At a SMASH (Smaller Milk and Supply Herds) Field day at Rob and Sharon Klaus’s farm in mid-June, Rob shared his best practice methods when rearing calves. It is the second year the event has been held onfarm and looks set to be a regular in the event calendar. Claire Ashton reports.

When the opportunity arose for Rob and Sharon Klaus to buy land adjacent to their dairy farm in Okauia at the foot of the Kaimai ranges just out of Matamata, they wondered how they could utilise the land’s potential – apart from increasing cow numbers. They now have 94 hectares, with 85ha effective.

The answer was to rear calves, and Rob took ownership of this, leaving Sharon to milk the herd of 200 cows. The 1050 square metre calf shed purchased from Sheds4U in Gisborne as a kitset was built for $120,000 in 2018 and has generally performed very well, however the timber has puzzlingly deteriorated on the western side of the shed, even though it is not the side exposed to the Kaimai ranges.

Gates and divisions in the shed were on top of that cost, as Rob aims to keep the calves fully separated with solid divisions. Important factors when considering a shed are ventilation and drainage, and Rob uses the Novaflo drainage systems. Underneath the pens is sandy loam soil, topped with sand and wood shavings. He also uses ZorbiFresh Active which kills bacteria and absorbs moisture in the bedding.

However, veterinarian Rebekah Kloosterman, from Vetora, pointed out that spraying disinfectant on a mound of poo isn’t an effective use of disinfectant. It is most cost-effective to use disinfectants between batches of calves (or before the season) and after removing 10cm of bedding.

Rob favours early calves through AI, and this year he is rearing 130 calves who spend five to six weeks in the shed. (Other numbers run to 500 calves in spring, and in past years Rob has raised 300 in autumn.)

The Friesian bull calves arrive at four days old, and at pickup the calves’ NAIT tags are scanned by the agents and their Birth Identifications are checked – which is an absolute must, especially if selling to a company such as Landcorp, as Rob has done. On arrival autumn calves are given whey-based milk powder twice a day before going on to Ancalf once a day at three weeks.

Rob uses the mixing ratio recommended by the manufacturer.

“Someone with a bigger pay scale than me has done the maths so I pretty much stick to the instructions on the bag.”

Milk comes from the vat and into 15-calf teat feeders, and Rob will usually put 14 calves in a pen to leave one teat spare. He can feed 300 calves in one hour and will have 2-3 feeders on the go at once. Feeding must be efficient as Rob flies solo in the shed. He uses a particular gun, that costs $60.00 for a pack of three, which is a lot cheaper than the price of the ‘recognised brand of guns’ and are just as effective as well as cost-effective. His tip for gun hygiene is to keep shavings out of the gun and not to use hot water on the gun which causes deterioration, and to keep it calibrated.


A serious bout of salmonella arrived with a batch of calves two years ago, and Rob and Sharon spent two nights vaccinating all the calves but lost a few. From that point on, upon arrival the calves now get a 5:1 shot and, perhaps needless to say, the calf-seller did not get another shot at supply.

Rob sprays and disinfects the pens and keeps sick calves in a separate shed. Sick calves are given electrolytes for 24 hours and the next day are given a half feed at first and then 50/50 electrolytes/milk the following day.

The incubation of Salmonella is a period of one to five days, so a week of isolation is appropriate. The incubation of Rotavirus is one to three days, Coronavirus three to five days, and Crypto about four days so keeping sick calves away from the shed is imperative if the virus is to be contained. On average, calf mortality rate is 4% due to lack of colostrum, and 6% to salmonella.

Rob perceives that other health issues include ‘The 10-day blues,’ where a calf hasn’t received enough colostrum. Rob cannot stress enough the importance of good quality colostrum.

“If you’re not going to feed colostrum you may as well not bother at all.”

The calves are dehorned at two weeks, a well-oiled practice which Rob leaves in capable hands. Drenching takes place at three weeks and not before. He aims to get the calves to 60kg before they go outside, and four of the paddocks have calf huts. On any given day, Rob is known to suggest to Sharon, “Shall we weigh the calves today.”

The calves are weaned off milk at 90kg and onto meal and DDG (especially sunflower) at a cost of around $825 per tonne, and then calves leave the farm when they weigh 100kg to fulfil an existing contract in Hawke’s Bay.

Colostrum is gold

Emma Cuttance from Epivets on Failure of Passive Transfer (*FPT)

The all-important colostrum is needed as soon as possible after birth for healthy calf immunity. Reasons calves experience FPT include; not feeding soon enough after birth, low colostrum quality, or not enough volume. Other factors for a higher rate of FPT may be due to the cow being more than seven years old, calving being at peak, or interestingly, low hanging udders – as it has been found that the calf naturally favours a high udder due to its natural suckling instincts. The natural way for the calf is to keep its mouth on a higher level than the throat because this helps the natural uptake of the milk.

Emma’s advice is around the crucial first 24-hour period. Feed 10-15% of the calf’s bodyweight in colostrum within the first six-12 hours of life – this is known as the ‘Golden Period’. For a 40kg calf this is 4-6 litres of colostrum, split into at least two separate feeds due to the calves’ limited stomach capacity. Passive immunity to some infectious agents is transferred from the cow to calf via colostrum and maximum absorption is within 12 hours, and after 24 hours the calf’s gut starts to ‘close off’ and will not absorb any more IgG molecules, but colostrum is still an excellent feed after 24 hours of age.

MPI are looking at proposed regulations around the colostrum intake having to take place within a two-hour period after calving, but there is some discussion around how this two-hour statistic was arrived at – and how it would or could be enforced.