Is your calf housing up to par?

Calf housing facilities are an important part of any dairy farm, with below-par facilities leading to increased sickness among calves.

The growth of the national dairy herd in recent years has meant there has been an increase in the number of calves born on farms. On most farms, building infrastructure is lagging behind cow numbers.

Calf housing

In turn, this has meant that calf sheds are also lagging behind, with many farmers using existing sheds as temporary accommodation for calves.

With the current price of building materials many farmers may be delaying the build of a new shed.

To reduce sickness rates within calves it is important to complete an audit of your calf shed or the building you plan on using for calves.

Some small improvements can reduce illness and improve calf performance in the shed.

Ventilation

Ventilation is important in a calf shed, to allow for clean air to circulate. According to Animal Health Ireland (AHI), the minimum air outlet for young calves is 0.04m2 for calves up to 100kg.

Outlets are ideally located in the roof ridge, but can be located on other parts of the roof too.

It is also important that air can access the shed but not cause a draught. It is recommend that the inlet be two, to four times the size of the outlet.

A commonly used material on newer calf sheds is 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.

Image source: Teagasc

Draughts

Although air inlets are important, they should not be causing a draught at calf level.

Young calves ideally need a temperature of between 15-20° – this is hard enough to achieve in early spring without a draught.

The only way you will truly know if there is a draught is to get down to calf level.

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 improve calf performance.

It should also be noted that improvements to calf facilities can be lost by overcrowding in the shed, so this should be avoided.