Where to purchase calves

  • Directly from the farm where they were born.  You can see the conditions they have come from.  You can check all sorts of things, such as the way calves are handled, the smell around the calf yard or house, the consistency of faeces and so on.  If you don’t like what you see – then refuse that calf.  This is the best way to buy calves.
  • From saleyards.  Here the calves will have been exposed to more stress from transport, hunger, cold, and draughts.  So the risk of scours starting when you get them home is greater.
  • From stock agents or dealers.  Be careful to find out the background of the calves to find out where they came from.  Deal only with reputable people or you could end up with a major disease problem.
  • Descriptions of animals on auction sites can be wildly misleading. If buying online make sure you know what you are buying.

How to pay for them

  • A pre-arranged price/head.  This is a simple deal, but light-weight calves will cost the same as heavy ones. 
  • Make sure this balances out over the whole line of calves.  It’s easy for vendors to get carried away, and base their asking price on what the first “feeder” calves of the season are making when supply is short. 
  • You can base the price on either the current auction price or use the “bobby” calf price as a base. 
  • Discuss this with a number of stock agents.
  • A pre-arranged price/kg liveweight.  This is the best way to buy as it’s fair to both parties.  Make sure the scales are accurate and no doubt the vendor will weigh them after, rather than before a big feed!  This price can be based on the current bobby calf price or what the market is paying for older weaner cattle. 
  • Again discuss this with a number of stock agents.

Selecting the calves to buy

  • Buy from suppliers with a record for good healthy stock.
  • Make sure the calf has had colostrum – at least 2 litres before 6 hours old.
  • The calf’s navel should have been treated with iodine.  Check it is not swollen
  • By 4 days old the navel should be dried up.
  • Don’t take any calves with scour (diarrhoea).
  • Don’t take any calves with abnormalities.  Walk the calf around if you can to check these.  Watch for undershot jaws (parrot mouth), umbilical hernia, bent hocks or pasterns, or swollen joints.
  • The calves should be alert and “look cheeky’ with bright eyes.  Droopy ears and being “tucked up” are bad signs.
  • The coat should be shiny and supple to the touch.
  • The nose should be moist and cold with no discharge.
  • Breathing should be regular and no wheezing or coughing.

Transporting calves

  • Ideally, move calves in an enclosed draught-free trailer with plenty of clean straw.
  • Open trailers must have a cover around the front to provide shelter.
  • When towing calves – drive carefully so they don’t get thrown around.
  • Put bedding on the trailer floor to stop slipping and injuries.
  • Confine calves in the trailer with internal gates or hay bales.

Treatment on arrival at home

  • Give them a light feed.  A drink of glucose and water is a good idea for the first feed, as they may have had a big feed of milk that morning and the stress of travel on top of that my cause digestive upsets.
  • Keep new calves separated for a couple of days to make sure they don’t start to scour and infect the others.
  • Keep the stress levels down for a few days, eg don’t shift them around too much if possible.
  • The calf may have suckled a cow on the day of purchase so be patient as it you will have to teach it to drink from a teat or bucket.


Make sure each calf has a NAIT tag and record the movement of the calves to your property in the NAIT system. If you want an easier-to-read tag, then put in an additional tag in the non-NAIT tagged ear. Record sex and weight using the bathroom scales or a weigh tape.  This is will allow you to measure growth progress later.