Calf Rearing Handout Klaus Farm

Rob and Sharon Klaus


  • Rob and Sharon contract milked for ten years before buying their first herd in 2006
  • They sharemilked for seven years milking up to 500 cows
  • Nine years ago, they bought a 60 ha dairy farm
  • With the incorporating of the neighbour’s farm, they are now milking on 94ha

Three operations in one

  • Split calving dairy farm milking 200 cows run mainly by Sharon
  • Calf rearing operation rearing up to 800 calves to 100 kg run mainly by Rob
  • Agricultural contracting business, Klaus Ag, run by Rob and his son, Jacob

Dairy Operation

  • Sharon milks 200 cows producing 70-80,000 kgMS on 94 ha
  • 745-850 kgMS/ha
  • 350-400 kgMS/cow
  • Split calving winter milking 140 cows this winter
  • 16 aside herringbone shed

Calf rearing

  • Rob rears up to 800 calves a year, 160 calves reared this autumn and 560-600 in the spring
  • Purchased at four days old and sold under contract at 100 kg
  • Mainly Friesian bulls but some whiteface
  • A 1,050 m2 calf shed was built for $120,000 in 2018
  • Run 15 calves per pen
  • When the shed is full it takes an hour a day to feed them all
  • Spring calves are started on whole milk then move to milk powder, autumn calves just milk powder. They are fed twice a day for about 3 weeks
  • They have ad lib water and 80 kg meal/calf
  • At 60-65 kg the calves go out into the paddock


  • Klaus Ag Contracting was established in 2015
  • Jacob runs Klaus Ag Contracting in partnership with his parents
  • They do mainly silage, both bales and loader wagon
  • Also, direct drilling, ploughing and mowing and also run a 13t Sumitoma digger


by Emma Cuttance – Epivets


  • Calves are born with very low immunity and need colostrum to absorb antibodies (immune molecules) across their guts into their bloodstreams.
  • FPT leads to more calf disease and death.
  • A third of calves in NZ have FPT and the range on farms is 5%-80%.
  • FPT may also cause poor milk production and poor reproductive performance when FPT heifers reach the herd.
  • Rearing healthy calves is important; they are the future of your herd.


  • FPT is the result of poor colostrum feeding; not quickly enough, not good enough quality, not enough volume.
  • Older cows are more likely to have calves with FPT.
  • There is more FPT during the peak of calving.
  • South Island has a higher prevalence of FPT.
  • Weak, sick calves at pick up are more likely to have FPT.
  • Herds over 400 are more likely to have a higher prevalence of FPT.


  • Colostrum is the first milking colostrum. Everything else until the cow goes into the vat is transition milk.
  • Know the quality of your colostrum.
  • Bacterial contamination and low immunoglobulin G (IgG) concentrations lead to poor quality colostrum and calves with low immunity.
  • The method of giving colostrum is only as good as the quality of colostrum given.
  • Estimate the IgG concentration in your colostrum using a BRIX refractometer (over 22% is good quality).
  • Reduce bacterial contamination of colostrum by careful cleaning of storage and feeding equipment.


Take home tips

  • Colostrum goes off!
  • If you wouldn’t drink it don’t feed it to your calves!
  • Store colostrum in a lidded drum and stir it regularly.
  • Keep it cool – refrigerated if possible at 4⁰C.
  • Use an approved preservative like potassium sorbate (1%) to preserve IgG concentration and prevent bacterial proliferation.


When you know you are feeding good quality colostrum, the next things to consider are when to feed it and how much to feed.

Take home tips

  • Feed 10-15% of the calf’s bodyweight in colostrum within the first 6-12 hours of life – this is the ‘Golden Period’. For a 40 kg calf this is 4-6 litres of colostrum.
  • Limited calf stomach (abomasal) capacity means you will need to split this into at least 2 separate feeds.
  • After 24 hours the calf’s gut starts to ‘close off’ and will not absorb any more IgG molecules.
  • Colostrum is still an excellent feed after 24 hours of age.


Take home tips

  • Know what you are tubing with! Tubing is only as good as what you are tubing with so get your colostrum quality right.
  • Tubing can take the ‘guesswork’ out of knowing how much colostrum a calf has had and is useful for sick calves that won’t drink.
  • Gentle tubing is essential.
  • Potential problems with ‘oesophageal groove closure’ when tubing calves may mean that colostrum pools in the rumen causing bloat.

Troubleshooting in the calf shed

by Rebekah Kloosterman, Vetora

Maintain Calf Health


  • Farm
    • Either no stock movement / closed herd
    • OR Need testing in place – BVD, isolation before mixing with current stock calves and cows.
  • Pens
    • If Sick – either isolation in ‘sick pen’ or don’t move from pen
    • If using an isolation pen: incubation of Rotavirus 1-3 days, Coronavirus 3-5 days, Crypto about 4 days, Salmonella 1-5 days(TJ Parkinson, 2010), so a week of isolation is appropriate.
    • Cleaning procedures: organic material (dirt/poo) reduces effectiveness of disinfectants.
    • While calves in pen: clean gear well then disinfect
    • Can ‘disinfect pens’ but spraying disinfectant on a mound of poo isn’t an effective use of disinfectant.
    • Cost effective disinfectants to use between batches of calves (or before the season) after removing 10cm of bedding are
    • Active Steam
    • Sodium hypochlorite 5000ppm = FIL C3 30ml per litre. Water blast then apply and let dry – good disinfect but doesn’t kill crypto. To kill it you need
    • Hydrogen peroxide 6% usually by diluting a chlorine free pool or spa treatment (eg poppit, sanosil or perosil). Water blast first. (George M. Barrington, 2002)
    • Always disinfect calf feeding equipment too and use a respirator
  • Staff
    • Clean boots/overalls
    • Cleaning + Disinfection staff and gear including feeders.
    • System: feed healthy calves/clean pens before sick/dirty so limit pathogen transmission.


  • Milk – refer to Emma’s talk
  • Not much scientific data in this space so not covered today.
  • Clean water

Vaccinations: will depend on farm goals, some options include:

  • BVD: ensure calves aren’t persistently infected (ear notch or blood sample) before vaccinating them (>3 months old)
  • Scour: can vaccinate cows against Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E. coli – works well, but you need to ensure the calves get the colostrum!

Monitoring Calf Health

Think of DEBT – something most people are familiar with.


  • Stance
  • Head/ear posture
  • Call vet if:
    • Sitting and not getting up with other calves
    • Laying flat out
    • Kicking at belly
    • Neck stretched out trying to breathe

Eating (drinking)

  • Compare to other calves
  • Calves should drink their milk without stopping to ‘catch their breath’


  • Dirty vs clean
  • Tails up/straining
  • Blood? Check if fresh (red) or black (digested) and call vet.

Temperature: get a thermometer – inexpensive

  • Normal temperature of a calf is 38.5-39.5°C (TJ Parkinson, 2010)
  • Above 39.5°C – need to do something, either Metacam first then monitor, or vet
  • Below 38°C – call vet, move to warm shed out of elements

Managing sick calves

As we all know, prevention is better than a cure. Sometimes however, scours are unavoidable.


  • Fluids are SUPER important. It is more likely that the dehydration will kill them than the actual pathogen that causes the diarrhoea.
    • Start with oral electrolytes. Tube feed or bottle feed depending on suckle reflex. 2L of good quality electrolytes (not all electrolytes are created equal), need to include sodium, energy, and an alkalizing agent(TJ Parkinson, 2010). Alternate electrolytes with milk if they are still sucking. The milk is still a good source of energy for the calf, so keep going if you can.
    • If weak suckle reflex, cold mouth, sunken eyes needs IV fluids – call vet
  • ID pathogen – This can guide treatment. Common pathogens can be tested in a snap test. As well as providing info for treating this calf it will provide recommendations for preventing scours in future.
  • Pain relief: Metacam is on label for calves suffering from diarrhoea, they have some evidence that electrolytes + Metacam is more effective than electrolytes alone. (H. Philipp, 2003)
  • Antibiotics? Talk to vet.
  • Have a recording system so that you know what calves have been given electrolytes, been treated or need to be monitored.

Hernias and navel ill

  • Navel ill:
    • Prevention around drying/cleaning navel, clean calf pick up trailer, stopping calves sucking. Not a lot of scientific data, but iodine seems to be effective.
    • If infected can lead to joint infections, meningitis, navel abscesses
  • Swollen navel doesn’t mean abscess
  • Hernias –
    • have genetic component (TJ Parkinson, 2010) animal should not be used for breeding.
    • some will resolve spontaneously; some can be fixed – generally the smaller the animal the better.
  • If unsure whether abscess or hernia you can sometimes tell by the way it feels, otherwise ring the vet.

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