In this article, Trevor Alcorn, CAFRE dairying development adviser based in Omagh, asks if your calf accommodation is fit for purpose.
Traditionally on many farms, calves were housed in old or redundant buildings that served their purpose for a smaller number of calves for that time.
With herd size increasing and less availability of labour, many dairy farms have renewed or are in the process of renewing calf housing.
There are a variety of options available, depending on the farm’s specific requirements.
However, all calf housing should meet the basic requirements of being clean and cleanable, dry with excess moisture continually removed, and draught-free.
On a more detailed level, consider other factors as follows –
- Good hygiene for young calves is essential as their immune system is not fully developed;
- 50% of calf deaths are due to poor hygiene;
- Consider all in or all-out systems with all materials easily cleaned and not porous, and consider the milk preparation/cleaning/ drying areas.
Dry and good drainage:
- Calves should have a dry bed at all times. Increased moisture or dampness will have an adverse effect on calf health and performance;
- Applying a 1-in-20 slope in straw-bedded pens will help improve drainage;
- Insert drainage channels to collect runoff. Always ensure calves are well bedded;
- Apply the knee test – that is, if you can kneel on the pen floor and not get wet knees, then there is sufficient bedding.
- Fresh air will help reduce the bugs and ammonia in the shed;
- Viruses survive for a shorter time in fresh air than stale air;
- The inlet area should be 2-4 times greater than the outlet area to ensure air movement. Yorkshire cladding and raised/ventilated ridge are normally used;
- Aim for an airspeed of 0.15 – 0.30 metres/ second and relative humidity of <80%;
- Calves will not radiate enough heat to generate the stack effect so consider mechanical ventilation to help create the correct air movement;
- If it is possible, site the building on the windward side of the farm where it is getting the cleanest of air.
- A draught is when wind speed is greater than 0.5 meters/ second below the height of the calf;
- Aim for a solid area, at least 4 feet high, around the bottom of the shed;
- Consider subdivisions within the shed of a similar height.
- Calves will perform best in temperatures of 15 – 20 degrees Celsius;
- Young calves, particularly those under a month old, will feel the cold below 15 degrees Celsius;
- Ensure a draught-free environment;
- Use deep beds of straw, and calves’ legs should not be seen when lying down;
- Consider the use of calf jackets, heat lamps & quartz heaters for younger calves, those under a month old.
- Calves kept on an individual basis, in pens or hutches, must be allowed direct visual and tactile contact with other calves;
- They must also have sufficient space to stand up, lie down, turn around, stretch and groom.
Table 1: Space requirements for individual calf pens
|Calf weight||Pen size per calf|
|<60kg||1m x 1.5m|
|60 – 80kg||1m x 1.8m|
Group housing is recommended from 3 weeks of age – ideally, calves of a similar age and drinking speed. This will help social development and growth rates.
Table 2: Space requirements for group housing
|Calf weight||Space requirements per calf|
|50 – 84kg||1.5m2|
|58 – 140kg||1.8m2|
|140 – 200kg||2.4m2|