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Management of dairy-beef calves

The first three months of the calf's life, known as the rearing period, is the most crucial period for the calf-to-beef enterprise. The growth rate achieved during these first few months affect the lifetime perfromance of the animal. Optimising the calf's nutrition and health during this time helps to ensure that the calf has the greatest chance of achieving its full genetic potental for growth and feed conversion efficiency.

For beef farmers rearing calves from the dairy herd, purchasing the right calves to suit their production system, and maintaining high quality calf management once they arrive onto the farm, are key drivers to the success and efficiency of their farm enterprise.


See also Calf Rearing and WelfareTeagasc Calf Rearing Manual and Calf-beef farm health and welfare

 Calves drinking from feeder Dairy Beef



Calving is high risk event for both the cow and the calf. The new-born calf is challenged by numerous infections which can result in navel ill, scour and pneumonia.Newborn calf with cow

Section 1 of the Teagasc calf rearing manual provides details of:

Chapter 2, Care of the Newborn Calf (pdf). This chapter details successful calf resuscitation, umbilical care and removing the calf from the cow.

Chapter 3, Colostrum - Feeding of the Newborn (pdf). This chapter explains in detail the importance of colostrum to the health of the new-born calf and gives clear guidelines on the amount to feed, when to feed it and the main factors affecting colostrum yield and quality.

Details of care and health at calving can be found in Chapter 43 of the Teagasc Beef Manual Calving and the newborn calf (pdf) which provides information on how to minimise the likelihood of calving problems and how best to care for the new-born calf.

The following video, Calf Rearing- Care of the newborn calf, povides useful, practical information on colostrum management and the care of the calf in the first few hours of its life.


Young calves in pen

The profitability of the dairy beef enterprise depends largely on the quality of calf that is purchased. Poor calves lead to poor feed efficiencies, weight gains and thrive, and potentially high mortalities. Purchasing from reliable suppliers and ensuring to purchase calves that are good weight for age is crucial to limiting calf mortality and morbidity.

Section 2 of the Teagasc calf rearing manual provides guidelines to purchasing calves for the dairy beef herd, 

Teagasc recently released a pamphlet, guiding farmers on all details of dairy beef production, from sourcing calves, to housing, health and economics. Buying Dairy Calves for Beef Production (pdf).

A recent video series highlights the importance of purchasing good quality calves, and details how and when they should be transported. Calf Rearing- Procurement and transfer of calves




Calves feedingA good start is essential for calves. Section 3 of the Teagasc Calf Rearing Manual gives clear guidelines on the nutritional needs when milk feeding the artificially reared calf. It also details the different milk feeding systems and methods available for dairy beef producers. 

Section 4 of the Teagasc Calf Rearing Manual provides details of the development of the rumen, concentrate and fibre feeding as well as the importance of water to the developing dairy beef calf.

The following videos cover the important aspects of milk and concentrate feeding:



Calves in pens Dairy Beef

Calf accommodation must provide for the animal’s needs. Calf housing standards are regulated under the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine specification S124 Nov. 2009, which describes the minimum specification required. It is important that housing management is optimised in order to prevent stress and to limit the calf’s susceptibility to disease.

Details of calf accommodation can be found in the Teagasc calf rearing manual under the following chapters:

The following video covers the important aspects of calf housing, including ventilation, Calf rearing- Calf Housing.




Cow & calf in penAccidents and illness related to farming are not inevitable and can be prevented through planning and careful work organisation. A quarter of Irish farm accide- nts and one fifth of farm deaths in older farmers are livestock-related.

Ensuring appropriate facilities are in place to provide comfort and safety for themselves, other farmworkers and their animals is the responsibility of the farmer.

Chapter 26 - Health and safety around Calving and Calf Facilities (pdf) of the Teagasc calf rearing manual provides details of safety guidelines surrounding housing, calving facilities, calf houses and loading and unloading ramps.

The following video focuses on calf welfare and the importance of preparing the calving and calf rearing facilities in advance of the calving season in order to optimise health and safety - Calf Rearing: Heath and safety and animal welfare.

In addition, the Health and Safety Authority provide information on safety on livestock farms- Guidance on the Safe Handling of Cattle on Farms. (pdf)