Providing the perfect environment for calves in Co. Kilkenny

There are many factors that farmers should consider when it comes to housing for their calves.

These include: ventilation; dryness; draughts; cleanliness; and temperature. If these are correct, farmers should have no problem with calves from a housing point of view.

Thomas and Peter O’Hanrahan – a father-and-son team – are participants in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme and plan to purchase 180 Friesian, Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Limousin-cross calves from the dairy herd this year.

A new calf shed has been built under the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme (TAMS) on the farm, which Peter designed himself.

The four-bay shed stands at 50ft wide and contains two 20ft-wide pens and a 10ft passage. Yorkshire boarding was installed along both sides of the unit and an outlet is located at the apex; this provides the correct ventilation.

Micro-environments were created inside the pens and these movable features work well with the 7ft walls to prevent draughts. These can be moved via a pulley system to facilitate clean-out.

The floors of the pens are sloped (1:20) to allow run-off to channels, which flow to a slatted tank located close to the shed.

In the video below, Dr. Doreen Corridan from Munster Cattle Breeding Group takes us through the calf unit. She also outlines modifications that farmers can make to existing housing to make calves more comfortable.

The Yorkshire boarding consists of 6in-wide boards with 2in between them and a 27m-long canopy at the top of the unit.

“We want 0.04m² of an outlet – twice that of the inlet – on the full length of the shed. However, we must prevent draughts.

“The key is calves cannot have draughts. If a calf is less than two weeks old they need to be kept at 15° and every draught is reducing the temperature of the calf. To keep it up, we need to provide a dry lie and no draughts.

“The shed is very easy to clean. The sliding doors at the front of the unit open to provide access to clean the shed mechanically. The calves can be moved into the centre passage during this task.”

Dr. Doreen Corridan and Peter O’Hanrahan

Commenting on the need for adequate lighting, she said: “Light inside a calf shed is absolutely crucial. If you have light inside a shed you will see issues and you will see the calf that is not performing.”

Natural light is provided via 16 skylights (four/bay), while artificial lights have also been installed.

Adapting existing buildings

Dr. Corridan also highlighted that farmers don’t necessarily need new sheds to rear calves and that modifications can be made to existing structures.

Providing fresh air is very important and Yorkshire boarding can be installed on existing sheds to allow fresh air into the shed. In addition, fresh air can also be provided through a fan.

“With a lot of the older buildings, it can be quite difficult to ventilate them properly to get the fresh air in. Fans cost approximately €1,200. A long duct – the full length of the shed – comes out of the fan and blows out fresh air all day long.”

To provide adequate drainage, Dr. Corridan recommended installing a concrete floor with a slope of 1:20 to awaiting channels linked to appropriate tanks.

To prevent draughts, she said: “It’s very easy to put big square or round bales up to prevent draughts.

“If farmers wanted something more permanent, they could Tek-screw stock board onto gates and put conveyor belts underneath with U-bolts; both are very cleanable and permanent,” she concluded.