Off-cow rearing of calves


Ratification Date: 15 Aug 2009

Position Statement

Off cow rearing of calves (aged less than 6 months) and their sale and transport are acceptable procedures, provided the welfare of the calves is safeguarded and the guidelines for the health and welfare of the calves, as provided below, are followed.


Off-cow rearing in this context refers to complete removal of a calf from its mother at less than 6 months of age and its subsequent management and care. In many cases, especially in the dairy industry, this separation occurs within the first 24 hours following birth.

Off-cow rearing is not necessarily the same as early weaning, which refers to cessation of a milk- (or substitute) based diet. Early weaning in a cow–calf operation is practised when ongoing suckling is likely to be detrimental to the cow and nutrition of the calf can be carried on without further fresh milk intake. Early weaning also occurs in calf-rearing operations to minimise milk replacer intake and encourage rumen development.

Bobby calves are calves to be slaughtered, generally within a few days (up to 6) of birth. [This position statement is not intended to address either the care of prematurely born calves (including those early induced births) or calves used for veal production (which is the subject of another policy).]

General principles

Operations that practice off-cow calf rearing should follow veterinary advice to establish written protocols for calf management, including preventive medicine guidelines. The latter should include protocols for routine cleaning and disinfection of equipment and facilities, regular monitoring for disease detection, provision for segregation of sick calves and protocols for treatments and good record keeping.

Guidelines (to be reviewed and refined regularly by ACV)

Early nutrition
  • Calves should receive at least 2 (preferably 4) litres of fresh or preserved colostrum* (or an effective substitute) within the first 12 hours following birth. Calves should continue to receive colostrum for the first days after birth. Thereafter, they should be fed at least daily on liquid milk, commercial milk-replacer or colostrum, in sufficient quantities to provide the essential requirements for maintenance, good health and growth.
  • Concentrates (pellets or meal) should be made available to artificially reared calves from the
  • first week of life to encourage rumen development and enhance their ability to assimilate
  • straw, hay and pasture ingested from an early age. High-quality pasture, hay, pellets or straw
  • should be available to calves from no later than 3 weeks of age.
  • Hygienic calf-feeding practices, including thorough daily cleaning of all equipment (feeding units, lines, bottles, nipples, troughs etc.) are recommended to sustain calf health and welfare, and to prevent diarrhoea.
  • Weaning should only take place when a calf is eating a minimum quantity of concentrates (≥1 kg/day) and will rarely be achievable prior to 4-5 weeks of age (although, on occasion, weaning can occur as early as 3 weeks). Abrupt weaning may then occur, as long as calves are given increased access to concentrates and high-quality straw or other roughage.
  • Calves should be weaned off milk, milk replacer or colostrum onto rations providing all essential requirements only when their ruminant digestive systems have developed sufficiently to enable them to maintain growth and well-being. Weaning may be an opportune time to introduce calves into group housing.
  • In cold weather, higher energy-value feeds should be provided.
  • Restricted rations of the ‘white veal’ type (i.e. iron-deprived diets <20 ppm iron), which cause anaemia, are unacceptable.
  • Appropriate preventive procedures include using colostrum obtained from the calf’s dam, which should be immunised against those major pathogens that threaten the young calf.

In accepting calves for transport, the transport driver becomes legally responsible for their welfare. Transport drivers have a responsibility to refuse to load calves which, in their opinion, do not meet the requirements listed below. Veterinary advice should be sought in questionable cases.

  • To be suitable for transport, sale or slaughter, calves (including bobby calves) must:Be at least 4 days old (or 3 weeks old in the case of artificially induced calves) (they must not travel before the 5th day of life).
    • Weigh at least 23 kg (Friesian) or 15 kg (Jersey).
    • Be prior fed (within 6 hours before delivery) with colostrum, milk or milk replacer, and appear to be adequately nourished.
    • Be free from drug residues.
    • Have a dry, shrivelled navel cord (not pink, fleshy or raw).
    • Have hooves that are firm and worn flat (not bulbous with soft, unworn tissue).
    • Be in good health, alert, strong and able to rise from a lying position.
    • Not be obviously distressed, diseased, malformed, blind or disabled in any way.
    • Not be wet and/or cold.
  • All vehicles used to transport calves should be cleaned and disinfected prior to loading
  • Transport vehicles should have decks constructed of materials that provide reasonable foothold for calves and effective protection from wind and rain, and should be escape proof.
  • Precautions to prevent overcrowding and injury, as well as providing adequate rest, feed and water during transport, should comply with relevant National Livestock Transport Standards.
  • Drivers should stop and check the loading and comfort of calves at least every 2 hours.
  • Wherever possible, bobby calves should be transported directly to the abattoir.
  • Bobby calves should not be transported if the journey will take more than 10 hours to reach the final destination of any of the calves.
  • Although calves are social animals and seek the company of other calves, individual penning of calves during early rearing (2–3 weeks of age) may be preferable for disease prevention and management, as well as for implementing a liquid-feeding regime. If individual penning of calves will exceed 3 weeks, careful consideration should be given to the social needs of these animals. (some animals object to individual penning)
  • When calves are grouped, careful attention should be paid to the following in the interests of alleviating problems of health, stress or aggression: group size, variation of calf sizes within groups, access to feed and clean water, bedding, drainage, handling facilities and the stalls and their dimensions.
  • Group housing is best utilised on an ‘all-in, all-out’ basis, with appropriate cleaning and disinfection between batches.
  • When calves are grouped, sick or injured calves should be isolated to prevent transmission of disease or further injury by herd mates, and appropriate treatment provided.
  • Housing for artificially reared calves should be hygienic, with adequate ventilation, climate control and lighting. Flooring should be well drained with adequate, dry, lying space for each calf. Flooring and internal surfaces should not cause injury and be easily cleaned.
    • In calf-rearing systems where calves are individually and continually housed in pens or cribs, the available floor area for each calf must take into account the normal behaviour of calves.
    • The floor area must be sufficient to enable each calf to freely turn around, stretch out and lie down comfortably. A floor area of at least 1.5 square metres should be provided for each calf individually housed in pens or cribs. Pen height should be a minimum of 1 metre, with provision of additional height to allow for adequate ventilation.
  • Social interaction should be recognised as an important calf welfare need, as follows:
    • In systems using individual pen or crib housing, visual contact and social interaction between calves should be facilitated by allowing uninterrupted visual contact between calves at the front of individual pens and restricting the height of solid partitions between calves to a maximum of 50 cm from the floor.
    • Where large numbers of calves are reared together, they should be grouped by age and size to reduce competition for food and to improve observation and management.
  • Calves must be protected from rain, wind and extremes of temperature.


  • Australian Veterinary Association. Policy on the Welfare of Vealer Calves. AVA, 1989.
  • Code of Acceptable Farming Practice for the Welfare of Cattle (Victoria) 2001.
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs UK. Improving calf survival. www.defra.gov.uk
  • McNeil J. Q-Calf: Quality assurance meets calf rearing. In: Proceeding of AACV, Hobart, 1999;176–181.
  • Meat & Livestock Australia. National Vendor Declaration (NVD) – Bobby Calves (2002).
  • Moran J. Welfare aspects of calf rearing. In: Calf Rearing: A Practical Guide. Land Links, Melbourne, 2002.
  • Natural Resources and Environment. Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Cattle. Agnote AG 0009. Bureau of Animal Welfare, Melbourne. 1998.
  • Primary Industries Standing Committee. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals. Cattle, 2nd edition. PISC Report 85. CSIRO Publishing, 2004.
  • Queensland Department of Primary Industry. Duty of Care: Animal Welfare Requirements for Marketing Bobby Calves. www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/animalwelfare/18369.html. Accessed 21 March 2007.
  • Rendle P. Calf rearing. In: Proceedings of AACV, Melbourne, 2001;75–79.
  • RSPCA.org.au/policy
  • Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry. Animal Welfare Standard No. 11, 1993. Trade and Transport of Calves Including Bobby Calves.

Date of ratification by AVA Board 15 August 2009