Over the last two weeks, I have had a few enquiries from farmers having issues with dairy-beef calves getting into the habit of navel sucking.

This seems to be particularly bad just after feeding.

However, in some cases, it is right throughout the day.

This can be a difficult issue to fix, as it seems to be a habit that some calves develop and can be hard to stop.

Meal feeding

The most likely cause of it is that the calf’s appetite is not being fully satisfied by the level of milk feeding.

While increasing milk feeds above 3l/feed would not be recommended, the best approach is to try to get calves eating meal as soon as possible.

Make sure the feed trough is right beside the milk feeder, so that calves will move straight towards it once milk feeding has finished.

Ensure you are using a highly palatable calf crunch and make sure it is always fresh to encourage intake.

Once calves have come in on eating meal for a few weeks, you can slowly transition on to a lower-cost ration.

Long fibre

Another key area to consider is the availability of long fibre to the calf at all times.

Straw works perfectly for this, but it should be good quality and offered in a hay rack.

Calves should not be expected to pick straw from their bedding, no matter how clean it is.

Make sure the hay rack is not too high, as this will inhibit intake. Calves should not have to reach above a natural head height to access it.

Fresh water

Finally, make sure there is fresh water available in all pens for calves to drink at all times.

In order to increase meal and forage intake, the calf will need to drink more and more water.

Therefore, it is important for calf development that it is always freshly available.

Monitor calves for navel infections

Keep an eye on calf navels to ensure no bumps or lumps appear on any calf that has been sucked. If in any doubt, consult your vet.