News & Advice

Calf Rearing – Are you ready? Small changes can make a big difference.

May 31, 2022 | Dairy, Young Stock

Emma Bullock, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Morrinsville
  • Before the season begins, remove and replace bedding and thoroughly disinfect walls, railings and the floor 
  • Bedding must be dry and must drain well e.g. bark chips. If you kneel onto the bedding and it feels wet, it’s too wet for the calves. Top-up regularly so bedding is fresh and dry. 
  • Create solid partitions between pens (at least 1m high) to prevent spread of disease. 

  • Use an “all-in-all-out” system. Fill a pen with the appropriate number of calves and leave these calves in this group and pen until they are moved outside. Moving individuals or groups between pens increases risk of spread of disease. The pen then needs to be thoroughly cleaned out before the next group enters. 
  • Each calf needs a minimum of 1.5m2 each and there should be ideally no more than 10-12 calves per pen. 


  • Limit the number of people with access to the calf sheds. Have a nominated person in charge of calf rearing. 
  • Set up an area to disinfect, including a footbath and/or pressure pump to be used on entry to and exit of shed. 

  • Have dedicated equipment for the calf shed i.e. thermometer, calf tube feeders, navel disinfectant spray. 
  • Consider using a calf feeder with compartments. Often the first sign of a sick calf is slow drinking which is easier to identify with a compartment feeder. 
  • Ensure calf feeders are cleaned and disinfected daily. 

  • There needs to be enough ventilation to circulate air. This dries out bedding and allows moist air and ammonia from the bedding to rise and escape. Ammonia buildup from calf waste can lead to respiratory issues. 
  • Drafts at calf height need to be avoided. Make sure you have draft-free warm spaces for calves to rest. 

  • Prepare a dedicated sick calf pen (ideally in a different shed) with a dedicated footbath, disinfectant and equipment. 
  • Always feed healthy calves before tending to sick calves to reduce risk of spread of disease. 
  • Keep bobby calves separate from replacements (ideally in their own shed). This reduces risk of disease coming on farm from outside people such as bobby truck drivers who go on and off many different farms. 

  • Ensure all calves always have access to fresh water from day one. Having water troughs at head height minimises faecal contamination. Did you know that scouring calves can lose up to 4L of water per day? So, access to water in addition to usual feeding is essential. 

  • Ensure all calves have access to a source of fibre such as hay or straw from day one, as well as good quality calf meal (20% protein content at minimum). 

There’s a lot to get right to ensure the best start for your replacements. Change nothing and nothing changes – if you want more out of this year’s replacements, talk to your vet and discuss calf rearing on your farm to give them the best start.

Share This