Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Bought In Calves: The basics from the first feed to weaning

Going back to basics from the first feed to weaning

Gordon Peppard

Many bought-in calves will have come through marts/agents and will have been grouped from many different sources.

All these factors will increase the risk of stress and disease. Purchased calves should be isolated from calves already on the farm for up to one week to minimise the risk of disease transfer.

House in a clean disinfected pen with plenty of straw.

Performance targets

During the first 12 weeks of life, a daily live weight gain of 0.7kg per day should be achieved, after this a growth rate of 0.8kg per day should be targeted.

Mortality up to three months of age should be less than 3pc and overall treatments to the batch of calves should ideally be under 10pc.

A simple rule of thumb target is to double the birth weight in eight weeks.

This will require excellent management from day one. For example, a 40kg calf at birth needs to reach 80kg in 56 days. An average daily gain of 0.71kg per day is required for every day.

Also Read

Bought In Calves: The First Feed

Calves will be stressed and dehydrated following arrival on to your farm. Allow them two to three hours of rest before feeding.

The first feed should be an electrolyte.

Feeding Milk Replacer

In order to achieve the target growth rates as set out above, 750g of milk replacer per day supplemented with good quality concentrates needs to be fed.

This should be feed over two feeds, three litres in the morning and three litres in the evening. Don't move to once a day feeding until the calf is at least four weeks old.

The three-litre mix should be 2,625ml of water and 375g of milk replacer to give a 12.5pcsolids mix.

Protein levels in the milk replacer should be 23-26pc and consist predominantly of milk proteins.

Be consistent when feeding calves, feed at the same times each day, at the same rate at the same temperature of 37-39°C. Cleanliness and hygiene are critical.


Clean fresh water should be available at all times. Check troughs daily to ensure that there is no dirt or faeces in it. It is important to remember that milk is a food and not a drink so water is essential to the young calf. For every one kg of meal that a calf will eat they will drink four to five litres of water.

Early concentrate intake is stimulated by water intakes. Insufficient water will slow rumen development and reduce feed conversion rates.

Concentrates and roughage

Feed a good quality 18-20pc crude protein palatable calf starter from day three. This should be replaced daily to keep it fresh

Concentrates are essential for early rumen development and to achieve 0.7kg of average daily gain.

From two to three weeks old, intakes will gradually increase. By six to eight weeks calves should be eating 0.7 to 1kg of calf starter per day.

Do not feed hay, the young calf cannot digest it.

Feed good quality, clean, dust free straw in racks, do not expect calves to eat it from their bed.


At weaning your calf should be 90kg and ideally closer to 100kg.Ensure that calves are eating at least 1.5 to 2kg of concentrates per day at weaning.

Gradually wean calves over a number of days and do not plan activities such as dehorning, changing social groups etc round this time as you need to keep stress to a minimum.

For Stories Like This and More
Download the FarmIreland App

Indo Farming