendship with your calf, of course, is by feeding it.

Right from the start, your calf will need feeding twice a day - in the morning (before you leave for school) and the afternoon (when you get home).

If you're lucky enough to live on a dairy farm, you will probably get your milk direct from the farm dairy in the mornings and afternoons, when it is still warm so you can immediately feed your calf. If you don't live on a dairy farm, you will mix special calf milk formula with warm water (the water-powder ratio is given on the outside of the bag of milk powder) and feed your calf.

It is very important to keep whatever utensil you use to feed your calf (bucket, mother udder, calfeteria) very, very clean - calves can get 'a tummy bug' called scours (diarrhoea) from dirty feeding utensils, so be very careful to clean everything in hot soapy water after each feed so it is clean for the next feed.

How much to feed

The farmer will be the best one to tell you how much milk to feed your calf - and you will need to review this at regular intervals because your calf will grow very quickly. As a general rule, after feeding your calf will look full, his/her tummy will look round and the calf will be happy, not calling out for more milk.

Your calf needs to be fed milk regularly, at least twice each day. Use whole milk or one of the brands of milk powder available at your local farming store. A common rule is 10 per cent of body-weight, so a 40kg calf needs four litres each day or two litres twice a day. It is important to mix powders at the correct levels so be sure to read the instructions on the calf milk packet very carefully, and follow them strictly.

Be sure to feed your calf at the same time each day - it's like you; it will soon learn when 'dinner time' is. In addition to milk, your calf needs access to clear water and good quality, fresh, grass.

Calf Meal

Your calf will grow quickly and will soon begin nibbling grass and drinking water from the trough. At around two weeks you will want to introduce calf meal to its diet so it grows well and has 'good condition' (has a good cover of fat and muscle) and is contented during the day between feeds.

Meal is fed in the mornings, after your calf's milk feed. You will need a large, flat-bottomed feeder which your calf can't push around the paddock.

Although the supply of grass, hay and meal increases as your calf grows, it is still important to keep feeding milk as this ensures your calf keeps a shiny coat for calf club.


At around two to three weeks, and after checking with your farmer, the calf's twice daily milk feeds can be reduced to one - generally in the morning. The amount of milk generally increases so your calf is getting one larger drink of milk each day.

Calves generally remain on once-a-day milk feeds with grain until after Calf Club. Weaning then takes place when the calf returns to the farm.

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