Mount Barker Veterinary Hospital

08 9851 1177

Hand Raising Calves

All calves should have access to cow’s colostrum within 12 hours of birth. Colostrum aids with the development of calf immunity, passing the first faeces (meconium), reduces diarrhoea and is a superior source of nutrients. After 12 hours antibody absorption in the calf markedly deteriorates, reducing the benefit of colostrum intake.

Calves should be fed at least 2 litres of colostrum in the first 4 hours of life and at least 1.7 litres of colostrum per feed for 4 feeds over the next 36 - 48 hours. If cow colostrum is not available, artificial colostrum should be sourced. If there is any time delay in sourcing a milk replacer, the following recipe can be given as a substitute 'first milk':


Recipe for Artificial Colostrum / First Milk

(Please note this recipe does not contain antibodies and so will not provide the calf with the vital immune components contained in natural / artificial colostrum)

  • 3 litres cow’s milk
  • 1.5L of water
  • 5 eggs (beaten)
  • 25ml cod liver oil
  • 75g dextrose powder (glucodin)

Once colostrum has been given the calf can then be reared on a commercial milk replacement (readily available from most stock feed agencies). Milk should be fed warmed at 39-40 degrees celsius for the first 3 weeks of life. Water should also be made readily available at all times.


Volume to Feed (Milk or Milk Replacer)

Day 1

Colostrum only

Target 10% BWT (approx 4L) within 6hrs then another 2-4L 12 hours after birth

Days 2-3

Milk replacer

10% BWT daily over 4 feeds (at least 4L total)

Days 4-6

Milk replacer

10% BWT daily over 2 feeds (at least 4L total)

Once daily feeding can be introduced from 10 days of age

     BWT = calf bodyweight


Tips to Remember:

  • Growth rates in calves should be balanced.
  • Calves should be encouraged to eat dry food as soon as possible. Calf starter pellets can be introduced from 3 days of age. Always provide ad lib access to good quality hay and fresh water.
  • Weaning can be as early as 8 weeks of age, but the calf needs to be weaned on to a supplement of grain unless it has access to very good spring grass / clover pasture.


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