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The 1,2,3 Rule of Baby Cows: Essential Guide for Newborn Calves


Bringing a newborn calf into the world is a delicate process that demands immediate attention and care. Farmers and ranchers, especially those involved in bottle-feeding calves, are well aware that the first few hours after birth are crucial for the calf’s health and well-being. In this blog post, we will delve into the key aspects of caring for a newborn calf, focusing on the first priority – ensuring adequate colostrum intake.

The Importance of Colostrum for Baby Cows:

The first and foremost priority in caring for a bottle-fed calf is to guarantee that it receives an adequate intake of colostrum. Colostrum, the first milk produced by the cow, is a vital source of essential nutrients, antibodies, and immune-boosting factors that provide the calf with a strong start in life.

Timing is critical when it comes to colostrum intake. The calf’s ability to absorb colostral antibodies diminishes rapidly within the first day of life. Therefore, it is imperative to feed the calf colostrum within the first two hours of birth, with the goal of providing at least 3 liters of high-quality colostrum.  Jeffers offers a variety of milk replacers and colostrum supplements for baby cows.

The 1, 2, 3 Rule of Feeding Colostrum:

The 1, 2, 3 rule is a simple yet effective guideline for feeding colostrum to baby cows:

  1. Use the First Milk (Colostrum) from the Cow: The first milk produced by the cow is rich in antibodies and nutrients crucial for the calf’s immune system and overall health. Harvesting and using this initial colostrum is the first step in adhering to the 1, 2, 3 rule.
  2. Feed the Calf Colostrum within the First Two Hours of Birth: Timing is of the essence. To maximize antibody exposure, calves should be fed colostrum within the first two hours of birth. This ensures that the calf receives the full spectrum of benefits from the colostral antibodies.
  3. Calves Must be Offered at Least 3L of Good Quality Colostrum: Quantity matters. Offering a sufficient amount of colostrum is crucial for the calf’s development. A minimum of 3 liters is recommended to meet the calf’s nutritional needs and provide a solid foundation for its growth.

Saving a Newborn Calf:

To ensure the survival of a newborn calf, it is essential to get the calf dry and warm. Chilled calves with low food intake are susceptible to pneumonia and scours, making it crucial to address these concerns promptly. A hotbox or a designated area with a heat lamp can prove invaluable in maintaining the calf’s body temperature. In emergency situations, even bringing the chilled calf indoors until it is dry and has received colostrum can make a significant difference.  For additional reading, check out our blog “6 Practical Steps how to keep Livestock warm in winter“.

The Role of Standing and Nursing:

Calves should ideally stand and nurse within two hours of birth, provided everything is normal and the weather conditions are not severe. However, for maximum antibody exposure from colostrum, calves need to nurse within four hours of birth. It is essential to monitor the cows to ensure they have been nursed or, if necessary, assist the calves in nursing.


Caring for a newborn calf requires a meticulous approach, with a primary focus on ensuring proper colostrum intake. The 1, 2, 3 rule provides a clear and effective framework for farmers and ranchers to follow, emphasizing the use of the first milk, timely feeding within the first two hours, and offering a minimum of 3 liters of high-quality colostrum. By prioritizing these steps, farmers can contribute to the health and well-being of newborn calves, setting the stage for their growth and productivity on the farm.

If you enjoyed this guide please check out some related articles “3 Things You Wish You Knew About Spring Calving” and the Jeffers guide to “Calving Season Vaccines“.