Video: The correct housing environment for calves is crucial for top performance

When it comes to housing calves, there are many factors that need to be considered, including: ventilation; dryness; draughts; cleanliness; and temperature.

If these are correct, farmers should have no health problems with calves from a housing point of view. There is no point spending the money and time sourcing healthy, quality calves, if they are going to be housed in inadequate accommodation.

Providing the correct environment will allow a calf to reach its genetic potential and reduce the risk of respiratory disease or scour which can occur in a poorly-managed environment.

In the video (below), Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme advisor, James Fitzgerald, outlines what farmers need to consider in terms of housing facilities for young dairy-beef calves.

Where possible, a calf shed should stand-alone, be located upwind of other cattle housing facilities and at right angles to the prevailing wind.

Natural ventilation is the most efficient and least expensive method of providing an optimum environment within a calf shed.

It serves a number of purposes including: the elimination of noxious gases, draughts and stagnant air; and maintenance of optimum temperature (15-20°).

“The two main factors we need to consider is to keep the air fresh in the shed and give calves a dry lie at all times. If we can get them two things right, we are a long way to rearing a good batch of calves.

“We need stale air sucked out and replaced with fresh air – without causing any draughts. Fresh air is as good as any disinfectant, so in order to keep pneumonia and scour problems at low instances, fresh air is vitally important.”

Calves can spend 80% of their time lying down, so the type and depth of bedding is important.

“The best type of bedding is straw; it’s nice and warm for the calves and it has really good soaking ability. We want to have a good slope on the floor to take any moisture – in the form of calves’ urine or spillage from water troughs – out of the shed.

“A 1:20 slope from the back to the front of the pen, and a channel to collect this to a collecting tank, is what we are looking for,” he explained.

During the calf rearing phase, calves are at their most vulnerable to pathogens and disease and an important focus needs to be placed on hygiene. Easily-cleaned floors and walls are a must in a calf shed to permit the deep cleaning and disinfection of pens in between batches of calves.

Touching on space requirements, James said: “It’s important not to overstock a shed, as this could lead to pneumonia problems; calves need approximately 1.8-2m² each.

“If you have a pen that is 15ft X 15ft, 10 calves should be housed in that pen,” James added.

In addition, the correct feeder and drinking space must be provided to encourage feed and water intake and to discourage bullying.

Finally, clean water must be available to calves at all times. Contamination of feed and water from other calves, vermin and flies should be avoided. There should also be plenty of light inside the unit, as any issues will be easily identified.

Part 1: Video series: The complete guide to buying and rearing dairy-beef calves
Part 2: Video: What can I pay for dairy-beef calves?
Part 3: Video: What questions should I ask dairy farmers when sourcing dairy-beef calves?
Part 4: The importance of choosing dairy calves with the right genetics for beef production
Part 5: Video: How to examine the calf prior to purchase for dairy-beef systems