Caring for your calf

Choosing a calf

Pick a good, strong four-day old calf that is not smaller than others with it, or born prematurely. Ask what breed your calf is and when it was born. Make a note of these details in your diary.


1. For the best start a newly born calf must have its mother ’s first milk (colostrum). This milk is high in antibodies which fight infection.

A replacement is available from Farmsource or your vet. If you can, feed your calf colostrum for its first 10 days; you’ll be giving it a very good start.

2. After four days feed two times a day for the first three to four weeks, following the instructions on the milk powder bag. 4 – 5 litres in total per day is usual.

3. You can supplement their diet with calf meal from the start, giving small quantities of fresh calf meal each day, so by 3-4 weeks old your calf is eating as much as it wants.

4. Continue feeding milk until the calf is able to eat sufficient meal and grass.

5. Keep your bottle, teat and mixing gear clean between feeds. Dirty equipment cause scours.

6. Observe when your calf has had enough – the flanks become level with the sides. Never allow a bloated look. Your calf may seem to want more and more – but this is unkind and may kill it!

Usually it is necessary to provide two milk feeds a day up to the age of 8 weeks, and one feed until 12 weeks


A calf is assessed at Lamb and Calf day under the following headings; care, cleanliness and condition.

You may be asked what breed it is, when it was born and other things you do to take care of it.


The judge will give their personal assessment on the conformation, size, shape and other characteristics that make the animal outstanding in its breed.


Daily practice can result in a perfect lead on Lamb and Calf day.

1. Listen to the judge for instructions and ask questions if you’re unsure.

2. Hold the rope so that your right hand (steering hand) is close to the collar, grasps the rope palm up, and your left hand (braking hand) grasps the rope palm down.

3. Lead the calf clockwise around the ring stopping at the stop peg and counting 1,2,3 before moving on.

4. Walk at the same pace as the calf; walk upright and keep to a straight line. Ideally the calf and child need to move in tandem with right/left legs in line.

5. Steer the calf by moving the hand that is holding the lead to the left or right. Make sure the lead from the rope/collar is not too tight or too loose.

Daily Care

1. Brush daily and use a damp cloth to clean around its face, under the front legs, on each flank and inside the ears.

2. Check that the calf’s shelter is clean.

3. Wash the feeding bottle and teat after every meal.

4. If you tether your calf, initially the tether needs to be short. Secure the tether well with a snap hook (at the calf end) to a secure stake which can be shifted from time to time.

5. If possible have your calf in a secure paddock so it can run free when not tethered.

6. Take the calf for a walk using a leading halter and lead with a snap hook on one end. Lead from the same side you will be on when in the ring

Weekly care

1. Lengthen the tether as the calf gets used to it.

2. Loosen it’s collar gradually as your calf grows.

3. Watch for scouring (diarrhoea). Treat with electrolytes from a vet without delay.

4. If you have a bull calf and want to make a steer out of it, have its testicles docked before it is 3 weeks old. Ask a local farmer or your vet.

5. If the calf limps or kneels down to eat it may have footrot, a bacterial disease. Obtain help to cut it out and contact a vet for treatment.

6. Drench for worms if necessary. Consult a vet for drench dose rates and required frequency. It is important to change the type of drench used so that resistance to the drench is not built up.

7. Check for lice. Pour-on treatments are used to control these.

Preparing your calf for Calf Club day

Begin training the calf at an early age. Make some time each day to play with the calf and caress it.

Talk quietly to it when feeding and playing so it gets to know your voice. From about 10 days old your calf can be tethered with a halter to get it used to it.

Practice leading your calf in its paddock, always making sure you are on the left side of the calf. It helps to have someone walking behind your calf when you are starting out.

Practice your leading in all conditions – rain, wind. You want to get your calf used to strange noises. Calves should be brushed (a nail brush is fine) to remove old stray hairs, putting a coat on it can also help to remove loose hair.