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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
- Allow 1.5m2 for calves up to a live-weight of 150kg.
- 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)
- Feeding space for individually fed calves – 350mm per calf