How to manage incoming dairy beef calves

Read our essential guidance on how to manage new dairy beef calves, including vaccination checks and tips on reducing stress and minimising the spread of disease.

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Essential guidance for new arrivals

If there are other cattle on farm, quarantine new arrivals for 21 days and check for signs of disease.

Cattle may be tired after a journey, so should be penned separately away from other stock.  

Pen new arrivals of calves in a draught-free, well-bedded pen, with plenty of space. Provide good access to palatable forage-based feed with long fibre and clean water.

After 12–18 hours’ rest, check ear tags and passports and weigh each animal. Health-check and vaccinate in accordance with your farm’s health plan.

How to manage incoming dairy beef calves

When new calves arrive on your farm, you should:

  • Calves frequently become dehydrated during transport, so offer calves 2 L of warm electrolytes on arrival – milk can be introduced at the next feed
  • Allow calves time to settle and do not disbud or castrate immediately – more info about when to do this is below
  • Consider dosing calves with multivitamins
  • If the calves’ Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) status is unknown, test for BVD to identify persistently infected animals

When to disbud or castrate calves

Never disbud or castrate calves immediately when they arrive on your farm. Transportation is a stressful experience for animals, and they will need time to settle.

The ideal time to disbud a calf is three to five weeks old. Disbudding must be done before eight weeks of age. A local anaesthetic should be used for disbudding and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is recommended.

The age of the calf will determine which method of castration you use:

  • Less than one week old: use a rubber ring
  • Less than two months old: use bloodless castration (Burdizzo)
  • Older than two months: calves can only be castrated by a vet and using anaesthetic

Appropriate anaesthetic and analgesic protocols should be used depending on the method of castration and the age of the calf.

Vaccinations for new stock

Before your new stock arrives, work with your vet to develop a suitable vaccination and disease-control programme. For example, you should consider pneumonia, clostridia, ringworm and lice.

Read more on preventing and treating common disease in our guide to rearing calves

Housing hygiene for new stock

You must have sound hygiene procedures in place to ensure a clean environment for new stock.

Suitable ventilation and drainage are key to good air quality.

Cleansing and disinfecting surfaces is essential to remove ingrained biofilm.

The risks of poor hygiene in cattle housing and things to consider include:

  • Development of biofilm from incorrect cleaning practices – this is an invisible layer of protein and fat residue which bacteria can bind to and thrive in
  • Mycoplasma can survive in biofilm for up to 50–60 days
  • Dusty feeds, straw and hay severely impact air quality
  • Feeders and drinkers are focal points for disease transmission

Essential guidance for improving hygiene

When cleaning, always allow enough time to remove organic matter properly. Apply chemicals for the time specified by the manufacturer, and always rinse and dry.

When preparing a building or pen for incoming stock, you should:

  • Use renders and sealants to fix broken surfaces, which are extremely difficult to clean
  • Use a steam cleaner and detergent to remove ingrained biofilm on surfaces, such as FAM 30 or Virkon S (these are both approved against bovine tuberculosis)
  • Clean feeders and drinkers regularly
  • Prevent manure contamination of feeders and drinkers – never step in the feed bunker
  • Clean the quarantine area after each use

How to minimise disease in dairy beef cattle

The major risk of introducing a new disease to your farm is from incoming cattle.

As with all cattle, you must take steps to improve your biosecurity and minimise the risk of spreading disease.

With new dairy beef calves on your farm, you should:

  • Run an ‘all-in, all-out’ rearing system so that cattle of different ages are not mixed together or share the same air space
  • Have dedicated sheds for calves away from other livestock
  • Keep calves well bedded, with good ventilation but no draughts
  • Ensure transport, handling systems and machinery used in cattle areas are regularly cleaned to avoid cross-contamination
  • Clean transport after every use

Read more about the essential health checks for beef rearing systems

Useful links

Access the ‘Dairy beef production systems' manual, for further practical advice

Explore our guide to beef housing for more information about ventilation, drainage and hygiene

For more details about managing calves, see our guide to calf management

If you would like to order a hard copy of the Dairy beef production systems manual, Improving beef housing manual or the Calf management guide please contact or call 0247 799 0069.