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Five steps to better calf health

If you are thinking about calf health and management on your farm, you can now ask your vet for the MSD Animal Health calf health checklist tool which provides a detailed, score-based appraisal of your youngstock rearing system.

The comprehensive and interactive checklist, developed in conjunction with vets and nutritionists experienced in investigating youngstock management problems, will help you draw up a workable action plan to improve calf health.

This new checklist-based tool explores, records and scores calf health and management performance across five core areas to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any rearing unit’s environment and processes.

Image of the graphic for Five steps to better calf health checklist

Working through a series of 10 questions within each core area – designed to determine where a rearing unit stands in relation to the accepted best management practice.  It allows vets and farmers to quickly pinpoint any areas needing attention.

Repeating the checklist every 6-12 months is a great way to keep things on track, allowing both parties to monitor progress against agreed targets.


Work with your vet to set targets:

  • Measure progress towards your goals
  • Review your goals every 6-12 months
Owen Atkinson (left) Dairy Vet, Dairy Veterinary Consultancy
Owen Atkinson (left) Dairy Vet, Dairy Veterinary Consultancy


  • Good colostrum is crucial for protecting calves against disease
  • Follow the 5Qs: Quantity, Quality, Quickly, sQueaky Clean and Quantify
  • Give a first feed of 4 litres or 10% of bodyweight (whichever is greater) within four hours of birth; this should then be followed up by a further two litres within 12 hours of birth


  • Ask your nutritionist to set up a calf feeding plan to achieve target growth rates
  • Water should be available at all times, as well as the normal milk feed
  • Make sure you feed enough for the growth rate you want


  • Talk to your vet about a vaccination programme for pneumonia and scours to minimise the impact of calf diseases
  • Vaccinate with the right product, at the right time, to the right animals and in the right place. Always use the right equipment


  • Group calves according to age with no more than 6-8 calves/animals sharing a pen
  • Ensure bedding is clean, dry and plentiful
  • Ensure calf housing is well ventilated


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