Some schools are going ahead with Calf Club this year. For those who are, Anexa vet Hanneke Officer shares some top tips to help rear a champion.
It’s so exciting. You’ve got your calf/lamb and now it is your responsibility to look after him/her. What do you need?
Basically, it’s quite simple: somewhere for them to live, something to eat, something to drink and something to play with. Young calves/lambs will need milk as their main meal, twice a day. This can be fresh milk from a local farm or milk powder mixed with warm water. If your calf/lamb is under four days old, they will need colostrum for the first few days. Colostrum, a special type of milk, provides your calf/lamb with immunity – the power to defend itself against disease. They are born with no immunity, so it is important they get this colostrum soon after birth – within 12 hours.
How much do they drink? Enough to make their tummy nice and round, which is approximately 10% of their bodyweight divided in two feeds (or four feeds if you have a lamb or kid). As an example: a 40 kg calf will need four litres, given as two feeds of two litres. Milk is best fed warm and at the same times each day. They will soon know when you’re coming to feed them and start calling you!
On top of milk, we need to make sure they are ready to eat grass in a few months by feeding them meal/muesli and straw/hay from about a week old. They can nibble away at it when they’re young and get used to it. When they get older, this meal and hay/straw will become a bigger part of their diet. Buy meal/muesli with a coccidiostat added – ask the supplier. This additive will hep prevent a disease called coccidiosis, which causes severe diarrhoea.
When they’re bigger and start grazing, make sure they can’t get into the garden or anywhere else with ‘funny’ plants. Some of these plants might make them very sick, so just give them grass only.
Fresh water needs to be supplied daily, whether they’re on milk or not. They need to have water available while grazing as well.
Calves/lambs need somewhere to seek cover from the wind or rain, or even from the sun. Somewhere they can have a little rest when they’re tired too, so a shed or pen with nice soft bedding like sawdust or hay/straw will be comfortable and warm. Make sure to keep it clean and dry by topping it up with fresh bedding regularly.
Another thing you can do, especially on cold days with small animals, is give them a cover. This will keep them dry, warm and also keep their coat flat and clean for show time. A cover should fit from the shoulder of your pet to its rear. Make sure it’s not too tight and doesn’t rub. Take it off occasionally for grooming.
Fun and games
Spend time with your new friend. This will get you used to normal behaviour and makes it easier for you to recognise if something’s wrong. Plus, this will provide a strong bond between you and your pet. This is important for calf club day, when you will have to lead and show him/her. Halter training can start early. Fit a halter soon after receiving your animal, it needs to be snug with two finger spaces between the halter and the animal. Don’t leave it on for more than an hour each time, or it might rub hair off (you can leave it on longer with lambs/kids as long as you check it often for size, as they grow fast!)
When leading, the calf/lamb should be on your right with their head next to you. Start practising walking in a straight line and making a smooth stop (no tugging). Your pet should only start walking again when you do too. Once you’re happy walking in a straight line, start practising turns, with you on the outside.
Just a little note on health and hygiene:
Healthy animals are bright, alert, eat and drink well and they’re active. Their coat and tail are clean. Animals that are unwell will often lie down, isolate themselves and they might not drink and eat as well. If you see anything that is different from normal, talk to your parents or a vet.
To prevent disease, always wash your hands and boots before and after visiting your calf/lamb. Keep all equipment clean as well, for example feeders/buckets.
Calves/lambs are also given a vaccination called 5 in 1 to stop them from getting certain diseases. Talk to your vet about the best time to get your animal vaccinated and treated for worms. Other things you might want to talk to your vet about are removing the little horns and castration for boys.
At three or four weeks of age, you can start feeding milk only once a day (morning). The tummies should be bigger by now, so you can give them one large feed instead of two small ones. For lambs and kids, reduce the number of milk feeds gradually from four through to one. Have a look at the instructions on the milk powder bag and that should give you an indication. Milk feeds will generally continue until after Group Day.
Above all, have fun and enjoy have a small animal to look after. They are lovely, cute and will love playing with you!