Calf Rearing Facebook Chat with SealesWinslow Nutritionist Wendy Morgan

The questions below were apart of the Calf Rearing Facebook Chat with SealesWinslow Nutritionist Wendy Morgan.

Wendy has a passion for rearing calves well and ensuring that we do the basics right to get a well-developed and well performing animal when they come into the herd.

The old adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” can be applied in calf rearing. Well organised and good arrangements can make things run more smoothly, especially if everyone on the farm knows what’s expected of them. If housing is set up and ready well before the first calf drops, it means one less thing to worry about when the hard work ramps up. Outlining what tasks need to be completed and displaying this information in the calf barn means everyone will know what is needed from them.

The main thing to remember is that we might be discussing options, but they are often best practice. It is easy for me to be advising on the webinar but putting the theory into practice depends on all manner of constraints. It’s more important to do things simply, rather than try to make things complicated and the increased labour and stress cause you or your staff to have a meltdown.


  • Q: How do I choose the best disinfectant?

    A: Choose one that will kill multiple species. All companies have lists of targets and can give these to you. One that can be used in the presence of animals is perfect. Disinfecting of pens and equipment (feeders, things used for mixing etc) should be done each week.
    A: Always follow the instructions for use. For example, dry powder that mixes with water must be done water first, powder second or the powder is liable to be pushed out of the top of the container, as there may be some gas released from the mixing process.
  • Q: How much nutrition does whole milk lose over time as we store it

    A:  When storing milk or colostrum, it should be kept in a cool place, away from sunlight. The cooler it is, the longer it can be stored for. Eventually, proteins will start to breakdown and the fats will go rancid. If you can use the milk within 10 days, that would be best. Always ensure the container it’s stored in is completely clean. Any bacterial contamination will make the milk deteriorate faster.
  • Q: We know the pay-out is down and quite a few people will be trying to streamline their calf rearing operation so they spend as little as they can. In your opinion is there anything in rearing calves we can pinch pennies on?

    A: When we are looking at calves, we need to consider what they will perform like when they get into the herd in two years’ time and then in the lactations after that. We need to take care in a low pay-out year that we still give the calves everything they need so they earn us the most money from milk solid production. The best thing to do is look at the time they spend on milk, meal and grass and the stages of weaning. Calf rearing is all about developing the rumen as well as possible to allow the cow to use the nutrients from pasture for milk production. Milk is the most expensive of the feeds, followed by meal and then grass as the cheapest. Getting calves to eat the meal as early as possible is the key to weaning from milk at the optimum time. Good smelling and tasting meal will encourage them to do this.
    A: Although we are talking about saving money, it may be worthwhile looking at an investment into scales. If the animals can be monitored for growth, it means those that are not doing as well as expected can be identified early and treated as a tail group. It also means that those calves that should be weaned from milk are done as soon as they are up to weight targets, have a well-developed rumen and are eating sufficient meal.
  • Q: Do you know the cost of milk at the current pay-out compared to the cost of meal? The margins will definitely be closer this year.

    A: If we look at 4l of milk being fed and 1kg of meal, we can do a rough estimate. Milk is around 12% dry matter and for top of the head calculations, we can say 10% of $4.50/MS is 45c/l. If meal was $800/t… 4l milk would equate to $1.80, vs $0.80. Very rough, back of an envelope calculation but it gives you an idea of the gap.
    C: Great thanks , I know lots of women will be pleased to see this calculation. We have to get them off milk as quick as we can after we have used our stored milk then.
  • Q: We are large scale calf rearers, at the moment we have some autumn born calves and we are just wondering with all the wet and cold weather and also not so much good quality grass would the calves benefit more from a 20% meal instead of 16. They all start on the 20% muesli.

    A: It’s worth asking about the energy content of a meal, as well as the protein. We tend to talk about 20%/16% etc. but little else gets mentioned with regards to the nutrients in general. Calves need the protein for growth but they also need the energy to use that protein. A feed for young calves should contain 13 MJ/kg ME; for older calves, this should be 12.5 MJ/kg ME. Calves can manage in cold weather but once they are also wet and on a windy day, they can use a lot of energy to keep their body temperature up when we wanted them to use for growth. It’s definitely worthwhile supplementing them in times of inclement weather.
  • Q: I’m trying to fine tune my feeding and want to maximize milk in at the right time so was wanting to know at what age do calves put most amount of weight while on milk in 0 to 4 weeks or 2 to 4 weeks etc

    A: It’s best to feed as much milk early on and in the later weeks, maximise the amount of meal the calves consume. At an early age, they need to be getting nutrients from the milk as the rumen is not developed to allow the meal or other hard feed to help with growth
  • Q: Great debate in feeding schedules do you have one you prefer?

    A: When we are talking about milk, feeding schedules are probably the biggest discussion point between groups! People who do once a day love it and see great results. Some people would like to do it but don’t have the agreement with all the others in the team. Others hate the idea and would never do it. With all of the feeding plans, whether milk or meal, the main thing is attention to detail. Keeping things simple but being accurate is the best way. In addition, calves (and cows) like routine so try to keep the same times for the jobs each day although that’s of course hard with everything else going on at this time
  • Q: I have a question on the old horror of scours. 1-2 weeks in to the thick of it and it strikes regardless of how well we think we have done everything. Most calves recover with little intervention but there are a handful that are never the same again. Do we go in all guns blazing for all calves or wait to see how they respond to minimal input? Extra apple cider vinegar, fresh colostrum rather than stored, the pink stuff – sorry brain collapse.

    A: Scours can be either nutritional or due to a disease. Sodium bentonite can help bind up mild scours. Offer this separately to the feed but it can be in the same trough, at the other end. In the case of a disease issue, identifying what the cause is as early as possible will help to reduce the effect and severity. Your vet can analyse faecal samples – the easiest way to get them is to put a rubber glove on, get a sample coming out of the back end of the calf and turn the glove inside out. An excellent sample bag! Most calves will die from dehydration when scours take hold so electrolytes will help with this.
  • Q: We use sodium bentonite each day with calf pellets. The problem is nutritional. Whether it’s to do with milk temperature? Once on once a day feeding the milk is cold as we cannot keep it hot for calves 2km away from cowshed. We try to spray pens weekly, doesn’t always happen in the crazy 2 weeks but usualy twice weekly rest of time. Each year we think we have everything right this time but never escape scours. Calves are ad lib fed in individual feeders till about 4 weeks when we start to restrict milk and increase pellets.

    A: It’s a common occurrence to see issues like this. In the first few weeks of calving, there are normally only a few calves at a time to deal with. Everyone is working methodically through the jobs and things are going well. Right at the time of things getting manic, people start to get tired and overwhelmed, the bacteria in the pens also reaches a high point. Calves may be able to deal with a disease challenge to a certain point but once they get overloaded, scours and illness occurs. It’s hard but the more disinfecting that can be done ahead of this time, the less the calves will be affected. It’s more work but it should turn out to be less in the long run. As I said at the start though, it’s easy for me to make a recommendation on a webinar but very very difficult in the thick of the calves.
  • Q: What is your opinion on covers on calves?

    A: Covers are a great option for keeping calves warm and dry. Calves are OK in lower temperatures but need to use a lot of energy to keep warm if they are also wet and it’s windy. If you have time to put covers on (and take them off on nice sunny days), they can work well. Old feed bags with holes cut in them can be used for a budget cover option.
  • Q: My calves are 5 weeks and are still not really eating meal do you have any advice on getting them to start eating it

    A: Calves that are offered grass early on may not be eating as much meal as expected. If there is good quality pasture and plenty of it, they may eat this in preference to the meal. It’s worth making sure young calves are into the meal before they go out on grass. For calves that are already eating the grass and not the meal, try limiting the size of the paddock they are in and so the amount of pasture offered. Try not to limit the quality of the grass though as calves like to nip the tops off the grass and can be quite fussy.
  • Q: We use wood shaving in the young calves pens and wood chips in the older calves pens. Is that the best bedding option?

    A: Wood shavings and larger chips are a great option for bedding. Make sure they they come from untreated sources so there’s nothing toxic on there for calves if they eat it. Calves should go into one pen and stay there for the whole time, try not to move them from pen to pen as the next group comes in, as this can increase the risk of transferring disease.
  • Q: In my pens I put large straw bales and the calves seem to eat this. Is that okay?

    A: That’s no problem at all! Some people will put bales in as shelter for the calves and extra warmth. The calves will eat the straw and as the rumen develops, fibre can help with muscle development. If the bales are separate to bedding, it will be clean straw and prevent them from eating dung and anything nasty in there
  • Q: With the milk price drop my boss didn’t want to buy calf meal. I want to know what it is important to feed calf meal and there is not really any scrimping on that is there? We winter milk and are at the end of calving and the calves have only been on milk, hay and grass. So now after persuading him he has bought some but just for the little ones he said. Are these calves going to have problems later on? The most have done well and are growing but am worried about their rumen development because of only being on milk grass and hay.

    A: The rumen needs to be developed so it can use the grass for producing milk in later life. Calf meal contains sugars and starches and these are the things that help increase the surface area of the rumen. A bigger surface area means more nutrients can be absorbed and you will get better growth rates. The quicker you can get the rumen developed, the faster you can wean the calves from milk and meal. Hay helps to build the rumen muscles but it doesn’t do much to maximise the surface area. Feeding meal is an investment but a very important one. Perhaps a way to convince your boss is to calculate how much money you spent on calf meal per calf last season. Then look at the first lactation cows’ milk solids production – the difference between the top and the bottom producers will be hundreds of dollars. If you grow your calves well, they will be top producers. Saving money on meal could mean they are in the bottom group.
  • Q: How often should calf sheds be sprayed?

    A: Ideally, sheds should be sprayed 2-3 times a week. In reality, once a week is a great aim for some and this should be a minimum. At the start of calving, it’s easier to have this in the plan and things tend to move more smoothly then. Unfortunately, just as the work on farm gets REALLY busy, the spraying will be something that might drop off but it coincides with a build-up of pathogens in the sheds from the movement of calves through there. This is the most important time to be ensuring the disinfecting is being kept up to reduce the risk of any illness breakout.
    Q: Any particular brand or type of product?
    A: A powdered product is a useful one as it’s easy to store and can quickly be made up. Take care to follow the instructions such as water in the bucket first and powder second for safety reasons. A disinfectant that can be sprayed safely with the calves in the pens is perfect for time efficiency.
    C: Virkon is a fantastic one to use from my experience
  • Q: Could I have some tips on managing and organizing bobby calves. I’m doing my first year solo rearing 700 bobbies.

    C: I have four pens, calves progressing from pen 1 after their first good feed through to four on at least the fourth day, ready for the truck. Pink velcro around necks of poor feeders to make sure better feed next milking. Have ‘truck’ pen so drivers aren’t bringing disease into my sheds on their boots. Can then easily Virkon that pen after every pickup. Remove unwell/dead calves immediately.
    A: I’ve assumed that you are going to be rearing the bobbies from other farms but correct me if I’m wrong (and hopefully the response will help someone else if I’m not right). When rearing calves received from other farms, try to get them from as few farms as possible. It’s difficult to be certain that the calves have been given enough colostrum so build a good relationship with the farmers so you can be certain that they have been fed sufficient levels. It’s also an option to work out to rear the replacements and the bobbies from one farm and receive all of their colostrum. Getting bobbies as early in the season as possible will help you to get calves that have not been exposed to the build-up of bugs that happens later on in the season when a large number of calves have been in through the system. Hygiene is paramount to ensure the pathogen build up on your own property does not occur which could be more of an issue for calves who received limited colostrum. Don’t accept lightweight calves, twins or those who appear to be ill. They can create a huge amount of work and could affect your other calves
  • Q: How much does being sick with rotavirus stunt a calves growth rates

    A: Rotavirus can affect calves to different extents dependant on how quickly it is identified and treated. For those who are ill for extended periods of time, they will have poor growth and the effects can be longer lasting. With all illness in calves, try to call the vet as soon as something is noted. They don’t necessarily need to come out to visit but will be able to give you some guidance as to what action should be taken. With scouring calves, always take a faecal sample to your vets for testing if the cause is unknown. It’s much easier to treat calves and prevent further infection at an early stage of development.
    C: We had rotovirus so we put powder in the milk to try and build the antibodies. It is usually a secondary infection that kills them so we were vigilant with a thermometer and treated anything which had a temperature and were off their milk. We found this was the most effective way of keeping on top of it. Now we vaccinate and make sure every calf gets golden colostrum for at least two days. We also steam clean our sheds at start of season.
  • Q:Can you give me an idea on how much weight calves should be putting on from day 1 to weaning. And then how much they would lose over weaning and then how weight per day should they be putting on post weaning. Just a rough idea. Our calves are reared on ancalf milk, seales 16 % pellets and grass.

    A:  Calves will vary in their daily gains dependant on a number of factors such as birth weight, breed, feed programme. Calves that are on high milk diets will put on more rapid gain at the start but may not have the rumen development we are aiming for and so will experience much more of a growth check at weaning. This is in comparison to a calf which is on a restricted milk diet and has a higher pelleted feed intake. These calves will have a steadier weight gain at the beginning but will transition on to pellets and pasture more easily and if done well, weight gains can continue through the weaning period and not have to lose weight. Regular weighing will help monitor the gains, fortnightly where possible. Those calves who have two low gains in a row should be monitored more closely.
  • Q: I have set up hot water wash area & clean all feeders after each feed. Do you need to use a cleaner or disinfectant?

    A: It’s fine to clean only (with water) after each feed but disinfectant should be used 2-3 times a week to prevent any pathogen build up on equipment.
    C: Hot wash with disinfectant after morning feed, cold water wash at night
  • Q: How often should calf feeders be cleaned? I’ve been on farms that clean them once so often and farms that clean every day. What’s best? And what’s clean? Is it hosed out or is it a hot wash?

    C: Daily rinse with cold water best. Hot washing encourages bacteria growth.
    A: It’s best to clean milk feeders after each feed. Stale milk can build up and block teats but can also lead to bacteria growing in them. They only need a clean with water and then disinfecting each time the rest of the shed and equipment is done.
  • Q: What probiotics or prebiotics do you think are best to use

    A: Talk to the suppliers of prebiotics and probiotics and ask them how their products work and what trial work there is. Trials should be done with two groups of animals at the same time. It’s not a good comparison if the trial is looking at two different seasons as there are so many different things that can also have changed between this season and the last.
  • Q: Probiotics. Worth using or are they already doing what the calf does naturally? I’m a bit sceptical about if they are a fad or do offer real benefits.

    A: Probiotics are bacteria that are given to the calf through milk or feed. These are beneficial bacteria and help the balance in the gut to be positive to the calf, meaning less bad bacteria and therefore less scours. They can offer benefits by helping colonise the gut and create a good environment. There are also “prebiotics” which are functional fibres, used as a food source for the good bacteria.
    C: We put yogurt in our bulk milk tank. Think this works much the same! Very cheap and have amazing healthy calves with glossy coats. Especially good for keeping the stored milk even! But have also added a mineral type of additive last year but really don’t know if it’s worth adding
  • Q: Are there any good tips for Organic reared calves would be greatly appreciated

    A: For all calves, colostrum is a vital part of their early life. With organic calves, we need to ensure we help to give great immunity because of the limited ability to medicate calves if they become sick. There can be an even greater emphasis on colostrum quality and intake at calving.
    A: Colostrum quality can be linked to a number of areas including immune status of the dam. If vaccinations are going to be given to pass the immunity on to the calf through colostrum, the timings need to be as noted by your vet. The dry period is the time where the antibodies in the blood are concentrated into the colostrum and at least four weeks is needed to do this. Older cows have better colostrum as they have been exposed to more pathogens than heifers.
    C: I have been giving the calves Hay Tea when they are a little off colour
    Hay Tea … Soak half a biscuit of hay in warm water for several hours, strain and give them the liquid. Has anyone else used this Tea??? Being Organic there is not many options for treating Scours
    C: Organic calves can be treated with Homeopathics. Use the the Homeopathic Farm Support group they will help you with everything you need for calf care. Otherwise feed them the required milk and a good quality organic hay.
  • Q: Do you have any tips/tricks or ideas on how to get calves eating meal earlier?

    A: The calves won’t eat much meal in the first week or so but having a small amount in the troughs in the pens at this time allows them to find it and get used to the smell and taste. Always use small amounts and empty and refill each day to keep it fresh. If you start calves on pellets and not a muesli type product, it might be worth getting a couple of bags of muesli and sprinkling it on top to encourage them to eat it – it gets stuck to their face when they are messing around with it and they lick it off, getting used to the taste. If all else fails, there’s no harm (aside from on your time!) in hand feeding those calves that don’t seem interested. It pays to invest in great smelling and tasting meal…if they REALLY don’t want to eat it, contact the merchant or feed company and ask them to replace the batch. For every day they don’t eat meal, it’s a day when you will have lower than targeted growth rates.
    C: I used to start teaching them to eat muesli or pellets as soon as they were off colostrum and in the paddock at 4 or 5 days. After their feed they love to keep sucking as you know. I’d have the trough with pellets in next to calfateria and as they tried to suck me I’d have pellets in my hand and tip them in their mouths . I’d keep dipping into trough and putting it in their mouths. When they got used to it they’d run straight to the troughs after their feed as I placed a trough each side of calf feeder and it was always easier getting the calf feeder out of paddock while they were eating. You still have to be quick though.
  • Q: Top tips on rearing calves with no meal- how much milk extra should they be offered?

    A: When doing high milk rearing, people would tend to feed 3-4 litres of milk twice a day or ad lib milk meaning that the calves have access to milk all the time. Calves will grow really well whilst on the milk, however, care needs to be taken at weaning as if the calves cannot digest the pasture well enough because they have an under developed rumen, they will have big growth checks until they can obtain enough energy from the grass
  • Q: How much protein should a calf meal have in it to be useful? Both for the muesli to start and the pellets later on?

    A:A young calf should be provided with 20% protein in pellets or muesli. Later on, they can drop down to 16%. In a young calf, a lot of development is taking place and they have rapid increases in growth. It is important to match the protein with energy so the calf can use this protein; at least 13MJ/kg ME in young calves and around 12.5 MJ in older calves
  • Q: What are your thoughts on gold colostrum for all new babies on day one?

    A: Gold colostrum is best for the first feed of new-born calves. The first milking colostrum from the cow contains the highest amounts of immunoglobulins and nutrients. If this can be kept separate from the other colostrum milking’s for the days 2-4 (and longer if you have sufficient supplies), this is the best for the young calves.
  • Q: Do you have any advice about rearing calves on buckets over calf feeders, any pros/cons or research about it

    A:  When calves suck milk they have a change in the direction of the feed in the stomach; something called an oesophageal groove diverts the milk to the abomasum. When they are eating meal, the feed goes to the rumen. The change of the oesophageal groove depends on a number of factors – the presence of milk proteins, the sucking mechanism and the temperature of the milk. The milk protein presence is the most important but allowing the calves to suck through teats improves this.
  • Q: What treatment for criptospordium do you suggest we had it go through our calves and once they go down you can’t really do anything even with electrolytes 4-6 times a day!!

    C: We have used eggs….1st day morning & afternoon per calf then an egg a day till they star to firm up. We have used it in electrolytes & milk & also Bentonite/ true bond.
    A:  Your vet will be able to give advice on treatments for parasites or other illnesses. The best thing to do is give them a call for as much advice as they can give over the phone in the first instance. If there is an illness that you are unsure what it is, get veterinary advice as soon as possible in order to prevent the spread or the calves becoming worse. It’s much easier to treat early on before things take hold. If you can take your own calves’ faecal samples, these can be analysed and quickly rule out issues.
  • Q: I have been reading that tubing calves is not good. A nutritionist says but if we don’t do it our calves won’t have their milk, as most can’t drink by themselves within 6 hours after birth. Teaching calves to drink takes an enormous amount of energy and time… If I had only 10 it wasn’t a problem, but 500 plus. Tubing the WARM milk gives them chance to live, as it can be still bitter cold during the starting weeks of calf rearing. To be honest who likes tubing, but I don’t see a better alternative.

    A:  Some people have their shed protocol that all new calves are tubed with gold colostrum as soon as they come in. Other people prefer to get the calves on to the feeder for this first feed of colostrum as this teaches them to suck. The main thing to remember that getting the colostrum into the calves is THE most important thing. If you are spending so much time trying to get the calves to suck that you are exhausted and running out of time for other jobs, stick to the tubing.
  • Q: Have heard from a calf rearer that he uses yoghurt to treat scouring calves. What are your thoughts on this and is there any science to back it up? He says it is working really well.

    A: Yoghurt with live bacteria is known to improve gut heath in animals, including people! It is often used after antibiotics to restore the good bacteria in the gut. In general, it could be that the growth of good bacteria causes a change in pH and the gut environment, meaning that the bad bacteria cannot thrive and the health challenge reduces. If the calves are scouring badly and have other symptoms of illness, it is always worth having a chat with your vet about possible causes and treating the animals before they get worse.
    C: We are Organic and I use Yoghurt with an egg mixed in. It seems to work.
  • Q: I have a calf that refuses to drink and so I went to tube feed it but the milk does not flow down its gut. What could be going on? The calf is two days old?

    A: If there is a blockage or an unformed gut, the milk may not go down to the stomach. It could be worth asking a vet to investigate in a valuable animal
  • Q: Do know why calves like Bentonite so much?

    A: Bentonite is sodium bentonite. They like the sodium and this is what they go for when it’s in their troughs. It can be used to sprinkle over the meal to encourage young calves to eat it but later on, it should be offered separately. If it is separate, the calves will eat the meal they want and the bentonite they want. Otherwise, they may have a reduced meal intake because they don’t need sodium so eat neither.
    Q: We call it “calf crack” it’s the best for scours & getting the calves to eat meal…& we put it out daily. Can they get too much of it?
    A: It is possible to have too much bentonite for the calves. It works because it is a clay type product and it soaks up all manner of things in the calves gut. Unfortunately, it is a bit indiscriminate and can soak up beneficial things in there too. The calves don’t tend to guzzle through it and a lot will end up all over the place and over the other calves!
  • Q: I’ve seen a number of people using riverstones in calf pens. How would this compare to normal wood chips. Do you have a preference?

    A: Riverstones are popular in areas where they are readily available for purchase. They warm up when in the sun so the calves like lying on them. They turn over when the calves walk or lie on them so if the dirt on them is dried, it drops to the bottom and the clean side rolls round again. At the end of the season, once all the calves are outside, they can be pressure washed off to clean them, ready to use again next season.
    C: Researchers have shown that the calves are just as well off on either, but they can lose hair on their knees. We have stones at the front of some of our pens and they do stay much dryer/cleaner than the woodchips.
    C: Previous farm used it in 3 out of 8 pens (1 large, 2 small). Just they made the mistake of not fully cleaning out stones from the previous season so there were dirty ones amongst dirt there & did not clean off the “recycled” ones thoroughly enough at end of previous season & put fresh on with recycled before I even started. Ended up with high amounts of infectious scours & had to get farmer to get rid of all the stones in the pens and put down fresh shavings.
    C:I’m not against stones as they did well the previous season just got to be good with hygiene at end of season if wishing to reuse
  • Q: I’ve always used the electrolyte from nutritech but with a budget pinch do you recommend a recipe to make your own or even attempting it?

    A: When calves are suffering from an illness, in many cases it is the dehydration that kills them, not the illness itself. Given the time taken in labour to get these ill calves right, and the cost of the veterinary treatment for them, it makes sense to use a tried and tested electrolyte to get the calves back on the road to recovery again. If you’ve had success with the Nutritech product, I would recommend sticking with it.
    C: I make my own electrolytes and it works perfectly fine. It’s 4 tablespoons of glucose sugar, 1 tsp of salt and 1tsp of baking soda. Mix it with 2 lts of warm water.
    C: I used the same recipe as above. Saved tons last year with it.
    C: I also make Hay Tea all you do is put half biscuit hay into a bucket of warm water and let it soak for a few hours. Strain it through a sieve. Calves love it
  • Q: I have heard that Easiyo can be used to keep colostrum, can this method be used when storing in large vats?

    A: The EasiYo (the plain acidophilus type) helps to alter the environment in the stored milk by the growth of good bacteria in order to limit the bad bacteria growth and reduce the chance of it going off. The colostrum needs to be stirred each day to keep it consistent and reduce the risk of it separating.You can take a smaller bucket/drum of colostrum and add the EasiYo to this. Store it overnight at room temperature (depending where you are in the country, this may be better done by taking it to the house!). This will encourage the good bacteria to grow and the next day, can be added to your larger vat.
    Q: What is the ratio to use easiyo as a colostrum keeper does anyone know?
    C: I got told one packet would do a whole season as you can take some milk from the first vat to “seed” any other vats you keep your calf milk in.