Reviewing the factors to consider in calf housing

As we approach what will be a busy calving period on dairy farms, we will ultimately see a rise in the number of calves coming on the scene.

It is important that either the dairy farmer or the beef farmer who purchases the calves reviews their housing systems prior to purchasing their calves.

Providing the correct housing environment is critical for enhancing performance during the rearing period in order to avoid health issues.

Ventilation and the stack effect

Farmers should aim to have natural ventilation from wind and the stack effect in housing, where possible, as this is the least expensive method of providing optimum housing conditions.

This will remove any noxious odours and stagnant air within a shed – while also targeting to avoid draughts.

For farmers who are considering building a calf house – it should ideally be a standalone building located up-wind of other cattle housing facilities and positioned at right angles to the prevailing winds.

According to Teagasc, at least five or six air changes per hour are required within a calf shed – along with at least 7m³/calf of total air capacity should be provided to young calves and 10m³/calf required by two months old.

To achieve the stack effect, air inlets and outlets are required. As the air in the shed is heated by the livestock, it is able to escape through the outlet area (highest point of the shed). This will allow for fresh air to then re-enter the housing through the inlet area.

The Yorkshire boarding has been identified by Teagasc as the preferred inlet, as it prevents rain from gaining access – while also providing good airflow when compared to space boarding or vented sheeting.

Effective drainage

Considering that calves can spend up to 80% of their time lying down, it is important their bedding is sufficient in depth and that it remains dry.

To avoid damp bedding from calves urinating and potentially leaking water troughs, a floor slope of 1:20 is desirable.

Waste channels with a storage point should also be installed and cleared regularly to ensure any run-off from bedding can be collected.

Keeping in mind the number of times that the calves’ bedding is going to be cleaned out, farmers should have an ease of access to the pens. To check if bedding is in need of changing, completing the ‘knee test’ is recommended.

Maintaining Hygiene

Hygiene within housing is a very important factor in order to maintain a high-health status with your calves. During the calf-rearing phase, calves are at their most vulnerable to pathogens and disease.

Aidan Maguire

Pens should be regularly cleaned out and also disinfected between different batches of calves. A clean water supply should be provided to the calves at all times and the feed should be free of contamination from any vermin or flies that have gotten access to the shed.

For further information and advice on calf housing management view the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef fact sheet by clicking here.