AdminRootController: default_panel: 'CMSPagesController' Five Phases Of Calf Development | The Dairy Nutrition Specialists

Five Phases Of Calf Development


A calf’s development falls clearly into five phases. Each has particular nutrition and care requirements, for maximum health, frame development and liveweight gains. Following step-by-step best practice will help set your calf up to develop into a highly productive cow, capable of remaining in the herd for five or more lactations. The first goal of dairy heifer development should be to double their birth weight by day 56.


Keep everything clean and fresh.
Hygiene is the key.
Ensure spoiled feed is removed before fresh feed is added.
Pens should be treated weekly with a product like Stalosan or Virkon broad spectrum disinfectant.
Replace bedding after every mob of calves has been through a pen.
Group calves in small groups according to feed intake to maximise growth potential.
It’s important to regularly weigh and record calves’ weights and growth rate to ensure they are reaching their targets. If possible draft into mobs to ensure calves can be preferentially fed if needed.
Research has shown that lifetime milk production of dairy stock can be negatively impacted by growth rates that are either too low or excessive. For instance, a calf with insufficient dietary protein will develop less secretory cells in her udder, reducing the lifetime milk production potential of that calf. (See reference on

Colostrum 1 Milk Feeding 2 Milk And Starter Meals 3 Weaning From Milk 4 Transition To Pasture 5


Days 1-4
  • Colostrum is VITAL for setting up the calves’ immune system. Colostrum can only build this during the first 12 hours of life. Most calves don’t drink enough off their mum. Tube or suckle feed 2L of colostrum/calf from a cow that has calved that day.
  • When calves come into the shed spray their naval with iodine-based spray to prevent naval infections and record each calf’s birthweight.


Days 5-14
  • Offer small amounts of a starter meal (a handful per calf). Fresh is best.
  • Feed 2 feeds of 2.5L of milk per day for the first 14 days to ensure that calves are receiving enough energy.
  • If you are feeding Calf Milk Replacement (CMR), then make sure it has a coccidiostat to aid in the prevention of coccidiosis, an intestinal protozoan that can lead to death.
  • Calves don’t die from scours – they die from dehydration. Provide milk AND necessary levels of electrolytes to help promote rehydration. Again, clean fresh water should always be readily available.
  • Calves require protein and energy-dense feeds during this first two weeks. There’s no need for hay just yet as it lacks nutrient density.
  • Make sure housing is clean, warm, dry and draught free. Aim for 12-15 calves per mob. Avoid overcrowding for less stress on the calf and better performance and animal health outcomes.
  • Make sure calves have 24-hour access to fresh water. If you wouldn’t drink out of the container, don’t expect your calves to.

Consider: TopCalf® Formula 20



Days 14-28
  • Calves don’t like rapid changes. Make sure changes are made slowly to allow the calves to adjust from milk to hard feeds.
  • When choosing a starter meal, the starch content should be around 30-40% (DM) and sugar 5-8% (DM) to optimise early rumen development – rumen papillae and 'bugs'.
  • Make sure your meal has high quality, metabolisable protein ingredients (not PKE). Products such as soybean or canola are an ideal source. Select a meal that delivers 20% crude protein per kg DM to promote lean muscle and frame growth.
  • Make sure your meal has a coccidiostat to aid in the prevention of coccidiosis.
  • Although at times it’s hard, it is important to try and keep your feed bird and vermin free. Calves will consume the feed better if it’s fresh and clean.

Consider: TopCalf® Formula 20



Days 28-42+
  • Introduce hay/straw to help promote rumen capacity and meet fibre requirements. Short cropped is preferable. Continue to feed meal on an ad-lib basis.
  • Option of moving calves outside.
  • Vaccinate with 7-in-1 to prevent animal health issues.
  • Keep calves in small paddocks, keeping them grouped in smaller paddocks means less energy used running and greater weight gains.
  • Offer hay and meal out in a weather proof place if possible. Discard meal if it gets wet.
  • You must provide some sort of shelter calves can access during bad weather. This will help promote growth by the calf not having to spend so much energy keeping warm.
  • Use segmented feeders to ensure calves are getting their share of milk.
  • Some animal health procedures e.g. dehorning can cause stress and reduced appetite.
  • Measure your calves’ height and hip width to ensure their frame is growing adequately for their age.
  • Calf size does not indicate rumen function. Once calves are eating 1.2kg of a high starch meal for ten consecutive days then weaning can be considered.

Consider: TopCalf® Formula 20, TopCalf® Formula 16



Day 56+
  • Once calves are weaned it is important to give an oral drench to provide protection against internal parasites.
  • As calves rumens aren’t fully developed, they cannot use all of the crude protein (soluble protein) in pasture. It’s important to offer a 20% protein meal for as long as you can before changing to a 16% protein meal. Calves need to have been on pasture for approximately two weeks before changing to a 16% meal.
  • Calves need to gain on average 0.9kg/day every day until they come in to the herd as a 2 year old. If they don’t have enough metabolisable protein at any stage of their development, this will reduce their growth, mammary structure and therefore, lifetime milk production output.

Consider: TopCalf® Formula 16