For dairy farms, the start of the 2023 spring-calving season is just over six-weeks away.
Ahead of the calving season, it is a good idea to assess your calf shed and make any small changes that may be required.
It is unlikely that any major changes can be made to calf sheds this late in the year, ahead of the spring-calving season.
But some small changes could potentially lead to an improvement in calf health and performance.
Small changes could include improving ventilation, stopping draughts and ensuring you are not over-stocking pens.
You should firstly complete an assessment of your calf pens to determine how many calves can actually be kept in each pen.
Each calf requires 1.5m² of lying space/calf and an air space of 7m³/calf.
For example, if your pen is 6m x 3m then the area of the pen is 18m2 .
You then divide this by 1.5m², which determines that that each pen can house 12 calves/pen.
Once you have determined how many calves can be housed in each pen, you can then determine how many calves can be kept in the shed.
If housing is a potential issue you need to look at other options such as another shed on the farm, or the use calf hutches.
Over-stocking pens will result in increased sickness in the calf shed.
Although air flow in the shed is important it should not be at the cost of temperature.
Young calves ideally need a temperature of between 15-20°.
The temperature requirements can be offset by offering calves a deep bed of dry straw and/or the use of calf jackets.
Improving ventilation in your calf shed, along with reducing draughts, should improve calf health and thus calf performance.
Any areas of the shed that could potentially be causing a draught should be fixed ahead of the start of calving next year.
A longer-term improvement for a calf shed is the improvement of the ventilation of the calf shed.
A way of improving air movement is the use of Yorkshire boarding; this can be retrofitted to older houses.
Yorkshire boarding can often be mistakenly identified as space boarding – the key difference is that Yorkshire boarding has two lays of board.
Some other checks that can be completed at this time of year is ensuring that all the drinkers are working.
You should also check that the equipment used for feeding calves concentrates and the hay racks are not damaged or broken.
It may also be a good idea to install a thermometer in the shed, so that temperature can be monitored.
What is important to note is that any improvements made to calf facilities can be lost by overcrowding in the shed, so this should be avoided.