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HomeDairyVIDEO: 3 key points for calf housing this spring
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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VIDEO: 3 key points for calf housing this spring

For successful calf housing this spring, farmers should remember three key points relating to stocking density, ambient temperature, and nesting scores.

That is according to Ciara Hayes, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and CalfCare TWG member, who shed light on the topic in a Teagasc/AHI CalfCare webinar on calf rearing.

Stocking density 

This is the floor space allowance per calf. You can calculate this by measuring the area of space for calves to move around and dividing by the number of calves in the space to deliver a figure in m²/calf. As calves grow, their space requirements increase.

  • Calves weighing up to 45kgs, require 2m²/calf;
  • Between 46-99kgs require 3 m²/calf;
  • 100-149kgs – 4 m²/calf.

Hayes said: “Sticking to these recommendations ensures that calves have enough space to lie down and move around and helps to maintain the air quality in the shed.”

Ambient temperature.

This efers to the air temperature in the calf shed. Meanwhile, the lower critical temperature is the air temperature below which calves need to use energy to maintain their own body temperature. This varies depending on the age of the calf.

  • New-born: 15°C
  • Three-weeks-old: 5.5 °C

“Clearly, the temperature in calf sheds in Ireland will routinely be lower than this in the spring. When this happens, calves use energy from their feed to keep warm, diverting it away from growth and the immune system,” she said

“To minimise this, be aware of the ambient temperature in the shed using a maximum and minimum thermometer. Then, when the temperature drops below the minimum temperature threshold, take action to reduce calves’ heat loss.”

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“You can do this by minimising draughts at calf level whilst ensuring adequate ventilation, using calf jackets and being aware of nesting scores.”

Nesting scores

Hayes explained that nesting scores are a measure of how well bedding is working to inflate calves against low temperatures.

  • 1: Legs entirely visible above the straw bed when they lie down;
  • 2: Legs partially visible
  • 3: Legs are generally not visible above the straw bed.

“Aim for nesting scores of three to ensure that straw bedding is doing as much as possible to keep calves warm.”

In summary: Calf housing: 

    • Stocking density: Ensure calves have enough floor space for their weight;
    • Ambient temperature: Being aware of and taking action against low ambient temperatures;
    • Nesting scores: 3 on straw bedding.

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