Calf rearer

Calf rearer

A calf rearer looks after the health and welfare of young cattle to help meet performance targets.
Also known as youngstock assistant, dairy assistant, herd assistant, farm assistant or calf assistant.

This profile highlights the skills and knowledge associated with the role. However, jobs will have varying responsibilities depending on level of the role and the size or type of the business.

Calf rearing is an important time for farmers, as the way in which the newborn calf is managed has a direct impact on how productive the animal will be for beef or milk. 

A successful calf rearer understands all the basic principles such as the best nutrition for growth, reducing stress, good housing, and care.  

As a calf rearer, you will need excellent observation skills. You’ll use these to look out for problems and prevent health issues in young animals.  

You’ll need a calm and patient manner and will have to manage calves carefully to ensure they are healthy and grow well.  

UK farmers work to very high welfare standards to ensure the environment in which their animals live gives them fresh air and freedom to move, so you will need to ensure these welfare standards are met. 

Being a calf rearer is very rewarding and a great way to start your career in agriculture. You’ll work as part of a team and you’ll also gain broader farm experience through other tasks and duties. It can often be part of a wider stockperson role too.  

You will report to the herd manager or an experienced herdsperson. 

You may need to have your own transport to get to work. 

As a calf rearer your responsibilities might include: 

  • Reducing the risk of illness and disease spread through high levels of ​​biosecurity and by making sure calves have good ventilation 
  • Knowing the early symptoms of calf illnesses so recovery and treatment times are shorter 
  • Making sure calf pens are safe, hygienic, and meet welfare standards 
  • Keeping to the correct feeding times to make sure the calves get enough milk and follow the feed management practices 
  • Helping the newborn calf to feed on colostrum (first milk) 
  • Weighing calves to check they are meeting growth targets 
  • Supporting other staff with giving vaccines and medicines to calves  
  • Helping with identification tagging  
  • Keeping accurate records of calves to meet legislation, including applying for British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) passports 

To work as a calf rearer, you should:

  • Be able to spot and report problems 
  • Be able to work calmly, confidently, and patiently around animals 
  • Have a caring manner when working around animals 
  • Have good attention to detail, especially in all aspects of animal health and welfare 
  • Be able to communicate and listen well to others 
  • Be able to work alone and take guidance from others 
  • Be highly motivated and keen to develop skills and knowledge

To become a calf rearer, you do not necessarily need a formal qualification. However, a keen interest in livestock and working closely with young cattle is important. 

You can also gain experience by volunteering on a farm or smallholding.  

If you live in a city or urban area, you could volunteer on a local city farm, community garden, or allotment. You can find some of these in your area on the Social Farms and Gardens website

You may choose to study for a formal qualification or do an apprenticeship to help you gain some understanding and knowledge of farming and livestock. Take a look at the qualifications and training or Apprenticeships sections (both below) for more information.  

It’s also helpful to have a basic knowledge of cattle diseases and health issues and how to help prevent them​.​  

As a calf rearer, you’ll have the following competencies to manage the health and wellbeing of the animals in your care. You will:  

  • Follow correct procedures to ensure good welfare, biosecurity, and environmental practice 
  • Tell your supervisor as soon as possible if you have any concerns about the animals  
  • Work confidently on your own to raise calves  
  • Be responsible for the calves’ first feed of life 
  • Feed animals appropriately to reach growth targets  
  • Meet the relevant health and safety standards  
  • Use the appropriate technology, machinery, vehicles, and structures  
  • Record data about the calves, including growth and medicine use 

Download our Calf Rearer competency profile to find out more about these competencies and how they map with our Capability Framework.

Salaries are in the region of £14,000 to £23,000 but may vary depending on experience and location. Hourly rates vary from £8.50 to £12 per hour.

Starting salaries will increase once you’re fully trained and have some experience.  

Full-time opportunities are available. 

As a calf rearer you may choose to develop your career and progress to a herdsperson, or expand your skills and move into working with beef cattle instead of dairy.

You could also consider working with other farm animals, such as pigs or sheep.  

Being responsible for young livestock can bring job satisfaction, so you may decide to continue your career as a calf rearer. Some farm businesses just focus on calf rearing, meaning they need a skilled and experienced calf rearer to care for hundreds of calves. 

Experienced calf rearers can also start their own business buying in calves and rearing them ready to be sold as beef cattle, whereas others use their own property and time to rear calves from other farmers – this is known as contract rearing. 

Courses which can help you on this career path include:

Level 1 Diploma Land-based Studies Agriculture  

Level 2 Technical Certificate in Agriculture  

Level 3 Advanced Technical Certificate in Agriculture  


General Farm Worker Level 2 

Livestock Unit Technician Level 3 

TIAH Essential Skills

Our online Essential Skills modules can help you develop your skills and knowledge in a range of areas and are a great addition to your CV.

Anyone considering working as a calf rearer would find our Animal Health and WelfareBiosecurity, and Foundations in Farm Safety courses helpful.

You can find out more about life as a calf rearer on a dairy farm by listening to Ben Eagle's Meet the Farmers podcast, episode 163.

Return to our job profiles page for more exciting roles in farming and growing.