Spring Calf Tips

Spring is upon us and with that comes a whole new set of challenges for the year. Getting machinery ready and the fields planted, it seems like there are not enough hours in the day. One of the things that is often overlooked on the farm is the calves. Now keep in mind that the calves are the future of the farm. There are a couple things that you can do to help keep the calves healthy.

Bedding the calves

It is very important to keep the calves dry. With spring comes a pretty big swing in temperatures. It can be 60 degrees during the daytime and 25 degrees at night. Whether the calves are in huts outside or in group housing indoors, keeping the bedding clean and dry is very important. Change bedding often and use a small amount of wood shavings on the bottom to help absorb urine and a fresh layer of straw on top. Corn stalks will work for the older calves but does not absorb as well as the straw. If the calves are kept dry you will decrease the likelihood of pneumonia.


Springtime is a great time to look at your equipment. Take a close look at bottles, buckets, nipples and tubes. Check for any built-up grime and even scratches. If you see a film and/or scratches, these can be holding bacteria. Make sure to use the appropriate cleaning solution and really get the feeding equipment clean. If they are scratched, you may want to replace. If the calves are in group housing, check the waterers regularly and keep them clean. All the items mentioned here should be checked and cleaned often but we all know that this is one thing that is overlooked. Reducing the number of bacteria that the calves ingest, will greatly help the calves in the future.


This is something I see about every farm do differently. Colostrum management is huge on the farm. Making sure that the calves get the best colostrum is very important. Now that the temperature is warming up, getting that colostrum to cool down fast is critical. Bacteria can double every 20 minutes in colostrum sitting at room temperature. Even putting colostrum directly in the fridge does not cool it fast enough. You will want to cool it down with ice packs or by placing container into an ice bath. It is recommended to store the colostrum in 2-quart containers or if freezing put in 2 liter freezer bags laid flat to freeze faster.

How long can colostrum be stored?

  • 30 minutes at room temperature
  • 3 days in the fridge (cooled immediately after milking)
  • 1 year in the freezer (cooled immediately after milking)

Checking quality of colostrum

Using a Brix refractometer is a cheap easy way to check colostrum. The minimum reading should be 22 percent. The higher the better as it will have more IGG. Many farms set their number higher to make sure they only use the highest quality. Just because your Brix reading is higher, does not mean that you feed less at first feeding. The calves still need the calories. A plain sight glass refractometer can be purchased online for around $20.

Brix reading            IGG concentration                 Amount of colostrum to feed (L)                         Total IGG fed (g)

18%                            40                                                 –                                                                                         –

22%                            50                                                 4                                                                                        200

28%                            95                                                 4                                                                                        380

If the reading comes back lower than 22 percent, it does not mean that it cannot be used. It’s just not good enough for the first feeding. If you are doubting the quality of your colostrum, it is best to just throw it out. This can be one of the most important meals of your calf’s life.


Springtime can be very stressful on calves as the temp can vary so much. This can cause immunosuppression. This is where a bug that calves normally have no problem fighting off start to cause issues. Often the unpredictable spring weather causes coccidiosis. The coccidiostat is normally fed to control the growth of the coccidia, but when calves are under the added stress the cocci grows quickly. Make sure that you are using correct levels of milk replacer and/or balancer and also that the calves are consuming enough grain. If you are seeing issues along the lines of coccidia, Corrid 1.25% can be easily fed on farm to help rid these issues.

Jon Shunk
Feed Products Specialist