Alternative options to building a new calf shed

Due to the rapid expansion of the dairy herd and the increasing number of dairy calves being produced, calf housing will be on the minds of many dairy farmers.

The increase in calf numbers, and the fact that calves are required to stay on the farm 10 days before they are sold in the mart, has resulted in many farmers installing new calf housing facilities.

Under the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) ΙΙ, there have been 767 applications for calf housing that have been paid out at an approximate (total) value of €6.8 million.

However, for many farmers, especially those who are recent entrants to dairy farming, they may not have the money or the time to build a new calf shed.

Therefore, listed below are a few alternative options for building a new calf shed that will get farmers through the busy calving period.

Examples of alternative calf housing include:

  • Renovating an existing hayshed;
  • Individual or group calf hutches;
  • Calf igloo and veranda units;
  • Pop-Up tunnel.

Renovating an existing shed

Although it might not be the most fashionable choice, renovating an existing hayshed could be one of the cheapest options for farmers.

The benefit of this type of shed is that it has a high-pitched roof, which allows for good airflow throughout the shed.

The majority of these sheds span three or four bays, which would accommodate plenty of newborn calves.

The only major cost (of renovating this type of unit) is installing feed barriers at the front and placing gates in between the bays so that calves can be split in accordance with their weight or age.

Calf hutch

An option that is growing in popularity over the last few years and that can be seen across Ireland is a calf hutch.

This type of housing offers a number of benefits, such as providing a dry, well-ventilated and warm house for calves.

Calf hutches can also stop the spread of disease, as calves have their own individual hutch, which prevents contact with other animals.

There are two types of calf hutches:

  • Individual hutch;
  • Group hutch – it can house up to eight calves.

The cost of calf hutches ranges from €345 up to €1,400.

Calf igloo and veranda

A robust, fiberglass-domed igloo can house between 13 and 15 calves with a penned, straw area outside the opening.

When the calves are young they will stay in the warmth of the igloo; however, as they get older they will spend more time in the veranda.

The igloo gives the calf the choice to seek shelter from the cold and draughts that may occur in the veranda.

Moreover, the veranda provides a well-ventilated environment to rear calves and reduces the risk of pneumonia from occurring.

They are not very common in Ireland but they are a simple and effective way of housing calves.

Image source: Thomas Panels and Profiles

Calf Pop-Up tunnel

The calf rearing Pop-Up tunnel is suitable for calves from two weeks-of-age up to five months-of-age.

The Pop-Up tunnel provides a well-ventilated space, full of diffused natural light, with good airflow and loose bedding. Furthermore, the Pop-Up tunnel is designed to be rapidly installed and moved for maximum flexibility.

The cost of installing a 22m-long and 9m-wide tunnel is typically €9,000 (excluding VAT).

Image source: McGregor Polytunnels

Recommendations

There should be good ventilation in the shed/house to remove effluent gases (ammonia) and prevent outbreaks of pneumonia.

It is important to: clean out; wash; and disinfect calf housing. Furthermore, animal manure from calf housing should be properly disposed of in appropriate storage facilities.

Moreover, clean water must be available to calves at all times, especially if they are scouring.

This table (below) outlines the recommended space allowance for group housing calves.

Data source: Teagasc

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