Taking care of a newly-purchased calf this spring

With the calving season getting underway on dairy farms, calf-to-beef farmers will soon be starting to source calves in the weeks ahead.

The selection and treatment of these calves at an early stage, upon arrival to their new farm, can be important to ensure they maintain a good thrive during the first few months of life.

Speaking on the Teagasc ‘Let’s Talk Cattle Webinar’ on Thursday (January 14), Suzanne Naughton from MSD Animal Health provided a very informative talk on the care of a purchased calf.

Before the calves arrive

It is all well and good heading to the mart and purchasing good and healthy calves this spring, but are your sheds ready to take these calves?

Farmers are advised to try and get their housing facilities in a suitable order for a calf’s arrival. Sheds should be cleaned out and disinfected. Water drinkers should be checked to make sure they are functional and not leaking.

Fresh bedding should be provided and having clean straw at foot is ideal. Adding to this, Suzanne said:

Calf comfort is a very important factor to get right in order to avoid stress. Any stress created can have a negative impact on their immune system.

“Ideally, new arrivals on farms should be quarantined away from home stock for up to four weeks. This will reduce the threat of new diseases spreading and impacting other animals on your farm.”


Studying the ventilation within the shed is key. Farmers need to check if it is adequate and if there anything you can do to improve airflow – whilst also avoiding creating draughts.

Also Read: Reviewing the factors to consider in calf housing

Speaking on ventilation, Suzanne stated:

“The minute I step into a calf shed I don’t want to be getting a strong smell of ammonia. If there is a strong smell, this means that ventilation is not adequate.

“If you have your local vet out in the yard, maybe get them to do a quick assessment of the housing. If any changes need to be done, do them now before stock arrives.

“It doesn’t have to be major structural changes, particularly if the time frame does not allow this. Just take a look at how you could maybe open up the shed that little bit more to get more air in.”

Sourcing calves

“The higher the number of sources that calves are coming from, the greater disease risk there is,” according to Suzanne.

She highlighted the importance of trying to reduce the number of farms that calves are coming from, as this can result in an increased risk of respiratory diseases or scours occurring.

On providing advice for farmers sourcing calves this spring, she stated:

“Ideally, develop a relationship with a local dairy farmer, as this can be a really good starting point.

“Hopefully, you can identify farms that you have confidence in. Knowing that the calves that you are buying are getting the right start in terms of colostrum management during the first few days of life is very important.

If the calves don’t receive sufficient levels of quality colostrum, they are on the back foot straight away in terms of performance. This makes it hard for you to then bring these calves on.

“When calves are not coming from a mart scenario or where there are large animal gatherings, you know that the calves had reduced exposure to bacteria and viruses.

“If you do identify a farm to source calves from, then you should ask if they have a vaccination policy in place against diseases. If they are vaccinating, you can be confident that there is a lower prevalence of disease on those farms.”


Inspection and monitoring calves

There are a few helpful points that Suzanne discussed during her presentation which farmers should keep an on when selecting calves to purchase this spring.

Checklist for buying calves:

  • Must be bright and alert;
  • Have no nasal discharge;
  • Have a clean back end/no staining;
  • Have a shiny coat;
  • No lameness;
  • Must be fit for transport.

Once the calves arrive on the farm, the first 12-24 hours are very important for monitoring calves. Providing advice on this, she explained:

“It might be a good idea to provide some electrolytes to calves when they arrive on the farm because sometimes they can be a little dehydrated due to stress.

For the first couple of weeks, monitor the calves a couple of times a day to make sure there aren’t any early stages of a disease happening or them being off form.

“Keep an eye if they are slow to come to the feeder. If there is any cough or nasal discharge and you have a thermometer, check their temperature. Anything over 39.5° would be indicative of a high temperature or potential fever and requires looking at.

“If you are concerned or need any advice it’s always best practice to get in contact with your local vet as to what treatment might be needed.”