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Calf information

Congratulations on choosing a calf to raise. They are a big responsibility and a large animal to control. They require shelter and a large area to roam in.

Selecting your calf

Select an animal appropriate to the size, experience and age of your child:
  • For small children, a Jersey calf is small and easy to lead, a Guernsey calf is bigger but gentle to handle.
  • Ayrshires are medium-sized animals but can be headstrong to lead. Cross Breads are also headstrong to lead.
  • Holstein Friesians develop quickly into large pets and are usually pretty large by Agriculture Day.
  • Beef Breeds can dwarf their small leader. They’re strong, and very heavy when they stand on your feet! 
If you have the chance, select a calf with: 
  • a straight back line 
  • good body length 
  • depth to the barrel 
  • plenty of space between rib bones 
  • a good, silky coat (rough coats rarely groom well) 
  • a good, alert head and stance - look for one that lifts its head, pricks its ears forward, and stands astride with an alert appearance 
  • a good walking gait - observe the calf walking away from you... avoid the calf whose hocks curve inwards or knock together. 
A good calf may not necessarily be the ‘prettiest' in the paddock - remember, it is not judged on coat colour. 

General appearance

Your calf should:
  • Be healthy looking
  • Have a good temperament
  • Be well-balanced and proportioned
  • Be alert
The ideal dairy cow should appear wedge-shaped when viewed from the front and side, and though the calf may not always show this desirable shape, there should be evidence that this will develop with maturity. 

Caring for your calf

Young calves need to be covered, and for the first 6 weeks, housed at night with clean and dry bedding of hay/straw/shavings. Bedding needs to be changed regularly. 
You can buy a cover at a saddlery shop, or you can use a waterproof sack. Split at each end and along one side, tailor it to fit your calf and allow for some growth. By sewing a taffeta or silk lining inside your cover, it will provide additional warmth and also serve to shine the coat as it rubs on the body, as the animal walks. 
You will need: 
A halter and lead. These can be bought at a saddlery store or farm supply outlet. 
There is no substitute for fresh cow’s milk and all pets need the initial colostrum mother’s milk. However, powdered formula milk is available from Dairy Companies and farming outlets. READ THE MIXING INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. It is expensive and the average calf will need about 1.5 bags. So avoid wastage! Some calves take time to start drinking - NEVER, NEVER FORCE FEED the animal. If it doesn’t want it at feed time, try again later! Feed calves twice daily, at approx. 8am and 4pm. As the calf grows older, increase the volume according to product instructions. At about 2 weeks, if you’re clever enough and patient enough, you can train them to drink from a bucket - by letting them suck your fingers and then gently lowering the sucking mouth into the bucket. Rarely does it work first time, so perseverance is needed. Drinking from a bucket makes feed times easier, but more importantly, trains the pet to drink rather than suck - so it better prepares it for its water source (trough or stream) after Calf Club. 
At approximately 2 months, you can introduce the calf to "weaner pellets”(calf meal). By now it will be eating grass as well. Following Calf Club Day: switch the calf to one milk meal a day for 1 week, every second day in the second week, and right off in the third week. Make sure it has access to plenty of water at this time, and encourage it to drink from a trough. Don’t overdo the weaner meal - too much can make them sick. 
Remember to let your child do the feeding, right from day one. Supervise the mixing of the milk, but keep your distance at feed time. The animal will not build a close affinity with your child if you confuse it with your constant presence! 
A good, lined cover will do much of the grooming for you. But it is important to brush your calf daily. This has a two-fold purpose: it removes loose hair and keeps the calf clean, and gets the animal used to being touched and handled. Remember to clean the ears with a damp cloth, before Calf Club - give your calf a good wash with warm water on a sunny day - use a veterinary shampoo which is medicated as well as a cleanser. (e.g. "Vetadine”). 
Ear tagging: All calves must have a TB ear tag, or have pedigree papers available on the day. 
Things that can go wrong: 
Scours (seek professional advice):
Can result from: 
  •  change of milk diet 
  •  too much/too fresh 
  •  change from fresh to powder, or vice versa 
  •  bacterial stomach infection 
  •  fresh grass to diet 
Tell-tale circular bald patches - consult Vet. 

Lice, Ticks or Mites: 
Ask Vet or kind farmer to drench your animal. 

Intestinal Worms: 
Note poor condition of coat and lack of alertness - animal becomes skinny, drench with "Ivomec”, but overdosing can be fatal so ask your Vet or an experienced farmer to do this for you.


Start gently handling your calf as soon as you get it. Adjust the calf to the presence of its halter. Tie them up while you groom them (they’ll resist initially). Start the leading preparation by taking short walks after you’ve groomed them. If they know they’re going to be fed, it’s a good idea to walk them to a regular feeding point. HAVE PATIENCE! Some calves learn quickly, others take much longer. Show your calf love and kindness. Remember, YOU are its SUBSTITUTE MOTHER! NEVER beat or kick your animal! It has feelings AND a memory. If it is frightened of you it will not co-operate with you! Initially, if someone walks behind while you lead the animal, it will walk more evenly. Once your animal is walking on its lead, increase and vary your walking routes. Talk to your pet, touch your pet, love your pet. When holding lead rope, have your hand 15cm away from calf’s head. Ask one of the organisers of your Ag Day to explain the Calf Club walking routine. There is a set side to walk on (the calf must be on your right-hand side), and there is a set routine. 
What the judge looks for: 

Leading hints:
The right hand should grip the lead, palm, upwards, and some six inches from the halter. The left hand should grip the lead, knuckles upwards. Stand beside the shoulder of the calf at all times. Try to keep the calf moving at a reasonable pace, but you should walk at the same pace as your calf, and keep your position beside or slightly in front of, the shoulder of the calf. See that the halter is not too tight or too loose. 
You will be penalised for: 
  • Releasing the grip on the rope with the right hand at any time. 
  • Touching the calf with the hand during the competition. 
  • Slapping the calf with the hand. 
  • Slapping the calf on the back with the rope. 
  • Jerking the halter. 
  • Elbowing the calf or buffeting her with the hip
  • Healthy appearance - evidence of correct feeding. 
  • Clean, pliable skin. 
  • Absence of skin parasites. 
  • Well-groomed - head to tail. 
  • A well-led calf 
Children will be expected to hold the rope in the right hand not less than 4” and not more than 12” from the head of the calf and the slack of the rope in the left hand. Although no marks will be taken off if a calf stops and then starts off again without any force being applied, a mark will be deducted every time a calf is flicked with a rope, poked, shouldered, hipped, or in any way unduly urged. The judge, however, will take into account the temperament of the calf.

Dairy Conditioning:
This means a well-done calf with no signs of grossness.  This appearance will vary with the breed of the calf.  If the calf is overdone it will be penalised, and any penalty will be proportionate to the degree of over condition.  A calf should be smoothly covered but its hips, pins and thurls should stand out, and there should be a ‘washboard’ effect when the hand is rubbed along the ribs. Over-condition is reflected in a calf that has a gross appearance or even a ‘bullish’ appearance with fatty cheeks, neck and shoulders, with fleshy ribs and thighs, and with udder development showing an appearance of fleshiness or fatness. Under-condition however, is where most calves lose marks under the heading ‘Dairy-condition’. A calf with definite signs of weakness in this direction or of ’thinness’ is placed under an almost impossible handicap.

The date of birth of the calf and also the breed characteristics will be taken into account in assessing growth. A long ‘leggy’ calf would not score as well as a better-balanced calf just because it happened to be a little bit taller. 

The judge will look first at the general appearance of the calf and will then look into the eye to see if it is clear and bright, he will look for a silky sleekness and well-groomed appearance of the coat, and if he can find any evidence of lice he will penalise your calf. Whether the skin is thin or thick does not matter as this is an hereditary factor which cannot always be altered by the child. The Judge will, however, deduct marks for a harsh, dry, tight skin as this would be an indication of bad health. Again due allowance will be made for breed characteristics under the heading ‘bloom’. Loose hair on a calf is a sign of lack of grooming and will be penalised. Clipping is not allowed - a clipped calf will be disqualified.