Calf rearing

Rearing calves

Calves are best sourced from a local farmer. Buy a healthy calf that is at least 4 days old that has been well fed on colostrum. Look for small dry navels, pricked up ears, firm faeces, clear bright eyes, moist noses, shiny coats (breed dependent), firm teeth and playful movements.

If possible, avoid purchasing calves from the sale as they will have been exposed to numerous bugs and viruses. Calves purchased at the sales should be checked over particularly well.

If a bull calf is chosen he should be castrated with a rubber ring within the first 3 weeks to become a steer, otherwise he may become aggressive as he reaches maturity. Ensure both testicles are down before releasing the ring. Under the Code of Animal Welfare, castration of an animal greater than 6 months of age, pain relief in the form of local anaesthetic has to be used.

Basic rearing needs require:

  • 2-3 10kg bags of milk powder
  • Calf teats that attach to a bottle or from a calf feeder attached to a fence
  • Pellets or meal from 1 week
  • Halter and lead
  • Brush and cover
  • Drench and vaccine

All these products are available from your local Franklin Vets clinic.

Sprayfo Blue Calf Milk Replacer


Calf milk powder is available from Franklin Vets that will meet the needs of your calf. Choose a brand that contains an anticoccidial and avoid the cheaper brands as they can potentially provide fewer nutrients and affect the growth of your calf. Mixing and feeding instructions are clearly written on the bag. Once your calf is drinking well feed at the upper limits of the recommendation so it grows well. For best results milk feed your calf twice a day. Supplement the milk with a high-quality calf meal from a young age to encourage rumen development. Chaffage or hay can also be offered and ensure your calf has access to fresh, clean water every day. Allow grazing on reasonably long grass every day once it is over two weeks of age.

Print out our Treating Scours in Calves Guide

Vaccination and drenching

Your calf should be vaccinated with a 6 in 1 vaccine at 6 weeks at the latest then given a booster shot 4 weeks later This vaccine prevents pulpy kidney disease, tetanus, black disease, malignant oedema, blackleg and Sordellii. Alternatively, Covexin 10 vaccine can be administered from 2 weeks old with a 4-week booster, to give a broader spectrum of protection against clostridial bloat. Drench for worms from 6-8 weeks old unless otherwise advised by your vet. Lice are a common problem. These can be controlled either using pour-on or injectable drenches. This should be combined with brushing the lice eggs from the coat, washing the calf’s cover and keeping infected calves and gear away from other calves. Please ask your vet for advice on which option is best for your pet. 

Housing Requirements

A clean, dry and draught free environment is best for optimum health. A cover will assist in your calf’s growth as it will not be using energy to keep warm.

Registration and tagging

Cattle must be tagged with NAIT approved RFID tags. These animals must be tagged within six months of birth, or before they move off-farm – whichever is soonest. NAIT tags are the only tags required by law. Animal Health Board (AHB) approved tags are no longer compulsory, but you should not remove these tags from existing animals. Remember to register your animals after they’ve been tagged.


Certain cattle breeds will grow horns. These are best removed when the calf is young. Franklin Vets will come to your home and de-horn your calf using pain relief and an electric iron to burn off the horn stubs. This is humane, quick and effective.

Contact Franklin Vets if you have any concerns about your calf’s health. We are happy to give advice over the phone as to whether an animal requires treatment.

Print out our Calf Rearing Guide


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