Ahead of the spring-calving season, dairy farmers should assess their calf housing facilities to determine if they are adequate.

The new changes to the antibiotic regulations will mean that farmers now, more than ever, need to focus on preventing sickness.

Ensuring that calves have enough space in a calf house is one of the key measures that will prevent diseases from spreading.

Other measures include ensuring they have enough bedding, that the temperature in the shed is somewhat controlled and that the bacteria load placed on the calves is low.

Calf housing

Housing on many dairy farms needs improvement.

On a farm where a herd has a 90%, six-week calving rate, if calves are retained for four weeks before selling the surplus, then at peak, 72% of calves born on the farm will be on farm at one time.

So, for a 100-cow herd there will be as many as 72 calves on the farm at this peak time.

With each calf needing a lying space of 1.7m2 , this means a shed with 122.4m2 is needed to house these calves.

Farmers should determine within their own calf housing whether there is enough space for the amount of calves that could potentially be present on the farm.

If determined that there is not enough space, options for increasing capacity, in order to rear all the calves at peak, should be looked at.

Some options could include converting a straw shed into a calf house or maybe using hutches on an empty silage pit.

However, these are only short-term solutions and investment is most likely needed on these farms where calf housing is not adequate.

Spring calving

While assessing calf facilities, the calving area should also be examined.

Teagasc recommends that farmers have an area for 10% of the herd to be on straw in a designated calving area.

Each cow will require 7m2 if she is feeding off the lying area, or 10m2 if the feed area is incorporated into the lying space.

Ensuring that the calf housing and calving facilities are adequate is important for a number of reasons. Ensuring that the space is adequate in these should decrease the amount of disease in these sheds, which will make it more labour efficient and decrease the amount of time spend in these sheds.