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.

Christmas calf wishlist

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 gift ideas 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.

Calf drinking colostrum Click here to check out 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.

Calf in straw

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.

Clf jackets

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

milk 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.

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:

  • 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 (e.g. straw in racks to encourage solid feed intake).
  • 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 with be healthy and grow into better cows. 

Don't be a late shopper! Start working on this ASAP. 

From the Volac team, we hope youand your animals have a very Merry Christmas.