Calf rearing debrief

wean soiree vetsouth

At our ‘Wean Soirée’ events in Gore and Winton, some of our local calf rearers shared some of their challenges and key learnings. While many are out of their control - such as the weather - they shared a great list of things they do. The discussions, bubbles and food was great and an interesting challenge was the interference of fathers/husbands and grandfathers! The biggest takeaway tips and tricks suggested by the calf rearers were:

Weak Calves

  • Get poorly calves on electrolytes asap.
  • Using electrolytes recipe off DairyNZ website - great!
  • Use heat lamps for small/sick/newborn calves in poor weather.
  • Use calf covers/jackets on small calves/newborns.
  • Isolate sick calves into a separate pen.


  • Wash calves in wheelbarrow when get muddy/wet - saves lives but creates ++ laundry!
  • Use a backpack cleaning/disinfectant spray – easy.
  • Spread Stalosan F - disinfectant powder for pens.
  • Don’t forget to clean and disinfect ear tagging kit.
  • Scrub all feeding equipment well with hot water and detergent.


  • Weighing calves helps with accurate weaning.
  • Weaning calves once at pasture helps reduce the check in growth.
  • Wean based on weight at 100kg.
  • Wean calves off milk by reducing the volume of water in milk feed and keeping powder amount same.

Welfare & Identification

  • Using local anaesthetic and pain relief when disbudding calves.
  • Sedation as well as using local anaesthetic for doing disbudding AND at same time doing the ear tagging, BVD testing and ringing bull calves worked really well.
  • Tagging ears of calves including DNA tags for BVD detection before going outside.
  • Shelter makes a difference.


  • Use of “benzonite” powder for helping bind up the guts of calves.
  • Use of products such as ‘Biobrew’ (multi vitamins) and 7 in 1 (Clostridia vaccine).

Feeding Colostrum

  • Warm fresh milk every day is best.
  • Controlling milk intake helps calves eat more calf meal.
  • Prioritising colostrum management.
  • Using simple colour coding systems (i.e. coloured stickers indicating better vs worst quality colostrum).
  • Feeding enough whey powder in milk feeds.
  • Feed at least 2L of colostrum, usually 3L.
  • Keeping calves in until eating more grain/meal.
  • Collect fresh colostrum in large VAT.
  • Optiguard - adlib or mixed into milk.
  • Use a refractometer to measure the quality of colostrum.

Process & People

  • Best thing when rearing calves = good staff
  • Get up ~3/4am to pick up new born calves!!
  • Key to success is good communication between farm team.
  • Aim to pick up calves at least 4 x a day during calving.
  • Require proper treatment by bobby trucks (those moving the calves.
  • Invest time into your facilities and tools - this will make your life and their’s a lot better.

Rearer Challenges

  • Fathers/Husbands/Grandfathers interfering/not believing in ‘gold colostrum’.
  • Avoiding ear infections from dirty ear tag equipment.
  • Keeping calves indoors due to poor weather.
  • Disease build up in sheds over the season.
  • Dealing with family/worker injuries (husband broke leg during calving).
  • Calving large calves is a physical challenge.
  • Having less than adequate facilities makes job harder.
  • Getting calves to eat enough milk before weaning is a challenge.
  • Juggling family life always a challenge.
  • Keeping jerseys alive especially with bad weather.
  • Long calving seasons are difficult.
  • Nowhere to isolate sick calves.
  • Bobby calves and the bobby truck – poor service, worried about animal welfare (late arriving, driving too fast, calves being bruised and bashed on arrival at works due to ‘mad’ driving).
  • The weather!


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