Introduction to the challenge addressed

In Ireland, each year, approximately 560,000 calves under 6 weeks of age are sold from the farm of birth to the farm of purchase, mainly through direct sales (c414k) and livestock marts (c150k). Checking the health and vitality of young calves before and after the move from the farm of birth to the farm of purchase is an essential management practice for beef and livestock farmers in order to minimise mortality and disease problems. This good practice focuses on the key issues for farmers to apply prior to calf purchase. 

Description of the Good Practice

Teagasc, the Irish Agricultural and Development Authority have a number of excellent educational and innovation programmes on calf health and management for farmers;

In addition, Animal Health Ireland has a Calf Care programme focusing on all the key issues to assist farmers in rearing calves and reducing diseases.

The key factors farmers should investigate and know prior to calf purchase include;

  1. The health status of the herd of origin, particularly for BVD, IBR, Johne’s disease and any other diseases.
  2. Vaccination policy on the herd of origin.
  3. Breeding policy on herd of origin – identity and data on the sire used and genetic merit of the calf.
  4. Calf management and feeding programme on herd of origin – Is the farmer good at calf management such as feeding colostrum within 1 to 2 hours after birth.

Check list for farmers prior to calf purchase.

  1. Inspect all calves individually and thoroughly prior to purchase
  2. Age – calves should be at least 7 to 10 days old before travelling.
  3. Weight for age – 40kgs + at birth, 47/48kgs at 10 days.
  4. Calves must have received sufficient Colostrum. 
  5. Colostrum 1, 2, 3 Rule – Calves should receive 3 liters of Colostrum (1st milk) within 2 hours of birth.
  6. Clean dry tail with no evidence of scouring.
  7. Dry wrinkled withered and shriveled umbilical cord, not pink/red raw or fleshy.
  8. Alert, ears up with a clean damp nose, dry bright eyes, no cough.
  9. Hooves should be firm and worn flat, not bulbous or round with soft unworn tissue.
  10. Calves must not be lame and must be able to bear weight on all four limbs.
  11. Supple skin and shiny coat.
  12. No visible signs of disease, 
  13. Normal temperature of 38-39 degrees Celsius.
  14. Calves should be keen to drink milk and eat solid foods.
  15. Correctly ear tagged and accompanied by correct identification documents.

Impact on Farm performance

Paul Balfe purchases around 80 calves annually for his calf to beef enterprise. Paul has adopted and follows the Teagasc programme on herd and calf inspection prior to purchase. As a result, both mortality and disease have been significantly reduced in his herd improving animal welfare and economic returns. Calf rearing is much more trouble free, improving herd performance and labour efficiency. Calf mortality has been reduced to low single digit figures and medical and veterinary costs for calf rearing significantly reduced, resulting in improved economic sustainability.


 Farmer comment

 Paul Balfe said a thorough health check on calves prior to purchase is an essential part of his calf rearing management programme. “Prevention is better than cure and checking for and avoiding problems at purchase pays handsomely with reduced mortality, reduced veterinary, reduced medical costs and improved thrive, health and welfare.”

 Further information