Having new life join your herd is wonderful but now that they are here you might be wondering about best practices for caring for your new calves. Here, our Stanwood vets go over best practices for your calves including feeding, housing, and health care.
Taking Care of Your Calves
Your calves represent the future of your farm so the utmost care must be taken to ensure that they prosper so your farm can prosper. While they are young it is up to their caretaker to ensure that they thrive.
This will depend on the purpose of your herd. If it is for a beef herd then you can initially let the mother cow nurse the calf. This will form a bond between the two and the mother should act as protection for the calf against predators. Afterward, they can start on solid feed at 3 weeks and should be weaned onto solid feed at around 4 to 8 weeks. Confirm with your veterinarian the exact schedule for weaning for your particular breed of cow.
If the calf is orphaned or is from a dairy herd you will want to start them on a bottle. Calves need to drink on average 8% of their birth weight in milk replacement.
When feeding your calf solid feed and water keep the feed/water tray/ bucket off the ground where they don’t have to dip down too much to get their feed. This will reduce contamination from defecation and urination.
There are various configurations of pens, shelters, and hutches to keep calves in. The main points that any of the options should have is:
Ventilation: There should be a good source of ventilation.
Drainage: Your cow should not be standing in a puddle of its urine.
Temperature: The calf should be kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Bedding is highly recommended for calves and can include straw, shavings, or sawdust. The benefits for calves are that it reduces stress and can decrease the risk of disease.
In the beginning, you will want to keep the calves separate to avoid disease spreading. After they are weaned they can live in groups of 3-5 similarly sized and aged cows and after 4 months their group size can go up to 12.
Spreadsheets are your friend. It is recommended that you weigh your calves periodically and record this information along with how much they are eating. Your vet should be able to give you the expected weights for calves at each stage and age of development. This can be used as a metric to determine the health of your calf and if medical intervention is required.
You should inspect your calves daily and if you spot something unusual about a calf, quarantine the calf and any others that were in the group with it and call your vet for advice. Catching issues when they are small and treatable is normally less expensive than losing a calf.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your animal's condition.