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Rearing Dairy-Beef Calves

Cost is a major factor when rearing beef calves, where the early life period provides huge opportunities to make the most of inputs. This phase is the most efficient period of an animal’s life and when their feed to growth conversion is at its highest; from 1kg of calf milk replacer fed, they can gain 900g in body weight.

Sourcing policy
The first week of a calf’s life can have a substantial impact on its future health and growth, highlighting the importance of sourcing beef calves carefully, whether direct from farm or market. When sourcing calves it is important to take into consideration the health status of the herd, if calves received adequate colostrum and their disease history. Calves should be alert, bright, show no signs of ill health and have a dry navel, in addition to being of good weight for their age (>7days old).

Arriving on farm
Bought in calves should be quarantined for at least 7 days, especially if calves are from mixed sources. This allows them to be monitored for disease without putting current animals at risk. Only mix bought in calves with groups when the quarantine period is over and if there are no signs of ill health. A vaccination programme should be implemented, liaising with your vet can ensure a comprehensive plan is in place. Avoid all stressful procedures (disbudding and castrating) for the first 7 days as this can promote disease outbreaks as the calf’s immune system can become compromised by the stress of the procedures. During transport and transition from one environment to another, calves can often incur a period of stress and dehydration. To help mitigate the impacts this may have, as well as giving them a well needed “boost”, an electrolyte should be given as their first feed on the farm. This also gives time for the abomasum to adapt before transitioning to a new diet and to reduce the digestive upset which can be expected when transitioning bought in calves. Clean, fresh water and forage should always be available from the moment calves arrive on farm. Calves can drink 4 litres of water for every 1kg of concentrates they eat. Forage (ideally chopped straw) is vital for rumen development and promotes intakes.

Cleanliness and hygiene are critical when rearing calves, especially when calves are exposed to the stress of transportation, a change of routine and new groupings, all of which can increase their susceptibility to disease. Feeding equipment should be thoroughly cleaned with a detergent and boot dips on entry to the calf shed between quarantine and current calves should be used to reduce disease spread.

Milk feeding
Calves should be fed a minimum of 750g of a high-quality calf milk replacer (CMR) per day, gradually increasing to between 0.9-1.2kg a day. The table below shows the recommended minimum calves should be receiving; all NWF milk replacers have a minimum inclusion of 125g of CMR to 875ml of water to make 1 litre, for an enhanced plane of nutrition 150g of CMR to 850ml of water to make 1 litre should be used. Calves should be achieving a minimum of 0.8kg daily live weight gain (DLWG) a day, with the aim of over 1kg depending on desired timeframes and weights.

Weaning Table

Weaning is one of the most stressful times for a calf, this transition must be managed carefully to avoid a growth check. Calves should have doubled their birth weight by weaning and must be eating a minimum of 1.0-1.5kg of concentrates for three consecutive days before beginning the weaning process at around 7 weeks of age. Step down weaning is a less stressful method, which allows the calf to bridge the nutritional gap with solid feed. It is important to make sure that solid feed is as attractive as possible; palatable and replenished daily, as we are asking a calf to be weaned between 8-12 weeks, a lot earlier than the 6-8 months they would do naturally if left on the dam.

NWF Youngstock Team
At NWF Agriculture, we recognise the importance pre-weaning nutrition can have on the future productivity and efficiency of beef calves, and therefore, the future profitability of the farm business. The NWF Youngstock team can provide advice and services ranging from testing colostrum and monitoring growth to devising protocols for dairy and beef herds. With a Cow Signals©, Master trainer in the team we can also host staff training on your farm to promote consistency and good health across your herd.


Call the NWF Youngstock team on 0800 756 2787 to arrange a farm visit this Autumn!

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