Purchasing young calves from dairy farms can be an inexpensive way to get beef in your freezer. This post will go through how to find and raise healthy calves.
Before you buy:
If you read no further in this article, remember that the single most important thing that you can do to make sure that you get healthy calves is to purchase calves that received colostrum directly after birth from their mothers. Jersey calves need a minimum of 2 quarts of colostrum and Holstein calves need a minimum of 4 quarts of colostrum in the first 12 hrs of life.
Another important thing is to have a look at the animals on the farm and look for healthy weights and shiny haircoats. There should be feed in front of the animals, minimal soiling of the animals hindquarters, and hooves should not be too long. If the animals on the farm look and act healthy, your calf is more likely to be healthy also. Ask the owner if he has had any animals sick with pneumonia or diarrhea. Ask if he has higher than a 2% abortion rate. If you don’t feel comfortable asking these questions, you should find a farm where you do feel comfortable asking- most farmers are very proud of their great management and are happy to share the details.
Ask the owner about his vaccination, deworming, and feeding protocol.
Ideally, owners will have vaccinated the cows during the dry period with products like Pyramid, Cattlemaster, and Vista that cover against respiratory viruses BVD 1&2, IBR, PI3, BRSV, and hopefully Pasteurella or Mannheimia. Additional vaccines like Scourguard or Scour Bos to help the calves with calfhood scours. Some people who purchase calves regularly will request that the origin farm vaccinate with Scourguard 4KC. Products like Covexin-8 help prevent overeating disease in young calves (clostridial diseases.)
Another important thing is when the cows were last dewormed. The cow can pass parasites to her calf through milk and feces in the first hours of life. A deworming history on the farm of origin will help you understand how well-managed the origin farm is.
Feeding is also important. Most dairy farms feed grains that are designed by the grain company to meet the needs of the animals. On farms where the animals are not fed a lot of bagged feed, discussing nutrition with the origin farm owner can give you an idea as to whether your calf may need immediate supplementation with Vitamin E, selenium, and copper.
Once you have your new calf at home:
The best thing you can feed during the first week of life is whole milk. The safest thing to do is purchase whole milk that is pasteurized. Some grocery stores will sell whole milk that is short dated at a discount.
Calves should suckle 15% of body weight per day in whole milk and milk weighs about 8 lbs per gallon.
65lb jersey calf x 0.15 = 9.75 lbs per day over 3 feedings minimum. At 128 oz per gallon, this is 153 oz total or about 51 oz per feeding (6.4 cups.) Do NOT bucket or pan feed this amount. If you are going to bucket feed, use 10% as your target and, again, 3 x daily if you can manage. Even feeding at 8AM, 6PM, and 9PM is better than only twice daily for reducing bloat and diarrhea (all calves) and rumen trouble (older calves).
All calves should be offered a dairy calf grain right away. They will not eat it at first, but access to grains will help them develop their rumen more quickly so that you can reduce the milk you feeding.
If the farm of origin does not feed a lot of grain, consider a MuSe injection for your calf to prevent White Muscle Disease. You can get this from your veterinarian.
At 3-4 weeks of age, a fecal test is recommended. My clients may feel free to use my free fecal testing service. The forms are found on my website under the parasite section of the client education tab. You will want to print the instructions and submission form. You may need to deworm or add a coccidiastat to your calf’s diet.
If you do not send in a fecal, I recommend using a coccidiastat like Deccox-M in the milk for 3 weeks when you calf arrives. The dose is on the bag and is ½ tsp per 60 lbs of body weight per day. This will reduce coccidia that cause parasites.
I also recommend deworming with safeguard at the label dose for three days in a row (OK to use the horse paste) between 4 and 6 weeks of age, again at 6 months, and then twice yearly spring and fall until slaughter. The meat hold is 2 weeks after the last dose of safeguard. If you do send in fecal tests regularly, you may be able to reduce your deworming.
Vaccines: When your new calf arrives, oral Calf Guard and intranasal Inforce 3 are a great start in preventing scours and pneumonia. Beginning at 6 months, Consider Pyramid 5 + Presponse SQ, Covexin-8, and rabies vaccines. The first time around, the Covexin-8 should be boostered twice at 3 week intervals. After that, all vaccines are given annually.
General feeding: plan for 1.5-2% of body weight per day in high quality hay and begin offering a high quality loose mineral supplement by 1 month of age.
When to call your vet:
Call you vet right away if your calf does not want his milk, is not walking comfortably on all four legs, develops diarrhea and is depressed, or if you have questions or concerns.