Six Tips to Get Your Calves Off to a Great Start!

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Just like a newborn baby, calves need consistency, good nutrition and great care. Preparing ahead of time will help ensure you can provide your calves with the growing start they need for a healthy, productive life.

Get your calves off to a great start with these six tips:


Preparation is vital to your calves’ healthy start. Before your calves arrive, it is important to research and plan for their nutrition. If you plan to feed a milk replacer, look for one that is similar to cow’s milk. A good milk replacer should provide an optimal blend of energy (carbohydrates and fat), protein, vitamins and minerals for healthy calf development. Look for a milk replacer containing at least 20 percent all-milk protein and at least 20 percent fat. We recommend Manna Pro NurseAll, a premium multi-species milk replacer formulated with Opti-Gut to support gut health and digestion.nurseall8lb_300dpicmk.jpg

Even the healthiest calves can get sick. Look to your veterinarian as a resource when your calves become ill and work with them to develop a treatment plan.

Scours is the most common illness in young, preweaned calves. Scours can be nutritional, caused by inconsistent feeding, overfeeding, or by feeding poor-quality milk replacer or starter. Alternatively, it could be infectious, caused by bacteria, virus or protozoa. Regardless of the source of scours, the most immediate need is to reverse dehydration and electrolyte loss. Electrolyte supplements can help rehydrate calves and provide digestive support. Electrolyte supplements do not contain all the nutrients of milk replacer, so be sure to offer electrolytes in addition to your calves’ normal diet.

For additional information on calf scours, check out our blog, Dealing with Calf Scours, for tips and tricks for nursing your calf back to health!


calf house.pngAlthough cattle are social animals, it is best to house newborn calves in individual housing until they are weaned. Calf hutches made of sturdy plastic or fiberglass are a popular choice for housing calves outdoors. Hutches should be placed on a well-drained surface (gravel or sand are great options) facing south to keep calves well-protected and warm in cooler weather.

A calf housed in a barn or shed will need 12-16 square feet of space. Ensuring adequate ventilation without direct drafts will make the calves more comfortable and reduce the moisture, animal odors and gasses, which could lead to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia. If you can smell ammonia in the barn, or if you see condensation on the walls or ceiling, it may be a sign that the barn does not have adequate ventilation for your calf. Windows, fans and inlets around the ceiling perimeter allow fresh air to circulate around calves.


Always follow the mixing and water temperature instructions on the milk replacer package. Recommended mixing temperature can vary by product.

The best way to measure the milk replacer is to weigh it before mixing with water. Measuring the powder by weight with a hanging scale is more accurate than measuring by volume with a scoop or cup. Always mix until the powder is dissolved. When mixing large batches for multiple calves, add the powder before you’ve added all the warm water (115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit), then add enough water to bring to volume. Following this mixing order is an important detail to achieve the intended nutrient content.

To encourage optimal consumption, feed milk replacer at a temperature near the calf’s body temperature, between 100 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

For additional information on mixing milk replacer, click here to watch our video!


Proper sanitation and maintenance of feeding equipment are important for your calves’ health. If not sanitized and maintained properly, they can quickly become a harbor for bacteria. Always use a separate bottle or pail for each calf. Wash pails, bottles and nipples in soapy water and rinse well after every feeding.

Never let mixed milk replacer sit out for over an hour without refrigeration. Moisture creates an optimal breeding environment for bacteria, so allow your equipment to dry thoroughly between feedings. Check bottle nipples often for damage or wear – cracked or worn nipple holes can lead to overconsumption or faster-than-usual feedings, which can cause digestive upset.


Water is one of the most important elements of calf nutrition and an important factor for beneficial bacteria development in the rumen. By keeping calves’ water clean and fresh, it will encourage them to drink enough water to stay hydrated bounce-back-4oz-front.jpgand increase starter grain consumption. Hydration helps keep your calves healthy and growing.

Don't forget during times of hot weather, feeding an electrolyte can make a huge difference in the health of your animal. Click here to learn about Manna Pro Bounce Back!


Calves thrive on routine. It is best to feed by pail or bottle two or three times a day, at the same time every day. Plan to feed the same type of milk replacer until weaning – changing calves’ diet can be stressful. Keeping their housing and environment consistent also plays a role in your calves’ health and performance.

Remembering these tips as you raise your calves will help ensure a healthy start to a productive life.

Dr Rob McCoy

Rob McCoy was born and raised in south central Kansas. He attended Kansas State University earning his B.S. degree in Agriculture (Animal Science and Industry) in 1990 and his M.S. degree in 1992. Following graduation from K-State, Rob continued his graduate work at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned his Ph. D. in 1996. Rob joined Manna Pro in 1997 as an Animal Nutritionist. He is currently Vice President, Nutrition and Quality Assurance for the company. He is a member of the American Society of Animal Science; American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists; Equine Science Society; and the Nutrition Council of the American Feed Industry Association.


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