Weaning – a guide


Weaning is the point when calves transfer from a liquid to solid diet. Weaning can be carried out successfully only when the rumen has developed sufficiently to support the fermentation and digestion of solid feed.

Here’s four factors for successful weaning from any rearing system

  • Fresh water available at all times – to encourage rumen development.
  • High quality starter feed available but offered in small quantities fresh each day.
  • Access to long fibre, for example straw in racks to encourage solid feed intake.
  • Eating minimum 1kg of solid feed daily for three consecutive days.

Rumen development can be influenced by diet

  1. Irrespective of your type of rearing system, easy access to fresh water and calf starter from the beginning of the rearing period will aid earlier rumen development.
  2. Introducing ad lib, clean straw – preferably barley will encourage a healthy well developed rumen.

When to wean

Rather than agreeing a fixed time, weaning is best done when the calf is consuming a minimum daily target of 1kg of solid feed for three consecutive days. Some calves achieve this at around five weeks, whilst others will take almost eight weeks. Remember that your calf naturally consumes milk for at least this length of time. A minimum target of doubling the calf’s birthweight should be achieved before weaning.

You can adopt one of two weaning strategies:

Abrupt – immediate switching from liquid to solid diet

This method can lead to significant growth setbacks if the calf’s rumen has not developed sufficiently to digest and utilise solid feed efficiently at this stage. The result is that the nutrient uptake from the solid feed cannot completely replace the nutrients previously supplied by milk.

Remember, if a calf is consuming 1kg/day of solid feed and four litres of milk at 12.5% concentration one day before weaning, it needs to consume almost 2kg/day solid feed the day after weaning to replace the energy previously supplied by the milk.

Abrupt Weaning_v2 TW

Step – gradual reduction of liquid milk over a period of time

An alternative weaning strategy designed to minimise the potential set back at weaning. Trial findings at Writtle College concluded that by stepping down the amount of milk fed and number of milk feeds per day over the last two weeks, the solid feed intake was increased and the efficiency of gain and economic performance was improved. These trends are linked to improved rumen development at weaning, resulting in a smoother transition onto solid feed without a growth check during this period.

Step Weaning_v1 TW

The following is an ideal step weaning system to consider

Twice daily feeding rates (125g per litre)
Age am pm
0 to 3 days Colostrum Colostrum
4 to 7 days 2.0 litres 2.0 litres
8 days to start of weaning 2.5 litres 2.5 litres
Weaning period (7 days) 2.5 litres 0

Minimise stress

Stress can influence the calf’s immune system; step up stress and it can increase the animal’s susceptibility to disease. Avoiding too many lifestyle changes at one time will help your calves to cope more readily with weaning stress. For optimal performance, try not to alter accommodation, solid and liquid feed, water and social group all at the same time.

Measure for success

Do you want TO increase herd yield?

If your heifers calve at 23 to 25 months then they will go on to yield more over their first five years of life than older calving animals simply because they achieve more lactations per unit of time, and have higher survival rates according to a Royal Veterinary College study of 500 animals.


To calve at 24 months, heifers must be in calf by 15 months. Since maiden heifers require on average 1.4 services per conception, first breeding must start at 13 to 14 months.

FFG-Nutrition-AFC 24 months benefitsActions to take:

1. Set growth rate targets: ensure rapid growth in early life – they will never catch up. Aim for up to 0.85kg per day during the first three months of life, and thereafter 0.7kg per day up to first breeding when they must be 55% to 60% of mature body weight.

2. Measure calf growth: if you don’t, you can’t monitor. Measure heifers at least twice during the rearing period: at birth, when it’s relatively easy to put a new born calf on a weigh scale, at weaning and again at a time when animals are being handled, for example vaccination or worming. Use weigh scales or a weigh band.

Find out more in our Farmers Guide – Growth Measuring Tools.

3. Milk: feeding sufficient energy and protein to support target growth rates is essential. Do you know how much milk powder your calves receive each day? For 0.6kg per day target growth rate, calves should be fed at least five litres of a 12.5% solution of milk replacer, that’s 125g of powder made up to a litre, providing the calf with 625g milk powder per day (125g x five litres = 625g).

If you target higher growth rates of 0.8kg to 0.9kg per day, feed up to 900g of milk powder per day in two or preferably more feeds, for example feed six litres of milk mixed at a concentration of 150g of powder per litre.

4. Weaning management: calves must be provided with fresh palatable dry starter feed from day three, plus high quality straw, to ensure good rumen development prior to weaning. A calf should be eating 1kg to 1.5kg a day of concentrate and doubling its birthweight at weaning. Adopting a gradual weaning protocol by stepping down the amount of milk fed and number of milk feeds per day over the last three weeks will increase solid feed intake. This will result in a smoother transition onto solid feed reducing the risk of a growth check during this period.

5. Water: clean fresh water is essential from day three, even during the milk feeding period; milk is a feed not a drink.

Find out more about how to set a growth rate for your heifers and how to achieve 24 months AFC in our Farmers Guide – Growth Rate Targets and Farmers Guide – Age at First Calving.


Milk Feeding for calves

Defining Mixing rates IN ORDER to meet CALF growth targets and rumen development



Have you have set your heifers’ target age and weight at first calving?

Take a calf with a 40kg birth weight, if your target age at first calving is 24 months with an accompanying 560kg body weight, then she will have to gain 320kg over 395 days to ensure she hits optimum breeding weight at 13 months. That means she must achieve an average daily liveweight gain (DLG) of 0.8kg throughout the pre-service rearing period.

Simple? Straight forward? To support this level of growth, then you need to make sure that you are providing your heifer calves with sufficient nutrition, both energy and protein. Also remember that during the milk feeding phase the calf’s feed conversion efficiency is at its highest.

One of our latest trials focused on feeding calf milk replacer to Holstein heifers at a rate of 900g per day. These heifers initially weighed 38kg and achieved a DLG of 0.78kg to 11 weeks – that’s around the level of growth required to reach the target we set above.

Defining mixing rates

To feed 900g of milk replacer per calf per day it’s important to check and review mixing rates to ensure that the milk is fed at the correct volume and concentration. For example you can either mix

• six litres per day at 150g per litre OR
• seven litres at 125g per litre

To find out more about various mixing rate levels please download our Calf Products Guide. 

If you are targeting high growth rates, then this will also increase your heifers’ energy requirements.  Energy intakes can be improved in various ways but increasing the milk replacer’s oil content from 16% to 20% has a negligible effect compared with simply feeding more of the same. Check out the various combinations in the following table.

Daily energy intake and effect of feeding a low vs high oil milk replacer, or different volumes or concentrations
Energy supplied/calf/day (MJ) 16% oil,    22% protein 20% oil,     22% protein
4 litres – 12.5% 7.5 7.8
4 litres – 15% 11.2 11.7
5 litres – 12.5% 11.7 12.2

Remember your heifers have a large ability to grow during the milk feeding stage. Review their quantity of feed, as well as the quality.


Six steps to correct mixing

FFG-Nutrition - How to mix milk

1. Accurately weigh the milk powder on scales
2. Use 125g of powder to 875ml water to make up one litre of mixed milk with a 12.5% solids concentration; using a full litre of water will lead to a weaker (11.1%) milk concentration
3. Take half the water (below 45°C) and add all the powder
4. Whisk until smooth
5. Add the rest of the water and whisk again
6. Check temperature (between 37-39°C) and feed

Download our Farmers Guide to Mixing Milk.


Rodney Magowan reports from a farm where only the best are bred.

The Holstein UK 2018 number one genomic PLI heifer Prehen Perseus with owner Stuart Smith flanked by Thomas Taylor, left, from Taylors of Fyfin, and Alistair Sampson, Volac NI. Only the best calf milk powder, Heiferlac will do for the nation's number one!

The Holstein UK 2018 number one genomic PLI heifer Prehen Perseus with owner Stuart Smith flanked by Thomas Taylor, left, from Taylors of Fyfin, and Alistair Sampson, Volac NI. Only the best calf milk powder, Heiferlac will do for the nation’s number one!

The Prehen Holstein Herd  of Stuart Smith and family, who farm on the outskirts of Londonderry, is again in the animal breeding headlines having produced the breed’s top genomic PLI heifer in the entire UK, according to Holstein UK’s PLI genomic tested heifers list.

High achieving Frouke cow family

Prehen Perseus Froukje with a GPLI of £754 is the latest member of the high achieving Frouke cow family on the farm at Prehen to come tops. Her grand dam was also UK number one GPLI cow last year. and her great grand dam, imported from the Netherlands as an embryo, has had a major impact on the Prehen Herd. Not least by producing two number one GPLI cows and the well known Prehen Omen, who has been number one UK bred Top Daughter Proven PLI bull for this last three years.

The Prehen Holstein Herd  has also bred the current number four UK bred top proven bull Prehen Frankel and the number one UK bred top genomic bull available, Prehen Lancaster, who is also the number eight worldwide PLI bull available.

Another Prehen heifer, now aged 15 months, is also current number two in the Holstein UK rankings having been top of the list until the current  number one calf came along.

Maximising the performance of world class Holsteins with volac heiferlac

The Smith family have been producing milk and quality stock at Prehen on the south eastern outskirts of Londonderry for three generations.  Today Stuart Smith and wife Monica, along with his parents Robert and Beryl, milk 170 cows, though the sale of Holstein genetics is as important an income stream as the supply of milk to farmer owned Aurivo Co-operative Society Ltd.

To maximise the performance of world class Holsteins clearly high standards of husbandry and nutrition are essential.  For Stuart that means rearing heifers on Volac Heiferlac calf milk powder from long term suppliers Taylors of Fyfin.

Asked why Heiferlac was used this past three years Stuart gave a simple answer.

“We looked at the label of contents and saw the figures you need to rear the modern dairy heifer. 26% protein and 16% oil with 7% ash. Nutrition over the first few weeks has a lifelong impact on the performance of a Holstein. Heiferlac helps deliver that early frame growth essential to reach target weights at bulling and beyond.”

Introducing Heiferlac after cow colostrum

Monica takes care of calf rearing for the first two weeks after which Stuart’s father Robert
takes over. Cow colostrum is fed for that vital first four to five days before Heiferlac is introduced and easily mixed at 150g of milk replacer per litre,  The equivalent of 1.5 pounds of powder in every gallon of mixed milk. That is 15% solids.





Find out more about Volac Heiferlac and get details of your local stockist.




Prehen calves are reared in hutches and clearly thrive on this milk powder with very high levels of dairy protein, lactose and a specially selected blend of vegetable oil ideal for the modern dairy heifer.

Maximising animal performance

Aside from Frouke other key cow families at Prehen include Massias and Lady with sales of bulls into AI stations as far afield as Germany making Prehen one of the best known names in the breed.

Closer to home over 30 bulls a year are sold at Holstein NI sales or in the yard often to repeat customers .Around 30 calved heifers are also sold each year.

 “That Heiferlac is doing an excellent job is clear to all when comparing the genetic potential of our stock with their actual performance. A well reared heifer is the foundation of any dairy enterprise and feeding quality milk powder from Volac is sound business sense,” Stuart affirmed.

High standards of husbandry and nutrition are essential to maximise the performance of your animals. The Feed for Growth Programme offers practical advice, support, resources and tools to help grow better cows. visit our resources area today.



Calf rearers will demand better nutritional solutions over the next 10 years to meet more exacting young animal health and development requirements and this will continue to drive an increase in performance-formulated milk replacer usage.

Volac Heiferlac Sack Mockup_LRGolden Maverick HiSpec Sack Mockup_LRVolac Olympian Instant Sack Mockup_LR

Volac Blossom Easymix Sack Mockup_LRVolac Blossom HiSpec Sack Mockup_LR

That’s according to independent vet Dave Gilbert from Dairy Insight, who recently highlighted this issue while reviewing the key results of a series of in-depth interviews with more than 600 (644) GB dairy and beef calf rearers carried out by Volac in November 2017.

The research project repeated a detailed market study exercise carried out 10 years ago. The findings show that youngstock rearing practices have changed significantly since 2007 and will continue to evolve to meet various challenges.


More calves are being fed milk replacer

“Over the last 10 years there has been nearly a three-fold increase in number of dairy calves reared on milk replacer and a five-fold increase in the number of beef calves reared on artificial milk replacers. This has been driven in part by a greater appreciation of the disease threat from feeding whole and waste milk, but also by new recommended herd efficiency targets and basic economics. We can only see that trend accelerating,” Mr Gilbert said.

According to the new research, 58% of GB dairy calves and 52% of GB beef calves are now fed milk replacer. Most of the remainder continue to be reared on whole milk.

The research study also showed that 60% of the calf rearers interviewed now see their vet as the most valued and trusted source of calf rearing advice.

“Vets are definitely becoming more engaged with youngstock health issues and it seems farmers are turning to them for nutrition and calf husbandry advice too. I’ve certainly experienced this personally with the farmers I work with and there is no doubt there is increasing recognition of the need to invest more in these young animals that represent the future of any herd,” Mr Gilbert added.

Farmers are looking for better quality ingredients

When evaluating calf milk replacers, the latest research shows that overall ingredient quality is now the key feature farmers are looking for; in 2007 this was deemed far less important, with availability in store being the leading attribute sought when making a product choice for rearing calves.

Against this background, Volac has been re-examining high quality calf milk replacer formulation; not in terms of finding an artificial product to replace milk, but rather identifying the best possible nutritional solution for the pre-weaned young calf. The conclusion is that whey protein contains the magical components of milk that are so fundamental for calf programming and development.

“Milk is a complex collection of ingredients designed specifically to ‘communicate’ to the calf.

“It provides ingredients for growth, it primes the immune system, it assists in pathogen control and it shapes the future growth and development of the calf during the critical first few weeks of life. But these goals are predominantly delivered by bioactive components in the whey protein fraction of milk, which are at their highest concentration in colostrum but present at lower levels in whole milk.”

Mr Watson explained that whey protein represents 65% of the protein content of colostrum, whereas the other 35% is casein protein. The whey protein content of whole milk is only 20%.


Introducing Imunopro: a concentrated whey protein base material

“What Volac is now able to do is to filter and concentrate up the liquid whey protein fraction of milk and collect the important proteins, fats, sugars and other bioactive components so important for calf programming. The resultant important ingredient, now integral to all our calf milk replacer formulations, is Imunopro – a concentrated whey protein base material packed with the vital amino acids and immunoglobulins so necessary for healthy calf growth and development.

“Production of this concentrated whey protein also means we can now precision-formulate our milk replacers based on true protein, which involves looking at the crucial limiting amino acids for calves – such as lysine and leucine – just as pig and poultry sector nutritionists have done so effectively in recent years for monogastric species.

“Incidentally, leucine is critical in driving the rate of muscle protein synthesis in the calf. It is also the reason why whey is the protein source of choice for human athletes seeking optimum performance,” Mr Watson added.

He also pointed out that Imunopro concentrates up 16 times the amount of milk fats in comparison with whey or skim powders. “This gives our new milk replacer formulations vital energy from microscopic oil droplets surrounded by important phospholipids and sphingolipids. However, this vital fat fraction is also important for rapid gut maturation in the calf and, additionally, gives the final milk replacer products valuable anti-bacterial properties.”

Volac’s team of nutritionists has now re-formulated its entire range calf milk replacer products based on Imunopro. The result is an exciting portfolio of new performance-formulated products.


New calf milk formula range  

Volac’s new range of calf milk replacers that have been performance-formulated to give dairy and beef calves the best possible start in life. The Lifeguard milk formula range has been designed to meet the rapidly evolving demands of modern calf rearers.

Based on concentrated whey protein, which makes up the majority of the protein fraction of natural cow colostrum, the new milk replacers incorporate only the highest quality ingredients.

“All our new products incorporate Imunopro –  a concentrated whey protein base material packed with the vital amino acids, fats, sugars and immunoglobulins so necessary for healthy calf growth and development,” said global product manager Niall Jaggan.

Volac makes Imunopro from liquid whey and then formulates in a balanced range of high quality nutrition and health ingredients to meet modern calf development requirements.

“The first phase is liquid blending where the Imunopro milk complex is balanced with the necessary additional protein, oils and sugars required to allow calves to hit optimum growth and development targets when fed recommended daily amounts of milk replacer.

“The protein is balanced to ensure calves will be fed the optimum amount of true protein in the form of essential amino acids. It is important to appreciate that the crude protein content on the bag label does not give you an indication of the useable protein available to the calf,” Mr Jaggan pointed out.

“The oil is balanced with high quality vegetable fats to mimic the milk fat profile, plus the addition of butyrate (C4:0), which has been shown recently to improve gut health.

“The sugars are also balanced to ensure the final milk replacer product contains the correct energy level to meet accepted target growth rates.

“The fully balanced liquid blend is then spray dried for optimum mixability, palatability and consistency before, finally, the addition of Volac’s proven package of health ingredients (Gardion and Nutry-Lyst), plus enhanced levels of vitamins and minerals,”

Calf Jackets

Four calf milk replacer products make up the new Lifeguard range for UK calf rearers, with each product performance formulated to meet specific growth rate targets:

  • High performance Heiferlac, which drives 900g of calf growth per day.

HeiferlacScreen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.41.25Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.39.57Piechart

  • Blossom High Spec, the considered solution for large herds also looking to achieve 900g of calf growth per day

Volac Blossom HiSpec Sack Mockup_LRScreen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.29.20Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.28.14Blossom Pie Chart

  • Golden Maverick High Spec, the considered solution for large herds also looking to achieve 900g of calf growth per day

Golden Maverick HiSpec Sack Mockup_LRScreen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.39.05 Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.32.04Maverick PieChart

  • Blossom Easymix, the tried and trusted product to drive 750g of calf growth per day

Volac Blossom Easymix Sack Mockup_LRScreen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.40.38Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.40.23Easymix piechart

  • Olympian, developed specifically for modern beef enterprises and traditional dairy units to give exceptionally cost effective growth rates

Volac Olympian Instant Sack Mockup_LRScreen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.47.08Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 17.46.49Olympian Piechart

  • Enerlac, which is specifically designed as a cost-effective solution for beef or mixed enterprises looking for 625g of calf growth per day

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 18.07.43Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 14.41.25Enerlac Designed to drive

Enerlac Pie Chart


Cold weather – are your calves at risk?



Young calves are very susceptible to low temperatures. They are on highly digestible feed and are not yet ruminating so less heat is generated by digestion.

During their first week of life and when temperatures plummet to less than 15°C, they’ll start using energy from feed to keep warm. High risk calves – those with a difficult birth and twins, will feel cold at higher temperatures.

By their fourth week, they’ll be more robust and won’t feel the cold until about 0°C. However, high moisture levels and draughts will dramatically increase their susceptibility to cold stress. Draughts of just 5mph will make calves feel 8-10°C colder.


Cold stress and its impact

  • Energy is diverted from growth to maintaining body temperature
  • Growth rates will fall and calves will become more susceptible to disease

How to prevent COLD STRESS

Have a plan for when cold stress is likely to happen, that’s when the ambient temperature drops below 15°C, or at a higher temperature for high-risk calves.

1. CALF Feeding

  • Make sure every calf receives adequate quality colostrum
  • Step up energy intake; this can be done by increasing the amount of milk offered per day, see table 1. Increasing the oil content of the milk replacer from 16% to 20% has a negligible effect on daily energy intake

Table 1: Increase in energy supplied by increasing calf milk powder oil content or feed rate


  • Increase the level of milk solids by 100g per day for every 10°C temperature drop below 20°C to maintain growth rates. See figure 1.

Fig 1: Additional calf milk replacer required to maintain growth rates in cold weather, for a calf aged 0 to three weeks or older than three weeks of age:


2. General housing considerations

  • Reduce cold drafts whilst maintaining adequate ventilation. Provide effective barriers to drafts at calf-level and places for the calves to shelter – plastic and timber are better insulating materials than concrete and steel
  • Put in place a system to drain moisture
  • Ensure bedding is kept clean and dry and provide plenty of deep straw bedding; it provides them with a great deal of insulation and reduces body heat loss
  • Keep bedding dry and clean – much of the insulation value of bedding is lost when it is wet

3. Specific intervention measures

  • Provide calf jackets
  • Provide an external heat source close to calves

Finally, calves born on very cold days take longer to stand and suckle so they may not receive enough colostrum to ensure adequate transfer of immunity. Make sure they each receive a minimum three litres or six pints within three hours of birth – use a teated bottle or stomach tube.


We all know that TIME is MONEY on the farm, computerised feeding systems are an investment in your farms future succession plan.

Volac are offering a free pallet of Volac Milk Replacer and 0% finance available for all feeder purchases if you order before 7th February (GB ONLY).

auto feeder cropped

Computerised feeding systems may appear expensive, however payback is relatively rapid when you consider the labour cost of rearing a calf to weaning is approximately one sixth of that compared to twice a day bucket feeding!

Table 1: Labour per calf to weaning 

Feeding system  Minutes /calf to weaning 
Twice a day bucket  115 
Automatic machine   20 
Computer controlled   20 

Source: Volac  

The whole concept of computerised calf feeding is about labour saving whilst delivering milk consistently to the calves on a more natural little and often basis; these systems are designed to introduce flexibility into the day and reduce the ‘man hours’ spent on mechanical tasks such a mixing milk and carrying buckets, thereby offering more time to observe the calves. They also deliver a fully controlled rearing system which is tailored to provide your calves with the opportunity to express their real growth potential.

The latest computerised calf feeders – the benefits

  • Allows ad-lib performance with the cost control of a restricted system
  • Very low routine labour needs
  • Allows each individual calf to be fed according to a pre-set programme to meet individual needs
  • Consistent feeding – same concentration, same temperature, same portion size
  • Records actual daily milk intake per calf
  • Automated weaning curve which encourages rumen development and improves calf efficiency
  • Highly successful stepped weaning with minimal set-backs can be introduced
  • Optional automatic teat rinsing after every feed.
  • Self-cleaning
  • Access key data on your smartphone

The Volac Förster Technik Vario Smart Feeder can take pressure off the labour intensities of rearing calves. The machine has the ability to feed 120 calves at a time while also self-cleaning and self-calibrating.

Want to know more about the benefits of using Volac’s Förster Technik Feeder? Check out two of our case studies:

Halton Farms, 530-head herd of ProCROSS dairy cows based near Congleton in Cheshire, using Volac’s Förster Technik Vario Smart Feeder.

“This machine has been pivotal to our replacement heifer rearing programme. Calves wear collars with sensors that track how much and how many times they are feeding. All this data can then be tracked on the Calf App on the iPad so I can monitor calf performance from the other side of the farm, my kitchen or even on holiday via the CalfCloud, “Intake decreases and less feeder visits often signals the early stages of an ill calf before we can physically see it. These calves go through a lot during their first few weeks of life –from being moved twice shortly after being born, the change from colostrum to powder and socialisation with other calves, making it essential we keep a close eye on their health.”

halton farm

Chris Webb,  280-head calf rearing unit in Shropshire using two Forster Technik Vario Smart Feeders and two Urban U40 Feeder machines supplied by calf rearing specialist Volac. 

“Our continental and dairy calves are currently averaging daily live-weight gains of 1 kilo a day, and Wagyu are at 0.8 kilo a day,” Chris adds. “A huge benefit of using the automatic feeder compared to a teat bar is giving calves equal opportunity to receive the right amount of milk and not be in a guzzling race against each other so one calf isn’t drinking ten litres per day and another only four litres per day. Calves also get the benefit of the little and often feedings that come with a machine.”

chris webb

Chris adds that the new computerised feeder is equipped with real-time tracking of individual calves by streamlining calf weights, providing feeding frequency and consumption directly to a smartphone via tracking collars on the calves synching to the milk machines.

Want to find out more?

Calf rearers interested in our computerised feeding machines can ask for a free initial consultation to establish building layout and appropriate siting. Customers can also call on Volac representatives to set up the calf feeding programme and milk concentration levels according to individual requirements.

If you order your new computerised calf feeder by the 7th February 2018 you will also receive a FREE pallet of Volac Milk Replacer, so don’t delay, get in touch with one of our representatives today to discuss your requirements.

Contact us 


A calf’s Christmas Wishlist

IT’S CHRISTMAS! So check out these perfect gift ideas for all calves to help them stay healthy and happy this winter.

Calfs Christmas Wishlist-01

Life for these young calves is full of new experiences and challenges. Young calves are very susceptible to low temperatures, predominantly due to being on highly digestible feed where they are not yet ruminating, meaning less heat is generated by digestion. In the first week of life, calves will start using energy from feed to keep warm at temperatures less than 15°C, where energy is diverted from growth to maintaining body temperature.

Stress from incorrect environmental conditions can influence the immune system of the calf and increased the calf’s susceptibility to disease. So check out these perfect winter gifts that will keep your calves happy and healthy over the winter months.

Perfect gifts for all calves

Gift 1: Provide colostrum within 2 hours of birth

Colostrum of the right quality and quantity, given to the calf at the right time will “kick start” the digestive system and provide essential nutrients and antibodies the newborn needs to stay warm.  A new-born calf has no protective antibodies to resist disease challenges so require a minimum of 3 litres of good quality colostrum in the first 6 hours of life. Poor health, low growth rates and high mortality are most often seen in calves that have received inadequate colostrum. It is easy to overlook the nutrient contributions of colostrum. However, colostrum is nutrient rich containing 14% protein, 6.7% fat, 2.5% sugar, and a high concentration of vitamins and minerals.


Click here to check out our Farmers Guide to Colostrum, and our quick videos on Administering Colostrum to a Newborn CalfColostrum Alternatives and How Colostrum Quality can be Checked.

Gift 2: Deep-bedded, warm, draft free pens/hutches with clean fresh air

Is there anything cosier than having a deep bed full of straw to nestle down in during the cold winter? With temperatures already declining substantially throughout the country, taking action now is vital. All too often young calves are housed somewhere that is just either convenient for feeding or in existing inadequate buildings, rather than in a facility designed for their specific needs. In winter, calves should be bedded with straw that is deep enough that their legs are completely buried when they lie down.

Keep in mind these influences on lower critical temperature:

  • Genetics of the calf – A Jersey calf will feel ‘cold’ before a Charolais calf
  • Birth conditions – A premature born calf with a low birth weight will feel the cold sooner
  • Age – Calves less than 3 weeks of age are the most vulnerable to changes in temperatures, with a lower critical temperature between 10-15°C. The lower critical temperature for calves over 3 weeks of age is between 6-10°C.
  • Health – Poor health will make the calf feel colder, faster
  • Nutrition – Good colostrum management will help build a calves’ immune system
  • Air speed – Air speed of less than 1m/s is suitable. A draft through the shed is negative and will promote cold stress. Draughts of only 5mph will make calves feel 8-10°C colder
  • Dry bedding – Clean dry bedding is essential for calves to keep warm. Damp bedding extracts energy from the calf to keep warm.


Check out our Farmers Guide for Correctly Housing Young Calves.

Gift 3: Calf jackets

These young girls and boys are learning how to regulate their body temperature and can chill down quickly, using calf jackets will keep calves warm, dry and healthy in winter months when temperatures fall below 15°C. Calves that wear a jacket for the first 21 days of life will grow at a faster rate and stay healthier. In winter months more energy is used to keep warm and less energy on development and growth. Remember, calf jackets do not replace good calf husbandry.


Want more information on calf jacket management tips? Check our our Calf Jacket Protocol today.

Gift 4: A high quality milk replacer

A top-quality milk replacer gives your calves the best possible start in life! Growth requires a significant amount of protein and energy. Protein is a critical nutrient for development of immune function, muscle growth, and bone development. Calves also need energy to help them grow and maintain their body temperature. Both ingredients and quantity can affect feed efficiency; the more digestible, the more efficient. A milk replacer’s digestibility is influenced by the type of protein and fat source used along with its manufacturing process. It pays to buy milk replacer from a trusted supplier.

Newborn to 3 weeks of age – Feed an extra 50g of milk replacer or 0.33l of whole milk per day for each 5°C drop below 15°C.

Calves older than 3 weeks of age – Feed an extra 50g of milk replacer or 0.33 l of whole milk per day for each 5°C drop below 10°C

FFG-Nutrition -Milk powder quality

Click here to learn about how much to feed Pre-Weaned Calves and Mixing Milk Techniques.

Gift 5: A palatable calf starter

Consuming calf starters is essential to the development of the calf’s rumen. Improved early nutrition and growth rates are correlated with increased plasma IGF-1, a hormone associated with increased growth rates, and this helps to support increased disease resistance, improved immune response and decreased mortality‚ all vital to rearing and finishing healthy calves. The early intake of solid feed helps to condition the immature rumen and encourage it to develop so that the calf can eventually obtain a high proportion of its nutrient requirements from solid rather than liquid feed at an earlier time than would happen naturally.

Rather than weaning at a fixed time, it is best done when the calf is consuming a minimum daily target of 1kg of solid feed for 3 consecutive days. Some calves achieve this at around 5 weeks, whilst others will take almost 8 weeks to consume this amount. Remember that your calf naturally consumes milk for at least this length of time.

FFG-Calf feeding

Want to know more about feed conversion? Check out our Farmers Guide to Feed Conversion Efficiency today!

Gift 6: Gentle weaning

Weaning can be defined as the point when calves transfer from a liquid to solid diet. This is carried out successfully when the rumen has developed sufficiently to support the fermentation and digestion of solid feed. Weaning can be stressful. Abrupt weaning can lead to significant growth setbacks if the calf’s rumen has not developed sufficiently to digest and utilise solid feed efficiently at this stage. The result is that the nutrient uptake from the solid feed cannot completely replace the nutrients previously supplied by milk. Remember that if a calf is consuming 1.5kg/day of solid feed and 4 litres of milk @ 12.5% concentration one day before weaning, it needs to consume nearly 2kg/day solid feed the day after weaning to replace the energy previously supplied by the milk!

Gradual weaning reduces the calf’s risk of developing diseases.

The key factors for successful weaning from any rearing system are:

  1. Fresh water available at all times – to encourage rumen development.
  2. High quality starter feed available but offered in small quantities fresh each day.
  3. Access to long fibre (e.g. straw in racks to encourage solid feed intake).
  4. Eating minimum 1.5kg of solid feed daily for 3 consecutive days.


Christmas should come 365 days a year!

Make every effort to give your calf all of these gifts on Christmas. However, these are things that you should give your calves every day of the year. If you do, your calves will be healthy AND grow into better cows! Don’t be a last minute shopper! Start working on this asap!




Family dairy farmers the Kidds from Quernmore near Lancaster have spent the last 10 years future-proofing their milking enterprise in the hope of building a sustainable farming business for the next generation.

Building a sustainable farming business

Booth Hall Farm is home to 150 all year-round calving Holsteins plus followers. Due to limited local expansion options, the family has focused on shrewd investments to save labour and improve animal welfare to allow the farm to run as efficiently as possible. The herd now produces 9,000 litres per cow per year from 360 grass acres plus some ground earmarked for growing whole-crop cereals.

Brothers David and Neil Kidd will be the fourth generation to run the enterprise and now farm in partnership with their mother Maureen and father Edwin, who still live in the farmhouse. Neil does most of the milking, with David focusing on feeding and rearing the calves. Ultimately, Edwin and Maureen will step back from the day-to-day running of the farm to allow their sons to take on more responsibility and drive the business forward.

Investing in calf housing

“Our first major investment was a new parlour, which was followed by improved cubicle housing for the cows,” David Kidd says. “But our latest project is a new re-located, totally bespoke calf rearing building, which is already transforming the way we rear our herd replacements. Going forward, investment will be channelled into projects like this that save us time. We do not really see ourselves getting much bigger, so it’s all about efficiency.”

David says the old calf accommodation wasn’t ideal, although the calves were reared individually and did do quite well. “However, we were spending too much time washing down the pens and bucket feeding. I was spending about 45 minutes a day making up feeds and feeding calves. We wanted a much easier system.”

In consultation with their parents, David and Neil decided to re-configure the calf housing on the home site. The old calf shed was demolished and this released ground ideally located for a new house for Neil. Following extensive research, the Kidds then erected a brand new, bespoke calf building, giving them the opportunity to build from scratch what they now see as fit-for-purpose, easily-managed accommodation for calves.

“The relocation of the calf house will ultimately allow Neil to move back onto the farm with his family and mean he can be around for any night calvings. It also means we can now rear our dairy youngstock as efficiently as possible,” David says.

Installing a Computerised Calf Feeder

The Kidds also sought advice from local Volac representative Jason Short about computerised calf rearing systems and following his input they became the first unit in the UK to install the new Urban Alma Pro computerised feeder.

Urban Parallel Pro June 2017-4

“Automatic milk feeding machine technology has really moved on and this innovative new computerised system really ticks all the boxes for us,” David says.

Volac’s Jason Short points out that the new machine is a great step forward at a time when the industry is focusing on sustainable, high performance calf rearing.

“The system is capable of feeding up to 120 calves individually and accurately during the pre-weaning milk feeding period. It also allows parallel feeding, which typically means no waiting time at the drinking station and up to four calves can be fed simultaneously. But what is really innovative in this new feeder is its improved hygiene system, which incorporates automatic teat cleaning with disinfection after every calf feed. And, uniquely, the ability to deliver the right dose of any necessary medications, such as electrolytes, to the right calf, at the right time,” he says.

The machine recognises an individual calf’s ear tag when it enters the feeding station and allocates the correct milk portion and concentration accordingly. Once the calf has taken its feed the teat will re-track and be sprayed with cold water and a disinfectant solution. Machine hygiene status has also been enhanced to allow sanitisation with acid and alkali up to four times a day, which cleans and sterilises the feed lines and bowl.

David appreciates these potential hygiene and medication benefits, but is particularly impressed with the touch-screen control system and the fact that it can connect seamlessly via WiFi to his phone or tablet.

kidds 1


“The calf feeding curves are easily programmable and thanks to an in-line temperature sensor it always mixes and feeds milk at a consistent temperature. The machine automatically knows the daily feeding requirements of each and every calf, so every animal gets exactly what it needs. You can also easily see how often an animal drank and how much it consumed – and if it doesn’t drink enough the machine triggers an alarm on your smart phone to alert us to a potential issue, even if you are not on the farm,” he says.

David says initially he was a bit nervous about group housing the calves, but the new building design means the rearing environment is good and the machine takes care of optimum nutrition. Early life colostrum feeding protocols are also excellent, which means the calves always enter the new rearing building in the best possible shape.

kidds 3

“We separate all our calves from the cow at birth and tube feed them to make sure they get what they need, aiming to get four litres of high quality colostrum into them via two x two litre feeds within the first six hours of life. Our vet also blood tests calves periodically to check the effectiveness of our colostrum feeding.”


The Kidds believe the new calf house and computerised milk feeder have transformed the efficiency of their youngstock rearing.

“It’s certainly released a lot of my time to focus in other jobs,” David says. “But we’re also rearing high quality milking herd replacements at optimum efficiency, which calve down between 22 and 26 months of age.

“The first calves went into the new building at the end of June 2017 and all we have to do is train the calf onto the teat and the rest is done automatically. About 10% of all the work done on a dairy farm is dedicated to the calves and a big part of that is mixing and feeding milk, as well as cleaning out any buckets and/or hutches or pens. We still have to clean out, but the group pen design and extra space and capacity we built into the original building plan means this is now as straightforward as possible. It’s made a huge difference to the time we spend on this part of our dairy farming operation.”

If you would like to find out more about the Urban Alma Pro, get in touch today.

Rearing to go

Halton Farms, based near Congleton in cheshire is a year-round calving farm. Faced with a hefty bill for rearing replacement heifer calves, Karen and tom halton have taken the future of their dairy replacements into their own hands.

halton 4

“It’s almost impossible to find people who will take care of your animals the same way you do,” says Karen Halton of Halton Farms based near Congleton in Cheshire.

Two years ago, Karen and her husband, Tom, were footing a hefty bill of £14,000 a month to rear replacement heifer calves from their 530-head herd of ProCROSS dairy cows.

“Not only was it very expensive, but it wasn’t being done to our standards,” Karen says. “And these calves are the future of our farm – they have to be made a priority. Our livelihood depends on it.”

a Strong start for dairy and beef calves

Currently, the year-round calving farm, which AI services 50 percent of its cows to fertility plus semen, and the other 50 percent to ProCROSS sexed semen, takes a no-nonsense approach to its calf rearing unit. According to Karen, dairy heifer calves and beef calves are managed differently to suit their future roles. However, both are given a strong foothold for a healthy start to life with a priority on biosecurity and colostrum intake.

“It’s in our management plan to eradicate Johne’s Disease from our herd and at calving we keep all positive cows separate from clean cows,” Karen says. “We also have a dedicated calving pen. Once cows begin the calving process, they are moved into the pen to calve, which is then completely disinfected after each use.”

Download our Farmers Guide to Johne’s Disease

Once calved, cows are allowed to lick their calves clean and any dampness leftover is dried away. All calves are bottle fed four litres within the first hour of being born, or approximately 10 percent of its body weight, with colostrum milked from the dam after it has been tested with a refractometer.

“The standard protocol for the dairy calves is to only bottle feed colostrum,” Karen says.

“Occasionally one refuses to suck, so we will have to stomach tube it. However, a trick I have is to mix in electrolytes with the colostrum when they won’t take it. The sweetness makes them more likely to suck and the electrolytes fire them up.”

Post colostrum feeding, beef calves are removed from their dam and placed in a pen with one to two other beef calves and teat fed Volac Blossom milk powder for a week. This trains them to nipple feed before being moved to a larger pen of five calves to ad-lib feed off a milk warmer. Their stay at Halton Farms is relatively short since a beef calf buyer comes once a week to take the three-week old calves.

Find out more about Volac Blossom

Dairy heifer calves are moved into a training pen post colostrum bottle feeding, where they are trained on to Volac’s Förster Technik Vario Smart Feeder, which feeds them up to 10 litres of milk per day. For the first week, calves are kept in the training pen and fed Volac Heiferlac powder before being transitioned to a larger group.

“This machine has been pivotal to our replacement heifer rearing programme. Calves wear collars with sensors that track how much and how many times they are feeding. All this data can then be tracked on the Calf App on the iPad so I can monitor calf performance from the other side of the farm, my kitchen or even on holiday via the CalfCloud,” Karen says. “Intake decreases and less feeder visits often signals the early stages of an ill calf before we can physically see it. These calves go through a lot during their first few weeks of life –from being moved twice shortly after being born, the change from colostrum to powder and socialisation with other calves, making it essential we keep a close eye on their health.”

Along with data tracking, which also includes daily liveweight gain, the machine takes pressure off the labour intensities of rearing calves, with the ability to feed 120 calves at a time and self-clean and self-calibrate. It also weans calves based on the farm’s age-based weaning programme; downward step feeding starts at day 21 before calves are weaned at 56 days of age.

The perfect dairy cow

Along with developing their own calf rearing unit, the Halton’s have also been on the journey of breeding the perfect dairy cow by transitioning their herd to ProCROSS. This three-way composite breed of Swedish Red, Montbéliarde and Holstein genetics is keeping a significant amount of money in the business, says Tom.

“When we started the transition, people would tell me we’d lose the value of the cows. But at the end of the day, what you sell them for isn’t relevant. We’re looking at the big picture in terms of production,” says Tom. “Because of the cross, we get the genetic benefits of heterosis, which is the uplift of positive traits passed down to progeny.”

According to him, while they are milking at 9,500 litres a year, the big pay-out is the increase in fertility and heifers reaching average calving age at 23 months.

“In 2010, our pregnancy rate was at 22 percent. And today we are at 30 percent,” he says. “The breed more than pays for itself with more calves on the ground. The increase in fertility alone is worth £44,000 a year. No one see’s that money – we’re not getting a cheque for it. But it’s also not leaving the farm.”

While their breeding programme gives calves the genetic opportunity to go on and perform well, both Tom and Karen say this wouldn’t be possible without proper calf management in the rearing stage.

“Their health, their nutrition – all of this directly correlates into how they perform later in life,” Karen says. “Not only are we giving our calves a strong start, but the ability to reach their genetic potential.”

A focus on health

“There are a lot of happy cows in here,” Karen says as she walks through Halton Farms main cow shed. High ceilings, wide passage ways and daily cleaned sand beds are just one of the components to the operation’s herd health programme.

halton farm

Calves, which are housed in a dry, well ventilated building, are given clean straw beds in small batch pens that are disinfected between use. At 7-10 days of age, an intranasal is administered to help protect against respiratory disease. They are also later vaccinated against BVD, leptospirosis, IBR and Salmonella.

“We also pull groups of calves at random to test their immunoglobulin levels to make sure they are receiving adequate passive transfer from colostrum,” explains Karen.

Download our Farmers Guide to Housing for Young Calves

Feed for Growth provides practical advice, resources and tools to help you grow better cows. Our full range of Farmers Guides is available here.