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Caring for calves key to success

Words supplied by DairyNZ

6 June 2017

A successful calving season starts long before the first calf arrives. Planning ahead ensures that your calves are handled with care and you can reap rewards for your team and the herd.

It takes a team effort to ensure all calves are treated with care and respect, from birth to beyond the farm gate, so it is essential that everyone handling your stock, including your temporary workers and contractors are aware of their responsibilities and know the rules regarding how all calves must be cared for on farm.

Familiarising yourself and your team with the new young calf regulations is a good start. Seven new regulations were announced by Minister Nathan Guy in 2016, five are already in place and two more come into effect in this season. The regulations aim to ensure the welfare of calves leaving the farm, during transport and at the meat processors. The health and wellbeing of drivers and transport operators has also been a key consideration with the introduction of new requirements around the use of loading facilities.

Since 1 February this year, it is regulation that bobby calves are slaughtered within 24 hours of their last feed. This responsibility falls on meat processors and will require that they work closely with farmers and transporters to monitor last feed on farm, pick-up and transport times. 

Meat processors have made changes to their bobby calf supply contracts. If you haven’t already signed up, it’s important that you read your bobby calf agreement and understand your obligations. To enable the processor to meet their requirements, you will be required to complete a declaration for each consignment of calves.

Your meat processor may require you to commit to feed your calves within an agreed timeframe, ahead of a scheduled pick-up time, for the duration of the season. Although the welfare of calves on-farm is the farmer’s responsibility, the maximum time off feed requirement remains with the meat processor.

The regulation applies to all processors, however it is likely each processor will have different requirements and can offer different pick-up options. Once you have your agreement, it is important that anyone responsible for bobby calf selection and preparation for transport is aware of these requirements.

A useful tool which can help farmers monitor on-farm performance and communicate with transporters is the DairyNZ bobby calf collection sign. The reusable plastic sign has a checklist for farmers to tick-off with a whiteboard marker to let the transporter know the calves are fit for transport and provide details, including the number of calves for pick-up, and the time of their last feed. The other side of the sign is for transporters to tick-off any reasons why calves were left behind.

From 1 August, calves awaiting collection by transporter must have access to shelter that is clean, dry, suitably ventilated, and provides protection from the weather. Calves must also be able to walk safely onto the truck, either via a ramp, a raised holding/loading pen or other suitable system. If you need to build a new loading facility, make sure you plan it well so it lasts for many years to come.

There are several options. These include adapting your existing facilities, buying a ready-made solution, or building new. You might do the work yourself, or pay a contractor. Whatever approach you take, do your research to make sure the facilities work for your farm, as what works well for others may not necessarily be the best for your situation. Before you make any changes to your facilities, talk to your transporter to ensure what you are proposing to do is fit-for-purpose and in an easily accessed location.

Some key factors to consider include making sure the track to the loading facility is no less than 4m wide, clear of any overhead obstructions, and that it is easy for the truck to reverse up. It is also a requirement under your dairy company supply agreement that your loading facilities must not be on, or adjacent to, the roadside, as it is potentially hazardous to truck drivers, staff, and other road users.

Make sure your team is aware of the eight criteria bobby calves must meet before they are put in the holding pen for transport. The calves must be at least four days old, able to stand and walk, have a dry navel, ears up and bright eyes, no scours, correct ear tag, firm hooves, and a full stomach.  DairyNZ has a poster that is available to put up in the calf sheds as a quick and easy reminder.

Once you and your team are familiar with the regulations and set up to meet them, there are other ways you can prepare ahead for spring to save time and reduce stress once you are in the thick of calving.

Calving is a team activity, so get everyone involved in your planning. Run through various calving scenarios in advance with the farm team. Watch the DairyNZ calf care videos with your staff. Discuss the expected actions to be taken by staff for each scenario, according to their experience and ability.

A well-stocked, easily accessible calving kit can be put together well in advance. This will save you making unnecessary trips between the paddock and the shed, reducing stress levels and improving calving performance. Put a team member in charge of making sure it is restocked regularly. 

Mid Canterbury farmers Craig and Hannah Fulton prepare two emergency packs to tackle calving problems as they crop up. “There are ropes and pulleys in there, a set of metabolics for two cows, anti-inflammatories, lube and a notebook. I carry one with me at all times and there’s one in the shed so if staff have any problems, they just grab the bag and they know that they have everything in there to deal with a down cow or a calving cow,” says Craig.

Set the calf shed up before calving starts, with new bedding material, new teats for calfeterias, calfeterias and utensils are cleaned, iodine and electrolytes are purchased, and meal, hay and fresh water will be available. Hannah Fulton says their calf shed has rock, covered with windbreak cloth and then a layer of bark chips on the floor. “This allows fluid waste to drain away while the solids are collected in the chip and at the end of calving, the cloth can be lifted up and the shed cleaned out. I always order an extra few metres of chip so the pens can be refreshed partway through calving. Every pen has an automatic water trough.”

Hannah and Craig believe that a successful season starts with calving. “This isn’t an area where farmers should skimp. “Making sure you’re fully staffed over spring is the best thing you can do, otherwise the wheels can fall off and it creates a bad start for the team and the herd early in the season,” says Hannah. “If you pay attention to detail, stick to the system that you know works and create contingencies for adversities, then you’re pretty right.”

 For more information on the new bobby calf regulations visit

Guidelines for calf holding and loading facilities meeting the new regulations are available at

Regulations for young calves leaving the farm for sale or slaughter

From 1st February 2017

  • Calves must be slaughtered within 24 hours after their last feed.

From 1st August 2017

  • Calves must have access to shelter that is clean, dry, suitably ventilated and which provides protection from adverse weather, including extremes of heat and cold. This applies before and during transportation for sale or slaughter.
  • Calves must be able to safely walk on and off transportation using loading and unloading facilities when being transported off farm. 

Regulations formalised in 2016

  • Young calves must be at least four days of age and physically fit before they are transported off farm.
  • A maximum duration of 12 hours’ journey time for young calves being transported.
  • Prohibiting the transport of young calves by sea across the Cook Strait.

For all calves

  • Prohibiting the euthanasia of any calves by use of blunt force trauma, except in an emergency situation.