Calf farming: a guide to setting up your farm

Setting up your farm for raising calves

In this article, It’s farming, plans to start a farm to raise calves. We discuss the appropriate temperature for housing, hygiene requirements, drafts and ventilation, dryness of the calf shed and finally, pen design.

To improve calf performance and minimize the incidence and spread of disease, it is essential to set up your farm correctly for raising calves.

When aiming to produce a strong, well-developed and thriving calf, housing, general husbandry and calf health management are paramount to continued development.

A range of housing arrangements will influence and encourage a calf to thrive. When setting up a shed for successful calf raising, there are several factors to consider whether it’s your first time or not.

Housing temperature

A key aspect of a calf’s housing needs is barn temperature. During winter in Ireland it can be difficult to maintain the optimum air temperature for calves, which is 15-20 degrees Celsius.

The introduction of calf jackets can improve the air temperature supported by the calves if temperatures drop below the optimum temperature.

If you are introducing calf jackets to your farm, please ensure they are washed appropriately between each calf use. It will also reduce the occurrence of disease spread.

The use of heaters provides an advantage to calves during colder periods. This is especially the case for sick calves, for which infrared bulbs or quartz sheath heaters are used.

Think about hygiene

Deep steam cleaning aids in the removal of biofilm on areas such as doors and troughs. These areas can harbor infectious bacteria for up to 30 days.

In terms of hygiene and general welfare of the calves, they must have 24/7 access to clean water. The incorporation of drinking water, alongside milk, influences rumen development.

Another aspect of hygiene to consider is the isolation of sick calves. This will also control the spread of some common epidemics such as diarrhea. Once the sick calves are well enough to be reintroduced to the rest of the calves, be sure to clean the sick pen thoroughly.

When setting up your farm for raising calves, hygiene is at the forefront of success. Young calves are susceptible because their immunity is not yet fully developed, something to keep in mind.

Consider cleaning calf pens between batches. Also, be sure to replace and clean nipple feeders as needed and clean buckets and troughs between feedings.

When littering with straw, it is best to replenish daily. The first three months of a calf’s life are especially vital to its future health and performance.

Avoid drafts

Ventilation is essential for calf development, but ensure that drafts are kept out of all calf housing facilities.

Allowing adequate ventilation will reduce the presence of stale air, which will also help prevent disease in your calf shelter.

Additionally, there are a few things to consider in terms of proper ventilation, such as:

  • The side of the air inlets: these must be two to four times larger than the outlet;
  • Mechanical ventilation: this is where fresh air is generated through plastic tubes in ventilation holes;
  • Minimum Air Outlet: Outlets should be located at the roof ridge, and areas in the center of the shed such as chimneys can also be used. Better ventilation comes from a higher pitch;

Identifying condensation in the barn roof is a key sign of poor ventilation in your calf barn.

Opening the doors for ventilation results in a draft throughout the hangar. If this is your only source of ventilation, consider covering the top half of the door with a ventilated sheet.

Drains and dryness

When producing calves, a considerable amount of liquid is produced and handled in calf handling facilities.

Pathogens that exist in calf housing facilities generally survive better in moist conditions. Subsequently, promoting drought is an important objective.

The humidity in the calf shed will also make the air temperature colder than it is, which will create even more health problems for your calves.

Where there are soils that do not drain properly, farmer intervention will be required through a number of mechanisms. One option in this area would be to introduce sawdust where there is liquid in the hollows of the ground.

When considering a longer term solution, consider pouring a new concrete floor with slopes and gutters incorporated.

Try to house your calves on a dry bed, with any exposed floors also dry.

Consider the design of the pen

When designing pens, consider eye contact between calves in an area that is also easy to maintain and clean.

Plastic single calf pens are simple in design and you can remove them for pressure washing. Ideally, pen floors will have a slope to allow for effective drainage after cleaning.

Drainage channels installed in the floor can be used for the collection of urine/dirty water from the front of the enclosures and will also keep walk-through floors clean and dry.

In addition, there are advantages to herding calves in groups with regard to work efficiency. However, this increases the risk of spreading pathogens. If you are considering group pens for young calves, the requirement for competent hygiene is detrimental.

In the case where calves are adapted to be penned individually, the area for a calf from birth to 8 weeks of age must be at least 1.5 m2. The width of the pen should be equal to the height of the calf at the withers.

The environment in which you choose to raise calves on your farm impacts the risk of calf mortality and significant health issues, as well as potential lifetime performance.

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