Dairy Calves

Care4Dairy has developed best practice guides on four key life stages in dairy production: dairy calves, heifers, lactating cows and end- of- career cows. Each best practice guide is a compilation of fact sheets that summarise the latest scientific and technical evidence to support animal welfare. They adopt a user-friendly solutions-based approach and have been developed in partnership with the dairy sector.

Each fact sheet describes good and best practice and is structured according to four key pillars of animal welfare: feeding, housing, health and behaviour. Some topics may be relevant to more than one life stage and this is indicated at the start of each factsheet.

The life stages are characterised as follows:

  • calves are defined as bovines from birth to 6 months of age
  • heifers are usually 7-24 months of age
  • adult cows are 2 years plus
  • end of career- animals can be any age between 2 years old until the end of their productive life either due to natural culling, illness or injury

Information on the care of bulls has been indicated in the relevant text, although this life stage group was not within the direct scope of Care4Dairy.

In addition to the guides, several EU member states have shared examples of “success stories” where best practice solutions have been used in training, on farm assessments and communication tools. Further resources are provided to support the best practice guides.

Fact Sheets

The best practice guide for dairy calves consists of six fact sheets.

Best Practice Guide
Calf Best Practice Guide

Best practice farms have healthy and vigorous calves by providing tailor-made, balanced nutrition, in an enriched environment that supports natural behaviours, and by using management strategies that mitigate stress experienced during weaning. 

Best practice farms provide bespoke, clean, comfortable indoor and outdoor environments that  support the calves’ social and mental development as well as their growth. Such farms are more likely to have healthy and vigorous calves expressing a range of positive natural behaviours. 

Best practice farms promote the best possible health and pain-free lives for their calves by identifying risks, providing prophylactic health care management and ensuring responsive intervention and pain management protocols are used.

Best practice farms provide an enriched indoor and outdoor environment with kind, animal-centred human-animal interactions. Such farms are more likely to have confident and social calves who express a range of positive natural behaviours.



Calf – calving care
Calf Elective Procedures
Calf behaviour
Calf environment
Calf nutrition
Calf health

Success Stories

There are a number of initiatives currently being implemented in the EU and beyond, to encourage adoption of welfare friendly practices on dairy farms. In this section we highlight examples where groups have successfully collaborated to share resources on animal welfare topics with farmers. Farmers have been involved in the design of many of these tools.
These resources combine a range of formats, all designed to encourage adoption of animal welfare friendly practices on farm:

  • Exchanging information and practices between peers, including short videos from farmer to farmer
  • Initiatives to support transition to best practice
  • Infographics which summarise good and best practice, in a concise and easy to read format
Good Practice for Dairy Calf Welfare

An infographic on calf welfare was developed in Ireland in partnership with key stakeholders. It can be downloaded from https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/rural-economy/M11042-SWAB-Calf.pdf

Good Practice for Dairy Calf diagram

Good Practice for Dairy Calf diagram


To further support the implementation of our best practice guides, the Care4Dairy team have produced podcasts and infographics for each of the four life stages in dairy production

What’s important for the calf’s environment?

What’s important for the calf’s environment? Best practice farms provide clean, comfortable and enriched indoor & outdoor environments to support the social and physical development of calves.

This infographic prepared by Care4dairy highlights some of the key best practices and good practices for the calf’s environment.