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Early Management of the Dairy Beef Calf

Early Management of the Dairy Beef Calf

With the main dairy calving season underway and dairy calves moving onto beef farms, having good practices in the early stages of dairy beef calf rearing will minimise problems later on. Vincent Ronayne, Teagasc Mayo, advises on a number of core principles which should be followed on every farm

There are a number of core principles below which should be followed on every farm engaged in rearing dairy beef animals.

Housing and Ventilation

The shed where the calves are reared is important for the health of the young calf. The calf shed should be airy but not draughty.  There has to be a movement of air above the calf to take away all stale air. In larger sheds where there is draughts at calf level this can be controlled by sheeting pen divisions or by simply placing straw bales to create a windbreak.

Where there is a downward draught this can be alleviated by creating a short canopy over the calves where they can escape the downward draught. A simple method of identifying the air movement in a calf shed is to use smoke at calf level to see what direction and how quickly it moves.


Calves coming onto the farm need a good dry bed. There should be a slope on the floor to drain away excess urine. There should be a good layer of dry straw under calves at all times.  A good test for this is to kneel on one knee and if your knee gets wet/damp then you need more straw. Insufficient straw and wet bedding can lead to a build-up of ammonia at calf level and can cause lung damage in young or compromised calves. Straw may look expensive but a vet call, antibiotics and or death of the calf will buy quite a few bales. Disease risk will be reduced by cleaning out, disinfecting and using sufficient bedding on a regular basis.


Calves should receive their vaccination on arrival on the farm. As vaccination requirements vary from farm to farm there is no standard vaccination. Your vaccination programme should be discussed with your vet.


All calves should have access to clean water at all times from day one after arriving on the farm. The trough should be placed in such a way as to avoid soiling and must be checked at each feeding and cleaned as required and routinely once a week. The milk replacer being fed to calves may meet the requirements of most calves in the first week but clean water must be available to all calves should they require it.

Calf Crunch

A small amount of fresh calf crunch should be made available every day to encourage calves to start nibbling at it. A cooked crunch containing some molasses will speed up the process. A coarse crunch has benefits over pencils and nuts at this stage as it encourages the rumen to develop due to its roughness as pencils and nuts are ground too fine during processing. They can be used at a later stage.

Penning and feeding

Pen calves 6-8 in a pen. This makes observation and management much easier. An ailing calf is much easier to identify in a smaller group. Feed replacer as per manufacturer’s recommendations; as they have a lot of research done on their own product.  The temperature of the milk replacer should remain the same at each feeding. If these principles are followed it should result in an easier calf rearing season.

More from Teagasc on Calf Rearing can be found here

Alo check out information from The Calf Show  - webinar held recently