Video: How to manage the dairy calf on arrival to the beef farm

In this instalment of the ‘Calf Health and Management Series’, we will outline how to manage dairy calves when they arrive on the beef farms.

There are many factors that need to be considered here, including the number of sources – and the distance travelled – from which calves are purchased.

Purchasing calves direct from local dairy farmers can have many benefits for calf-to-beef finishers. Firstly, beef farmers know the health status of the dairy herd and they can be confident that the calf has received an adequate amount of colostrum; it also reduces the amount of stressors that a calf is exposed to.

However, this is not always possible and thousands of calves will change hands in marts over the coming weeks. This process can be hard on young calves, so minimising stress must be a top priority.

In the video (below), Volac’s Liam Gannon outlines a number of steps that need to be carried out in relation to both managing and feeding the calf on arrival.

As we have already touched on in a previous article, calves should arrive into a clean, well-ventilated unit. Newly-purchased calves should be isolated and allowed to settle into their new environment; the calves should be supervised regularly.

It is common for calves to lose weight due to a lack of food and water during transportation. If not addressed, this can lead to dehydration, loss of electrolytes and low blood sugar.

“Calves should be allowed to settle and have access to water and roughage,” Liam highlighted.

“If the calves have come a long journey, they may be dehydrated and the best thing to do is give them electrolytes through water as their first feed, rather than going straight onto milk replacer,” but noted that there are some electrolytes that can be fed through milk or milk replacer.

This will help reduce dehydration and increase appetite. Once calves are settled in, they should be batched according to age and weight and can be moved onto their feeding plan.

However, as calves may be of different ages, and have come off different feeding systems, care should be taken not to overfeed calves starting out; they should be allowed to adjust to their new diet and feeding system.

Liam explained that it may not always be necessary to feed electrolytes, noting that it normally depends on the distance travelled and stress the calves have endured.

In the case of Richie Long, where the video (above) was filmed, Richie purchases continental-cross calves from his brothers’ dairy farm – located a number of miles away.

As the distance is short, and the calves are relatively stress-free, they are allowed to settle into their new environment before moving onto a twice-a-day (TAD) feeding programme.

Part 1: Video series: The complete guide to buying and rearing dairy-beef calves
Part 2: Video: What can I pay for dairy-beef calves?
Part 3: Video: What questions should I ask dairy farmers when sourcing dairy-beef calves?
Part 4: The importance of choosing dairy calves with the right genetics for beef production
Part 5: Video: How to examine the calf prior to purchase for dairy-beef systems
Part 6: Video: The correct housing environment for calves is crucial for top performance