For the First Couple of Days:

· remove the placenta so that the cow can not eat it,

· allow the cow to lick the calf dry,

· dip the navel in some Iodine (20%) disinfectant (neat vodka or other strong alcoholic drink will do if there is nothing else),

· assist the calf to suckle the cow if it is having difficulty. You may need to hold the calf up to the cow and guide its head to her udder and in the case of weak calves,

guide the teat into the mouth of the calf. This first meal is very important for the health of the calf and should be taken within five hours of birth.

Figure 4. The calf’s first feed of colostrum is essential within five hours of birth

For the first couple of days the calf can stickle the cow as and when it wants. During this time

the colostrum (which is the first milk) is not suitable for human consumption and should not

be sold. But it is very important that within the first 24 hours after being born, that the

calf gets at least three or four feeds of this milk. At the end of the second day however, some provision must be made for removing the calf from the cow and taking care of it, in addition to

getting the milk from the cow for home drinking or for sale. Taking care of the calf so you can

get the milk is a critical part of raising dairy cows.

Managing the young calf

More management and labour is required to care for the calves of cows which are kept to

produce milk for sale or home consumption. For a start, the cow and calf must be separated

within a few days of birth. This is called weaning.

4.1 Weaning

An important activity of dairying. It is not needed when cattle are raised only for meat. Beef calves are allowed to stay with the mother and suckle for as long as they want. But dairy calves are separated from the cow soon after being born. This practice allows most of the milk to be collected and sold, rather than being consumed by the calf.

Also, if the calf is freely fed as much milk as it wants for a long time, it will not have a strong early appetite for dry feed, and its stomach development will be slow and it will not grow well when it has to rely on grazing. So weaning must also involve the feeding of dry feed or roughage to the calf.

Weaning can be done in several ways, but regardless of the weaning system practised, the young calf should be kept warm and dry in a clean, draft-free place.

Below are two weaning systems which may be practised by smallholders

(a) Complete weaning

This is the removal of the calf to a place where the calf and cow can not see or hear each other. Without good fences and yards to keep the mother and calf separate, it is difficult to do successfully. The advantage of complete weaning is that all of the milk produced by the cow is available for sale, and the cow and the calf soon forget about each other.


· complete weaning can be done only by using milk replacers, [special milk powder or cows milk fed from a bucket or teat.

· using powdered milk often causes calf diarrhoea.

· replacers must be imported and paid for, and they must be cheaper than milk otherwise you might as well feed the calf with mother's milk,

· calf feeding using a bucket or bottle to feed milk or milk replacers requires careful attention to good cleanliness and hygiene. If the equipment is dirty the calf may get sick. It is difficult to do successfully if your hired labour is responsible for calf feeding and they are not interested or do not understand the need for hygiene and correct feeding temperatures.

Therefore complete weaning is recommended only for well developed farms. To give the best results, it is better to adopt the practice of partial weaning.

(b) Partial Weaning

The cow and calf can run together all day in the paddock, or the calf is put into a pen near the cow where it stays all day, but it must not be able to suckle the cow through the bars of the pen. In both cases the calf can only suckle when it is allowed to and must be given feed and water. The number of times it is permitted to suckle depends on whether the cow is milked once or twice each day.

(I) If the cow is milked once each day:

The calf is released to run with the cow each day and is kept in the pen away from the cow during the night until the morning milking. This has the advantage of the calf being able to develop its stomach by grazing grass during the day as soon as it wishes to graze The disadvantage is that the calf has access to the cow all day and less milk is available for sale than completely isolating the calf and giving it a limited amount of time each day for feeding.

(ii) If the cow is milked both morning and night

The best system when twice a day milking is practised, is to keep the calf penned near the milking bail and allow it to immediately suckle only after the morning and evening milkings have finished. The cow is not fully milked out during milking and enough milk is left by the milker for the calf A small pen is constructed at the front of the headbale and within sight of the cow from which the calf is released to suckle when milking is finished. The calf is returned to the pen until after the next milking, where it is hand fed fresh cut forage, concentrate [e.g. copra meal] and has constant supply of clean water.


· more milk is available for sale.

· there is better control over the amount of milk fed to the calf so there is no wastage.

· the calf can be fed concentrates and cut grass in a trough in the pen from the day it is born.

· the progress of the calf can be followed and feeding adjustments can be made if necessary.


· a separate pen must be constructed.

· sometimes calves receive either too much or too little milk if the right

amount of milk is not left unmilked.

· keeping several calves together in the same pen can increase the risk of sickness, and the calves which suck eachother when they are young can enter their first lactation with mastitis.

4.2 Calf feeding

If you are keeping calves penned away from the cows for part of each day, you should remember:

· To allow the first milk (colostrum) to the calf during the first 24 hours. The calf should be allowed to have all that it wants. This is essential if is to remain healthy.

· It is a good idea to keep some colostrum in the freezer. Sometimes a cow will die shortly after giving birth. The stored colostrum, even from another cow, can be thawed and fed to the calf and it is still useful several months after freezing.

· Calves will begin to nibble grass or other forage material from the first day of birth It is important to allow them to do this if they are to develop their stomachs normally for eating grass. If they are penned, they must have grass offered to them all the time. Tie bundles of it to the fence so that they can nibble it. Never put it on the ground for them. Always tie it up or put it in a trough.

· By one month of age, calves should be eating grass and some concentrate which should both be available to the calf from birth

· Introduce calves to concentrates gradually, and watch how much they are eating Give them a little more each day once they begin to eat it. Any concentrate which the calf does not eat on the day it is given, should be taken away and replaced with fresh feed.

· Calves will feed independently on grass and concentrate from about 2 weeks onwards. Calves can only be completely weaned from milk if you have good quality dry feed I concentrate meal and the calves are eating enough of it before milk is completely withdrawn

· Cut the grass from areas where cattle are not free grazing, to prevent introduction of parasites to the calves. Have a separate fenced area where cattle cannot graze, from which to take the grass for calf feeding.

· The cheapest way to rear a calf is to give it plenty of young, growing, nutritious pasture from birth onwards. Grass and legumes are much cheaper than milk to feed, and milk should be gradually withdrawn, starting when the calves seem to be eating grass and concentrate independently. Calves should be completely weaned off milk at 8-10 weeks. It is a good idea to increase their interest in grass and concentrates.



· Calves must have water. Calves will begin to drink water between their feeds of milk from one to two weeks of age. Lack of water will cause the death of a calf faster than the lack of any other nutrient. By six weeks of age, a calf may be drinking abut four litres of water per day. Only clean, fresh drinking water must be given. Water is also especially important for calves if they have diarrhoea or if they go off their milk for any reason.

From calf to breeding age

No matter how small your milking herd, you should aim to replace about one fifth of the milking cows each year. This means that you should try to produce one heifer calf replacement for every five cows you have. If you have a smaller number of cows, it becomes more difficult to maintain this percentage, and you might have to replace at a higher or lower rate from year to year. The cows should be replaced by heifers which you have raised on the farm, and which you have taken care of and selected as replacements, after they have been weaned. The period from weaning until breeding age is most important in the development of heifers to become dairy cows.

There are several advantages to raising your own replacement heifers:

· by keeping records, you can select heifers from the best performing cows. The cows with the best milking records will probably have the most suitable daughters as replacements,

· you can avoid introducing diseases onto your farm with bought replacements, (always isolate new animals for a week or two to ensure they don't introduce diseases to your own animals)

· if dairying is popular, good replacements may be difficult to buy when you need them,

· you never really know the potential of purchased replacements, because farmers usually only sell those animals they don't want. They seldom sell their best producing heifers.

If you want to feed your calves better so that they grow well and will mate at an early age, you will have to adapt local feeds to suit your purpose, there is information on formulating diets for dairy cattle elsewhere in this book.

Figure 5. These two calves are six mouths old. The larger received one kg. of concentrate daily for two months in addition to grazing The smaller received grazing only.