How To Get Stunted Calves To Grow

How To Get Stunted Calves To Grow?

The development of calves is a major concern for many livestock managers. It’s like trying to nurture a delicate plant in a garden; without the right care, it simply won’t flourish. 

Amidst this challenge, a pressing question emerges: how do we encourage stunted calves to reach their full potential? 

Well, some common ways to help stunted calves grow can be providing a high-quality diet and ensuring proper nutrition. It’s akin to giving that plant the richest soil and the right amount of sunlight. But, there’s more to the story. 

Dive into this article, and you’ll uncover a treasure trove of insights, tips, and actionable steps. Let’s embark on this journey together, unraveling the mysteries of calf growth, and turning those tiny hooves into strong, thriving creatures.

Understanding the Challenges of Stunted Growth

1. Common Diseases and Health Issues in Calves

  • Diverse Health Threats: Just as a young child can be vulnerable to a range of illnesses, dairy calves face multiple health challenges. Some of these can be life-threatening, while others can lead to prolonged suffering.
  • Top Concerns: The trio of septicemia, diarrhea, and pneumonia stands out as the most significant health issues for young calves. It’s like the common cold, flu, and bronchitis in humans – prevalent and potentially severe.
  • Parasitic Invasions: Consider a garden where pests devour the plants. Similarly, calves infected with intestinal parasites might graze less, eat less, and consequently grow at a slower pace, potentially affecting their growth even as they mature.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Just as a car can’t run without fuel, calves can’t thrive without proper nutrition. Factors like inadequate caloric intake, lack of crude protein, and deficiencies in essential elements like selenium can weaken a calf’s immune system.

2. The Impact of Insufficient Early Nutrition

  • Long-Term Consequences: It’s been found that poor nutrition between weaning and 6 months can set a calf back significantly. It’s like a child missing out on essential nutrients during their formative years, leading to potential health issues and even the risk of being sidelined later in life.
  • Weaning Woes: When calves are used to a rich milk diet and suddenly face a drop in nutrition at weaning, it’s a bit like someone used to feasting suddenly having to make do with crumbs. This drastic change can challenge their growth and overall health.
  • Immunity Issues: Proper nutrition acts as a shield, protecting calves from diseases. Without adequate calories, protein, and essential nutrients, this shield weakens, making calves more susceptible to illnesses.

3. Recognizing Symptoms of Unhealthy Calves

  • Spotting the Signs: Just as a person might show signs of fatigue or illness, calves too have their tell-tale symptoms. A dry nose, listlessness, or diarrhea can be the equivalent of a human’s runny nose or constant fatigue, indicating something’s amiss.
  • Disease Indicators: Septicemia, diarrhea, and pneumonia in calves are akin to alarm bells. They’re clear indicators that the calf is facing significant health challenges.
  • Effects of Parasites: When calves are infected with intestinal parasites, their behavior changes. It’s like someone feeling constantly tired and not wanting to eat. These calves may graze less and have a decreased appetite, resulting in delayed growth.

How To Get Stunted Calves To Grow?

Stunted calves can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including insufficient nutrition, health concerns, and stress. Here are several methods for assisting stunted calves in growing.

1. Provide a High-Quality Diet

Starting a calf on the right foot, or rather the right feed, is akin to laying a strong foundation for a building. When introducing a calf to feed, it’s essential to begin with high-quality grass hay, allowing them to consume freely. 

Consider it like feeding a youngster their favorite healthy snack; they’ll happily eat it. For a calf weighing around 500 lbs, this would translate to about 15 lbs per day. But, just like humans need water with their meals, calves too need access to clean, fresh, and cool water. 

After a few days, it’s time to introduce grain, much like how we’d introduce solid foods to a toddler. A grain diet with at least 15-16 % protein, fed twice a day in 3-pound portions, can work wonders. And if you can throw in some alfalfa, it’s like adding a cherry on top of a nutritious meal.

2. Ensure Proper Nutrition

Nutrition is the cornerstone of growth. A calf’s diet lacking in calories, protein, or essential elements like selenium is like a car running on fumes – it just won’t go far. 

Growing calves, with their rapid development, have a heightened need for minerals. Key players in this arena are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. 

While many feeds can provide these minerals, sometimes, just like humans might need vitamin supplements, calves might require mineral supplementation to bridge any gaps.

Important minerals Calves need

Calves, like all growing animals, require a specific set of minerals to thrive. These minerals play crucial roles in various physiological processes, including bone development, enzyme function, nerve transmission, and overall growth. Here’s a breakdown of the essential minerals calves need:

  1. Calcium (Ca): Vital for bone and teeth formation, muscle contractions, and blood clotting. Young, growing calves must ensure proper skeletal development.
  1. Phosphorus (P): Works hand-in-hand with calcium in bone and teeth formation. It’s also involved in energy metabolism and the formation of DNA and RNA.
  1. Magnesium (Mg): Important for enzyme activation, muscle contractions, and nerve functions. A deficiency can lead to grass tetany, a potentially fatal disorder.
  1. Potassium (K): Essential for maintaining osmotic balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contractions.
  1. Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl): These two often go together as salt (sodium chloride). They’re vital for maintaining osmotic balance, nerve function, and acid-base balance.
  1. Sulfur (S): Found in certain amino acids and vitamins, it plays a role in metabolism and detoxification processes.
  1. Iron (Fe): Integral for hemoglobin formation, which is responsible for oxygen transport in the blood.

It’s worth noting that while these minerals are essential, they need to be provided in the right amounts. Both deficiencies and excesses can be harmful. Often, the natural diet of calves, especially if they’re grazing, will provide many of these minerals. 

However, in areas where soils are deficient or when relying on stored feeds, mineral supplementation might be necessary. Always consult with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to ensure calves are receiving the right balance of minerals.

3. Make Management Changes Slowly

Moving to a new city, starting a new job, and joining a new gym all in the same week seems daunting, doesn’t it? Similarly, calves can get stressed with too many changes at once. 

It’s crucial to introduce them gradually to growing rations and avoid a sudden shift to high-grain diets. Weaning, in particular, is a stressful milestone in a calf’s life. 

To ease this transition, ensuring calves have a steady grain intake in the weeks leading up to weaning can be beneficial. It’s like prepping a child for their first day of school by visiting the school a few times before the big day.

4. Address Health Issues

A calf showing signs of a dry nose, lethargy, or diarrhea is sending out distress signals. These symptoms can be indicators of severe health problems like septicemia, diarrhea, or pneumonia. It’s essential to address these health issues head-on, much like how we’d visit a doctor at the first sign of illness. 

Parasitic infections, in particular, can be silent growth stunners. Infected calves might graze less and have reduced appetites, leading to slower growth. Addressing these health issues promptly can set the calf back on the path to healthy growth.

5. Housing and Environmental Considerations

The environment a calf grows up in plays a pivotal role in its development. Small group housing, for instance, can be beneficial as it allows calves to learn social dynamics without feeling overwhelmed. It’s like a child learning to play in a small group before joining a big playground. 

Additionally, ensuring calves have enough space at the feed bunk and easy access to it is crucial. A clean, stress-free environment is the final piece of the puzzle. After all, just as humans thrive in positive surroundings, calves too flourish in a nurturing environment.


Raising calves to their full potential is akin to nurturing a plant from seed to bloom. While we’ve delved deep into the nuances of nutrition, housing, and health, it’s essential to remember the interconnectedness of these factors. Each plays a pivotal role, and a lapse in one can ripple through the calf’s growth journey.

In essence, to address the challenge of “How To Get Stunted Calves To Grow?”, one must provide a high-quality diet, ensure proper nutrition, make gradual management changes, offer a conducive environment, and promptly address health issues. With dedication and informed care, stunted calves can indeed be guided to thrive and flourish.


Will a stunted calf grow?

Yes, a stunted calf can grow if given the right care and nutrition. While initial growth setbacks can be concerning, with a high-quality diet, proper management, and timely health interventions, many stunted calves can catch up to their peers over time. However, the degree of recovery can vary based on the severity of the stunting and the calf’s overall health.

What do you feed a stunted calf?

For a stunted calf, start with high-quality grass hay for free choice consumption. After a few days, introduce grain with at least 15-16% protein, and feed twice daily. Ensure access to clean, fresh water. As the calf adjusts, you can incorporate some alfalfa. Address any nutritional deficiencies, like calcium, phosphorus, or selenium.

What causes calves not to gain weight?

Calves may not gain weight due to several factors:

  • Diseases: Illnesses like septicemia, diarrhea, and pneumonia can hinder growth.
  • Poor Nutrition: Inadequate or unbalanced diets can lead to stunted growth.
  • Genetic Issues: Some calves might have inherited traits that affect their growth rate.
  • Lack of Energy: Calves need sufficient caloric intake for growth; a deficit can stall weight gain.
  • Protein Deficiency: Protein is vital for muscle development; its lack can impede growth.
  • Water Scarcity: Adequate hydration is essential for digestion and nutrient absorption; without it, growth can be affected.