Making changes in calf housing to manage draughts

Following a recent visit to the farm of Patrick Marnell in Co. Kilkenny, it was impressive to see the simple changes he has installed into his calf shed to prevent draughts coming in and impacting on calf health.

All calves born are retained from his dairy herd and are brought to slaughter – it is clear that the importance of calf health and comfort is at the top of the list on Patrick’s priorities.

After spending two days suckling their dams, calves are then moved into individual calf pens for a few days where they lay on wooden slats, with straw bedding.

From there, they are moved into a larger pen that consists of straw bedding which is laid on top of plastic slats. The purpose for this being to get more usage from the bedding and prevent it from getting both dirty and damp too quickly by urine and spillages.

Plastic slats in the calf house

Over the years, Patrick and his father John have tried just bedding the calves on straw, but Patrick insisted that the calves bedding was not lasting.

From there, they trialled placing straw on top of drainage stone but then moved to using wooden slats. They recently changed from using wooden slats to using plastic slats with great success.

The base concrete flooring is laid with a gradual sloping effect that allows any run-off from underneath the slats to flow into a collection tank.

Monitoring temperature

Patrick has installed some additional components to his calf shed in order to help keep some control on temperature.

The shed currently has vented sheeting, placed on top of a 5ft wall along the back-end of Patrick’s calf pens. This sheeting is designed to improve airflow within the shed; although Patrick has added some features which allow him to monitor and manage potential draughts, along with the temperature in the shed.

He stated: “I found that when bad weather came, the shed can get that bit colder and it leads to draughts coming into the house.

I installed adjustable wooden boards over the vented sheeting, just so I can reduce air speed and manage the temperature that bit better.

“When I was building the shed I had shutters added at the V-point opening which I can open and close to match either strong winds or warm muggy days.

Shutters in the V-point of the shed which can open and close

“It’s trial and error really, I just have to be careful that I don’t reduce the ventilation in the shed or cause the temperature to rise too high by reducing airflow.

“The way I manage it is by checking the weather app on my phone carefully every day; if high winds are forecasted I will monitor the temperature in the shed and I make the necessary changes.”