Why it is important to feed calves properly

Dear farmers,

In course of my duties, I come across many farmers some of whom are successful while others are crippling with many challenges. The most common and the subject of my blog today being complexities related to feeding among calves. A calf’s health can be affected by disorders resulting from improper feeding. Diligent feeding management is therefore essential to ensure calf health is maintained. Common problems I see farmers cripple with are diarrhoea and pneumonia among calves and they are associated with feeding.

Scours (diarrhoea)

Scours may be caused by nutritional disorders, viruses or bacteria. Digestive upsets leading to scours are a major cause of mortality in young calves.

The problem can however be minimized by;

  • ensuring calves receive adequate colostrum within 6 hours of birth and therefore acquire some natural immunity
  • feeding the correct amount of milk
  • recognizing, segregating and treating scouring calves early
  • maintaining hygiene and cleanliness of feeding utensils and the environment
  • not rearing calves continually in pens, dirty yards or small paddocks that become heavily contaminated; paddock rotation will help prevent disease
  • separating sick animals to avoid cross-infection

Closely observing calves at feeding to identify scouring animals as soon as possible for remedial treatment will prevent dehydration and secondary disease leading to chronic illness and mortality.

Incidents of scours can be treated simply by using electrolyte replacers fed several times per day to prevent dehydration. Reduce or omit milk for one or two feeds but provide fresh water, concentrates and forage. Do not use antibiotics to treat scours resulting from overfeeding or digestive upsets.

Blood scours (mostly caused by coccidia) require veterinary treatment and management changes to improve hygiene.

A Sick Calve


One cause of pneumonia in young calves is fluid going to the lungs via the windpipe (trachea). The first feeding of colostrum can cause problems if the feeding rate is faster than the swallowing rate.

If colostrum is bottle fed it is important to use a nipple that matches the calf’s ability to swallow. Greedy calves swallow large quantities of milk from the bucket, some of which may end up in the windpipe, leading to pneumonia.

As a farmer, it is paramount to observe proper feeding programmes to guarantee your calves’ health and keep these disorders at bay.



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