Over 730,000 calves have been born on Irish dairy farms so far this year. With the 2023 spring-calving season now well underway, the calf-rearing season has already kicked off on many calf-to-beef farms and is getting underway on others.

With this in mind, ABP Food Group’s Advantage Beef Programme farm liaison team leader, Amy Coonan, outlined some advice and assembled a checklist for farmers rearing calves this spring.

She said: “Firstly, farmers should ensure calf sheds have been cleaned out and disinfected in advance of calves arriving. A calf spends up to 80% of their time lying down so it’s important to provide a deep, warm bed of straw.”

Before calves arrive, ensure there are sufficient supplies of the following:

  • Straw;
  • Milk replacer;
  • Concentrates;
  • Disinfectant/Hydrated Lime;
  • Replacement calf-feeder teats;
  • Gloves;
  • Electrolytes;
  • Red lamp;
  • Thermometer (Healthy calf temperature 38.5° to 39.5°).

“Fresh water, hay or straw in racks and fresh concentrates should all be topped up daily,” Coonan said.

She advised farmers to set up an isolation area for sick calves and added that farmers should remove these from group pens as soon as symptoms are noticed in order to reduce the spread of disease.

“Clean and disinfect all calf-feeding equipment and replace old teats on feeders. Old, cracked teats harbor disease and cause uneven milk flow which can lead to stomach upsets,” she said.

“Disinfect bottles and stomach tubes and ensure you have a separate bottle or stomach tube for a sick calf and the healthy calves to prevent disease spread.

“If calf jackets are used, ensure these are clean and dry before the season starts.”

She suggested that a whiteboard or notebook should be used to note a sick calf or a calf that is slow to drink. This will guarantee consistency if more than one person is working on the farm.

“The calf feeding area should have easy access to milk replacer, hot water and feeding equipment,” Coonan added.

2023-born calves on the ABP Demo Farm:

The Advantage Beef Programme farm liaison officer continued: “Transporting calves can be a stressful period for them. It’s best to provide straw in the cattle box, don’t overload calves and try not to mix calves from a number of different farms.

“When feeding milk replacer, it is important to remain consistent with mixing rates and water temperature as fluctuations in either will cause stomach upsets. Consistency is key.

“Clean calf feeding equipment after each feed using hot water and…disinfecting liquid – don’t allow milk to become caked on feeders as this could lead to disease or infection.

“When dehorning calves, farmers should consider using a local anesthetic and pain killer to reduce stress levels and prevent setbacks. Get advice from your vet on available options.”

Before weaning a calf off milk, farmers should ensure they are eating 1-2kg of concentrates so calves will have developed a healthy rumen, she added.