News & Advice

Calf Rearing: charming or catastrophic?

Aug 12, 2018 | Lifestyle Farmers

If you have a bit of land and spare time, purchasing a few calves to rear can be a great option for you. Calves are cute, inquisitive and generally easy to handle. However, when things go wrong, it can be devastating and very frustrating for everyone involved. Here are some tips:


If your calves are under 4 days old, they will need colostrum for the first few days. Colostrum is the first milk a cow produces after milking and it contains a lot of immunoglobulins – essential for immunity. Calves are born with no immunity, so it’s very important they get this colostrum soon after birth (within 12 hours).

Most often, young calves are sold at 4 days old or over, which means they need milk feeds. If there is no friendly farmer around to provide whole milk, milk powder is a good option. Make sure you purchase a product with a Crude Protein level of 20%, it will mention this on the bag. Calves also need calf meal to help develop their rumen. Buy a product that contains a coccidiostat, to help prevent a disease called coccidiosis. Feeding milk warm and at set times twice a day, will provide a routine and encourage calves to drink.

Fresh water should be provided every day and some hay or straw for them to nibble on. Ultimately, we want the calves to be grazers so giving them access to straw/hay will give them the chance to practice from an early age.


Calves need somewhere to shelter, whether this is from the rain, cold or sun. Provide them with an area that allows them 1.5m2 space each with soft, clean bedding and draught free. A good tip is to sit down on your knees in the pen/shed (at their level) to experience what they would feel. If you feel a draught, it’s quite easy to apply wind breaking material.

Good bedding should provide comfort, warmth and stay dry – most popular types of bedding are sawdust, woodchips and straw/hay. Make sure to monitor hygiene and top bedding up when it gets dirty. Young calves are very susceptible to disease and hygiene is very important in preventing it.

Access to the outdoors from their shed/pen will also keep their shelter cleaner and decreases the risk of infection.


How much is this all going to cost? Unfortunately, small farm operations like lifestyle blocks are often run for love rather than money. This means benefits like homegrown meat, lovely animals in your backyard and a bit of play can come at a cost. The following are the biggest dollar consumers:

  • Purchase price: buy a ‘bobby’ calf from a local dairy farmer rather than through various websites. ‘Bobby’ calves are not kept as future dairy cows and are therefore ‘surplus’. You might get a good deal. Sometimes, calves can be reasonably prices at the saleyards too.
  • Feed: fresh milk from a local farmer is cheaper than milk powder. It pays to shop around various rural supply stores for the best price if you do need milk powder and for your meal. Or do a deal with neighbours to buy in bulk and get a discount that way. Same applies to hay/straw.
  • Procedures: things like vaccinations, drenching, castration and disbudding are routine procedures that are often done to make handling easier and prevent disease. If you’re new to calf rearing, talk to your vet about what you can do yourself and what the right timeframe is. Most of these procedures are done early on (<4-6 wks of age) and become more difficult and therefore more expensive as the calves get older.
  • Home kill cost– once again, there are options out there so talk to neighbours or ring around to get the best service and price.
    So, while it may not provide you with an income, you get the benefit of (often cheaper) and better meat whilst also enjoying the privilege of watching the antics of young calves frolicking around.

    As always, if you want to know more or need some help, ring your vet at Anexa Vets.

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