Top tips for housing your calves

We hope you enjoyed last weeks blog – ‘Is your youngstock building meeting your calves’ requirements?’. Here are our top tips to help you get your calf accommodation right.

Top tips for top accommodation

  • Make sure pens are dry bedding up and lime concrete areas
  • Control temperature
  • What is the ideal temperature in you calf shed?
  • No drafts – add gale breakers or space boarding
  • Well bedded
  • Prevent wind chill
  • Concrete panels pull heat from the calves; consider using straw bales along parameter of panels to prevent calves lying directly against these.


Top tips for housing requirements

Individual calves

  • Allow 1.1m² for calves up to four weeks of age
  • Allow 1.8m² for calves up to eight weeks of age
  • All pens should have perforated walls allowing calves to have direct visual and tactile contact with other animals

No calf should be confined in an individual pen after eight weeks of age

Grouped calves

  • Allow 1.1m² for calves up to eight weeks of age
  • Allow 1.5m² for calves up to 12 weeks of age

Passage width

  • Two rows of pens – one on each side of a central passage (1.2m)
  • Single row of pens on one side of the passage (1m)

Trough frontage

  • Feeding space for individually fed calves – 350mm per calf

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.14.57For further information download our Farmers Guide to Housing.

Rumen development


Calves are born with an undeveloped rumen and an important step that needs to be achieved during this pre-weaned phase is developing this rumen.

Early intake of solid feed helps to condition the immature rumen and encourage it to develop so that the calf can eventually obtain a high proportion of its nutrient requirements from solid rather than liquid feed at an earlier time than would naturally occur. Consequently, you will be able to consider removing milk from the diet after a period of weeks, rather than months.


Rumen development can be influenced by diet. Irrespective of your type of rearing system, earlier rumen development can be encouraged by making available:

  • Fresh water at all times
  • High quality starter feed offered in small quantities fresh each day
  • Access to long fibre, for example straw in racks to encourage solid feed intake


Essential diet for the pre-weaned calf

Mixing rates to meet calf growth targets

Have you set your heifers’ target age and weight at first calving?

Take a calf with a 40kg birth weight, if your target age at first calving is 24 months with an accompanying 560kg body weight, then she will have to gain 320kg over 395 days to ensure she hits optimum breeding weight at 13 months. That means she must achieve an average daily liveweight gain (DLG) of 0.8kg throughout the pre-service rearing period.

double birth weight

Simple? Straight forward? To support this level of growth, then you need to make sure that you are providing your heifer calves with sufficient nutrition, both energy and protein. Also remember that during the milk feeding phase the calf’s feed conversion efficiency is at its highest.

One of our latest trials focused on feeding calf milk replacer to Holstein heifers at a rate of 900g per day. These heifers initially weighed 38kg and achieved a DLG of 0.78kg to 11 weeks – that’s around the level of growth required to reach the target we set above.

Defining mixing rates
To feed 900g of milk replacer per calf per day it’s important to check and review mixing rates to ensure that the milk is fed at the correct volume and concentration. For example you can either mix:

  • 6 litres per day at 150g per litre OR
  • 7.5 litres at 125g per litre

Take a look at the chart below and check you’re providing your calves with enough nutrition to support the required growth rate.


If you are targeting high growth rates, then this will also increase your heifers’ energy requirements.  Energy intakes can be improved in various ways but increasing the milk replacer’s oil content from 16% to 20% has a negligible effect compared with simply feeding more of the same. Check out the various combinations in the following table.

Daily energy intake and effect of feeding a low vs high oil milk replacer, or different volumes or concentrations:

Energy supplied/calf/day (MJ)

16% oil, 
22% protein

20% oil,    
22% protein

4 litres – 12.5%



4 litres – 15%



5 litres – 12.5%



Remember your heifers have a large ability to grow during the milk feeding stage. Review their quantity of feed, as well as the quality.

Six steps to correct mixing

  1. Accurately weigh the milk powder on scales
  2. Use 125g of powder to 875ml water to make up one litre of mixed milk with a 12.5% solids concentration; using a full litre of water will lead to a weaker (11.1%) milk concentration
  3. Take half the water (below 45°C) and add all the powder
  4. Whisk until smooth
  5. Add the rest of the water and whisk again
  6. Check temperature (between 37-39°C) and feed

Find out more about rumen development in part 2 next week!

RABDF Youngstock Walk – Lancashire


Osbaldeston Hall Farm, Osbadleston, Lancashire

Free to attend, registration is essential.

The RABDF is pleased to invite you to this farm walk focusing on youngstock and heifer rearing – the day is aimed at dairy and beef farmers. The aim of the walk is to exchange information on calf health and welfare whilst improving the performance of dairy and beef youngstock rearing.

The event will be hosted by Chris and Erika Bargh, who are milking 125 cows on a Fullwood robotic system with the milk being sold to Sainsburys. The cows are calved all year round.

You will hear talks on:

  • ‘Prevent profit from going down the drain – dealing with calf scours’ – Boehringer Ingelheim
  • ‘Feeding the Future’ – For Farmers
  • ‘Feed for Growth: Growing better cows’ – Volac
  • ‘Make your farm a fortress – Johnes & BVD control’ – XL Vets
  • ‘Managing air climate, keeping cold calves clean, cosy but fresh’ – Jamie Robertson

RABDF chief executive, Nick Everington commented: “Farmers are focusing attention on rearing youngstock to enable their replacement heifers to calve at an optimum age and in turn realise their true potential. These two events are designed to provide all producers with information which will helps them realise their targets and in turn step up overall herd performance and efficiency.”

To reserve a free place, please go to or phone 0845 458 2711