News & Advice

Raising healthy calves and lambs

Aug 25, 2016 | Lifestyle Farmers

Getting your calf or lamb

There are plenty of places to source calves and lambs and there are pros and cons to each. The most important thing is to get them from somewhere that knows their complete history. This includes their COLOSTRUM INTAKE which is extremely important. Calves and lambs are born without the antibodies required to fight disease; these are provided by the mother through their first milk called colostrum. This must be provided in the first 6 to 12 hours of life, as by 24 hours the gut is ‘closed’ and can no longer absorb antibodies across it.

Calves and lambs that do not get colostrum are much more susceptible to infectious diseases and, are less likely to survive

There are lots of options and choices when selecting calves or lambs and we recommend doing your research into breed and age. Older animals cost more initially but often save you money in the long run!

Another money saving trick is to learn to recognise healthy animals; healthy animals are more likely to stay healthy:
• Navel- is it dry and clean?
• Stomach full?
• Ears up?
• Bright demeanour?
• Tail and coat clean?


Colostrum! – best for young animals as it contains antibodies, increased fat and protein. This must be fresh.

Fresh milk – dairy farm supply is easiest. Do not give pasteurised! Calves and lambs colonise their gut with bacteria from their feed and environment.

Milk powder– this is the practical choice. Simply mix with warm water and given multiple times per day. The recommendation is still to give colostrum until they are 3 to 4 days old. Some calf milk powders also contain a coccidiostat to help prevent coccidiosis which is a parasitic disease that causes scouring and decreased weight gain.

Any change of feed must be slow and this includes change in type, volume, number of feeds per day and temperature.
Supplementary feeds include meal, muesli, hay, silage, straw and grass. These should be offered to young animals to encourage foraging behaviour the development of the rumen.

Weaning is the stopping of milk feeding and is done by weight. A calf should be 80-100kg and a lamb should be 20 to 30kg. This is the danger time for coccidiosis and we recommend feeding a meal with added coccidiostat at this time to help prevent.

Sick calves

Signs of a sick calf include:
• Reduced or no appetite
• Isolation from the group
• Lethargy/depression
• Coat appears rough
• Mouth and muzzle may be cold
• Rectal temperature may be increased or decreased from norm (37.5⁰-39.5⁰)

Scouring animals may also be showing:
• Fluid faeces
• Wet tail, hock and thighs
• Leathery skin that tents – signs of dehydration
• Sunken eyes

Sick animals need warmth, ad lib water and food, bottle feeding with milk and if scouring, tubing with electrolytes. Sick animals may need Vet care and antibiotics.

Causes of scours include nutritional changes or infectious organisms (viral, bacterial or protozoal) and this can be diagnosed by talking to your vet who will take a history and may test your animal’s faeces.

Please note scouring calves and lambs are a human health risk!

Docking, dehorning and castrating

Docking is the process of putting a ring on a lamb’s tail to shorten it. This is done at two to six weeks old to keep their hind limbs clean and help prevent flystrike.

Rings can be used to castrate both calves and lambs up to the age of three months, but they should ideally be done at two to six weeks.

Disbudding is the process of burning calves’ horn buds to prevent them from growing horns. This is done at two to six weeks old for the best chance of preventing regrowth. Burning at this age is best practise for health and safety and prevents dehorning animals as adults prior to going to the works.

Disbudding can be done standing in a crush or under sedation (knock down). Local anaesthetic is always given and pain relief can be given as extra.

Date Added: Thursday, 25th August 2016

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