Is your youngstock building meeting your calves’ requirements?


Is your youngstock building meeting your calves’ requirements?

Young calves are frequently housed in accommodation that’s somewhere convenient for feeding or unsuitable for larger cattle, rather than a building that has been designed for their own specific requirements. 

Whatever type of housing on your unit, check out the following three components – wind speed, air quality and humidity, together with drainage and hygiene.

Wind speed

Calves are very susceptible to the chilling effects of draughts. Even very mild draughts of a few miles an hour will chill them and subsequently reduce that all important feed conversion efficiency and increase susceptibility to disease. For example, a 5mph draught will reduce temperature felt by the calves by 8°C.

Calves should be protected from draughts by solid barriers that extend to floor level. If they are housed in an exposed building, then consider creating protected areas.


What to look out for 

  • On a breezy day check whether a lighter flame will flicker in the calf pen lying area
  • Do calves huddle in a particular area of the pen?
  • High feed levels and poor growth rates

Air quality 

Stale, stagnant air contaminated with dust, moisture, ammonia and viruses which can cause pneumonia needs to be removed and replaced by fresh air. Young calves don’t often generate sufficient heat to drive the stack effect, so you will need to consider introducing fan ventilation. If designed and sited appropriately, then they can ensure a ready supply of fresh air.

What to look out for

  • Ammonia smells in the shed
  • High incidence of calf pneumonia
  • Check ventilation using a smoke bomb or fogger

How to prevent problems

Establish good ventilation. Always ensure a minimum ventilation rate of six air changes per hour. In a ridge building, as a general rule of thumb, allow a minimum of 50mm of ridge opening for every 3m of building width.

Most calf houses would benefit from mechanical ventilation with a fan which flows in air from outside and distributes it down the length of the building through a duct.



High moisture levels in calf sheds promote the survival of harmful bacteria and viruses. Damp sheds are also colder than dry ones. You’ll need to consider how to prevent moisture entering from outside the building or removing the moisture that has been generated from inside the building by developing good drainage, using plenty of absorbent bedding, sweeping or scraping pooled moisture.

What to look out for

  • Wet floors
  • Sweat and dirt on coats
  • Condensation on underside of roof

Excess Moisture 

  • Increase the risk of bacteria and virus survival
  • Increase the risk of dirty water transmitting infection
  • Increase the requirement for bedding



Poor drainage leads to wetter beds which increase bedding requirements, can increase the risk of bacteria and virus survival, the calf will lose body heat to the environment resulting in energy being partitioned from growth to maintain body temperature.

How to avoid potential issues

Pen floor gradients need to be at least one-in-20 and one-in-10 below milk feeding area.


Good hygiene protocol should be implemented between every batch of calves. You need to ask yourself, how easy is it to clean the pens? Are they accessible for equipment to clean, and to bed?

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 1.8m2 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 1.5m2 for calves up to a live-weight of 150kg.

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



Computerised Calf Feeder ‘a great addition’ to Mayo farm

DSC01583-e1445251063537-1024x634The purchase of a Volac computerised calf feeder last February has been described as ‘a great addition to the farm’ by Mayo beef farmers Jarlath and Pat Heaney.

The father-and-son team, who farm in partnership, have a small suckling enterprise and also feed calves purchased from dairy farmers in the south, mainly Kerry.

They decided to increase the number of calves purchased this year.   As Pat combines his farm work with an off-farm job, they decided to purchase a computerised calf feeder to handle the extra calves.

Following consultation with Volac’s JP Harkin, they opted for a Volac Urban Quick feeder with the capacity to feed 100 calves at a time through three feed stations.  JP Harkin provided advice on modifying the layout of the existing calf shed in order to best accommodate the feeder.


With a total of 250 calves reared on the feeder over the past eight months, the Heaneys are very pleased with performance.   The first bunch of 100 was put on the feeder in February.   A second bunch of 100 went on to it in April and a third bunch of 50 was bought in July and are now almost ready for weaning off the feeder.

They also bucket-reared calves in January, before the computerised feeder was installed, and so are in a perfect position to compare performance.

“The calves that were bucket-reared in January have not performed as well as those that were reared on the feeder in February and March,” said Pat.

Calves  are fed Volac Olympian milk replacer and are weaned off the feeder after 63 days.  Pat is very happy with performance from the Olympian milk replacer.   Calves have access to clean fresh water at all times and straw is available in racks.   This is vital for optimum development of the rumen.

Concentrate is available in troughs close to the milk feeding stations.   Their experience so far is that calves are consuming at least 1kg of concentrate/day by the time they are weaned off the feeder.


With Pat working off the farm, labour is a huge issue and this is where the computerised feeder really scores.   It has dramatically reduced the labour load while allowing for a substantial increase in the number of calves reared.

It also gives them great flexibility.   If a bunch of calves becomes available they can purchase them and put them directly on the feeder without having to worry about the labour involved in manual feeding.

All male calves are reared to bull or steer beef.   Heifers are sold off the farm at 18 months as stores or as breeding heifers.   A big emphasis is placed on maximum performance from grass.   Calves are grazed in groups of 40 on a paddock system, all of which has been reseeded in the past five to seven years.

Growing Demand for calf feeders

Increasing dairy herd sizes and more beef farmers switching to calf rearing are driving demand for computerised calf feeders.

Volac continues to lead the way in the technological revolution in computerised feeding.   Full information on its range of feeders, including the Urban Quick Feeder and the Forster Techno Smart Synchrofeed system, will be available on the Volac stand at the Ploughing.

The feeders can handle up to 120 calves.  Talk to our specialists about the labour saving and calf health and performance benefits of computerised feeding.