This should be done as soon as the calf is brought into the calf house, in order to avoid confusion; if three calves are born on the same day, it is only too easy to confuse them and earmark them with the wrong numbers. In the case of pedigree animals, it is vital to make sure they are earmarked correctly. Identification of animals is a difficult business, and no fool proof method has been discovered, although methods have been tried. The most effective method is branding, but this spoils the look of the animal, and also means that the hide bonus is lost when it goes for slaughter. Another method is freeze branding, although this requires a good deal of skill and the hair does grow over the brand in time. The most common methods of identification are ear tagging, ear notching and ear tattooing.


This is done by clipping a pattern of notches in the ear of the calf, each notch standing for a number as shown below. It is an effective method, and provided the hair around the edge of the ears is kept clipped, the notches can be read from a reasonable distance. The notching is done with a special clipper which takes a triangular shaped piece out of the ear.

Figure 1: Shows the Positions of Ear Notching


This is a common method of identification and consists of placing an ear tag in the ear of the calf. There are a number of tags available on the market, some metal and some plastic. Numbers are punched onto the metal tags, and are written onto the plastic tags with a special pen. Some tags can be bought with the numbers already printed on the tag. The large plastic tags can easily be seen, but they do tend to be pulled out of the ear while the animal is grazing. The metal tags can only be read if the animal is in a cattle crush; they do stay in the ear longer than the plastic tags, but they also get lost. Tags have to be put into the ear with special applicators. Examples of some of the different types of tags are shown below:

Figure 2 and 3: A cow with Ear Tags in the Ear (left) and a Set of Ear Tags (right)

Source: cowboyshowcase.                                                                                            Source: calfology


This is done with a set of tattoos which can be bought with both letters and numbers. They pierce a series of pinholes in the ear of the calf, and these are rubbed with a black marking ink. If done properly, and an appropriate marking ink is used, they are effective, but they can be read only if the head of the animal is secured in a cattle crush. Some pedigree societies will accept only tattooing as official identification for their animals. Of course, tattooing can only be done with animals that have white skin inside the ear – Friesland calves cannot be tattooed because they have black skin in the ear.

Figure 4: An Example of a Tattoo for Marking Cattle


As the calves are housed from 4 days old, they are readily available and any bull calves can be castrated at the most suitable time. There are three methods used for castrations, and these are:


Castration: the removal of essential sex organs such as testes and ovaries from male and female animals

These rings are made of thick rubber, which are placed around the spermatic cord of the calf, using a special applicator. The ring cuts off the blood supply to the testicles, and these wither away and drop off. This method should be used during the first week of the calf’s life. There is a danger of bacteria getting into the area around the ring, causing sepsis.

This is a method of bloodless castration using a special tool called a Burdizzo, which crushes the spermatic cord without breaking the skin and the testicles wither away. Each cord should be crushed twice to be on the safe side. The main advantage of the Burdizzo is that infection is avoided as the skin is not broken, provided the tool is properly set and has not been damaged in any way; a badly set or damaged Burdizzo can break the skin. The calves must be examined from time to time to make sure the testicles are drying up and the calf has been castrated properly.


This is the most effective method of castration, and like the Burdizzo, is best done on calves up to 1 month old. The bottom of the scrotum, or bag, is cut with a sharp knife, the testicles drawn out, and the spermatic chord severed. The wound should be dressed with a mild disinfectant after the operation, and inspected for a few days to make sure it is not infected.


This should be done as soon as possible as the horn bud starts to grow and can be felt; before the calf is 1 month old. Two methods can be used.


This is the most common method of dehorning, and it is done with a special iron which can be heated over a fire, with gas from a gas bottle, or by electricity. The iron is heated to almost red heat and held on the horn bud for about 10 seconds. The effect is to cauterise the growing area around the edge of the horn and prevent any further growth. The earlier this can be done the better as it saves the calf much discomfort and as the growing area is small, it can be killed off.

Figure 6 and 7: Using a Hot Dehorning Iron (left) and the Result after Dehorning (right)

    Source: flickr                                                                                   Source: joshuasfarm


This can be done as soon as the bud can be felt. The hair is clipped from the horn bud, the bud is wiped with surgical or methylated spirit, the Caustic Potash Stick is moistened and rubbed onto the horn bud for about 15 seconds. This burns out the horn and stops further growth. The treatment should be repeated 2 – 4 times. The calf must be kept out of the rain or the potash could be washed into the eyes.

Care should be taken not to get any caustic potash on the hands as it burns severely. This method cannot be used with calves that are suckling a cow as the potash will damage the cow’s udder as the calf suckles.

Figure 8: Shows the Caustic Potash Method of Dehorning


Heifer calves should be inspected at a few days old to make sure they have 4 evenly spaced teats. Any extra teats, and some calves can have 6 teats, should be cut off with a pair of sharp scissors. Extra teats spoil the look of the animal, and when the cow calves down, they can secrete some milk which cannot be milked out by machine and is a source of infection.


It is common practice to buy young calves from other farms for rearing or veal production. When these calves arrive on the farm they are hungry, and because they have been subjected to stress by being handled and transported, they cannot digest milk straight away. Feed only warm water or warm water with 2 large spoonfuls of glucose for the first two feeds and then introduce milk for their third feed. Give the calves some straw bedding and keep them warm and free from draughts; it is good practice to give them an injection of vitamins A and D.


The single pens or crates in a calf house should be 1.5 metres long by 0.6 metres wide. The follow-up pens where the calves are put into groups after weaning should allow 6 – 9 square metres per calf. Do not put calves in crates in direct sunlight. Good ventilation in the calf house is essential.


The following diseases commonly affect calves in the calf house:


This is caused by the bacteria e.coli, usually affects calves during the first 3 weeks in the calf house, although it can occur at any time. The calves develop a scour, often white or pale yellow in colour, and if untreated they will dehydrate and die. Infected calves should be fed on warm water and glucose with kaolin added. It is most important that the calf keeps drinking water. The calf can be treated with an antibiotic. Calf scour is most often caused by feeding milk at the wrong temperature; too much milk; feeding in dirty buckets; given dirty drinking water or sour meal. If the feeding and hygiene are correct, the disease can be avoided.


This is a bacterial infection which gets into the calf through the navel cord at birth. The area around the navel becomes swollen, and very often the joints of the calf will swell. It can be prevented by dressing the navel cord at birth and twice more thereafter with a 20% iodine solution.


Caused by a virus which attacks calves over a month old. The calves have a discharge from the nose and often a cough. It can be brought on by bad ventilation or by draughts or by the calf getting wet. Treatment is by injection with an antibiotic.


Caused by the salmonella bacteria. This is a serious infection which can be passed onto humans. It causes severe scour and the animal often dies. It is brought into the calf house by a human or animal carrier, and it will spread very quickly from one calf to another. Disinfect the house between batches of calves as the spores of the bacteria can survive for 6 – 12 months unless they are killed. Treatment of the disease is by antibiotic.