Is your calf ready for a truck ride?

Learn more about how to safely transport young calves to prevent injury, stress and exposure to pathogens.

In Michigan, it is becoming more common for dairy heifers and bulls to leave the farm before one week of age. Calves of this age can be transported easily, but first they need to be ready for the trip. They should be healthy, have received colostrum, and be put in a clean, dry, well-ventilated transport vehicle.

Before calves are put on a trailer, they should have received a minimum of one gallon of colostrum within the first 12 hours of birth. Michigan State University Extension recommends that a calf should receive a gallon within the first few hours after birth and a second gallon before 12 hours old. Without colostrum, calves start with no immunity to environmental or contagious pathogens. It takes five to eight months for them to develop a mature immune system. Calves should also have a fully dipped navel, dry hair coat, be 24 hours old, and be able to stand and walk on their own before they are transported.

Any calf of any age being transported should be checked for nasal and eye discharge, droopy ears, dehydration and scours before being loaded. Sick calves should not be transported. They are already stressed from being sick and adding the stress of transportation will only make them worse. A sick calf should be kept at the farm for another week or until it is healthy.

If a calf is being transported in the first week of life, the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association recommends waiting until after the calf has been transported to do any procedures such as dehorning, castration or vaccination other than intranasal vaccines.

When moving a calf that is less than a week old, handlers should be patient and gentle. These young calves still do not stand or walk well. Calves should be moved one at a time. Use of fear or force will lead to a higher percent of injuries and stress on these calves.

Trailers should have clean, dry bedding. This will allow for decreased stress, fewer pathogens in the environment and more secure footing. Calves should have ventilation in the trailer but no direct wind or rain. The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association recommends that one third to two thirds of trailer holes in the trailer be covered. Some holes should be left uncovered to provide good air quality.

In hot weather, checking for dehydration is especially important. The easiest way to do that is by tenting the skin to see how long it takes to go back down. If skin tent takes two to five seconds to return to normal, then the calf should be given oral fluids and not transported that day. In hot weather, calves should be hauled during cooler parts of the day or at night. Fewer calves should be loaded onto the trailer to reduce heat stress.

Trailers must be clean and disinfected between hauls. Again, calves less than a week of age have little immunity and are susceptible to all pathogens. In the first seven days of life, calves are most likely to get Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), rotavirus and coronavirus. However, while being hauled they are most at risk for E. coli and Salmonella. The best disinfectant is chlorine dioxide. It is effective against coccidia, Giardia, bacterial spores, yeast, molds, Salmonella, E. coli, rotavirus, coronavirus and cryptosporidiosis. Chlorine dioxide is one of the only disinfectants that will kill cryptosporidiosis, a zoonotic pathogen that can infect humans.

It is our responsibility to make sure any animal, especially young calves, have a successful truck ride. If you have any questions about this topic, contact Marianne Buza, Extension Dairy Educator, at the Huron County Michigan State University Extension Office at 989-269-9949 x 612 or at

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