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Facility Focus: The 5 Things to Look for in Calf Facilities

Taylor Leach


June 17, 2021



Just like calves, calf facilities come in all different shapes and sizes. While one type of facility might work for one producer, it may not work for another. Therefore, it’s important to customize your facilities to fit your specific needs. However, when building or remodeling a calf facility, there are five key factors every producer needs to keep in mind.

Ventilation

A poorly ventilated facility can wreak havoc on a calf’s respiratory system. Additionally, it can lead to reduced feed intake, lower growth rates and have long-term effects on a calf’s health. Therefore, having adequate ventilation is essential.


“Whether using mechanical or natural ventilation, the goal is to provide fresh air uniformly at the calf level throughout the housing facility, so all calves receive an adequate quantity of draft-free fresh air,” says Curt Gooch, senior extension associate at Cornell University. “A calf housing facility’s fresh air source is the ambient outside air. Therefore, proper ventilation means taking outside air and evenly distributing it throughout the barn.”


Comfort

Though we often hear about cow comfort, paying attention to calf comfort is also a necessity. According to Jim Salfer, an extension educator at the University of Minnesota, keeping calves comfortable means focusing on the bedding.


“Bedding plays a key role in calf comfort,” Salfer says. “Managing bedding during early preweaning is important. An ample, dry bed of fluffy material can provide a cushioned resting surface, help calves stay clean, act as a moisture absorption media, decrease the risks of disease and can help reduce stress.”


Protection

Mother Nature can sometimes be hard to deal with when it comes to raising calves, but keeping youngstock protected from the elements is a must. Extreme heat, cold, humidity or wind not only raises concerns for the calves, but for their caretakers as well.


“One of the biggest challenges with any housing system is the management of the calf’s environment,” Gooch says. “It is incumbent on the calf caretaker to make adjustments to the housing unit’s ventilation system in order to manage the microenvironment experienced by the calves.”


Cleanliness

No matter what type of housing system you prefer, it is essential to keep it clean.

“A clean living space reduces the number of pathogens the calf must overcome,” Salfer says. “In dirty conditions, calves use energy to fight mud, heat or pathogens. In clean conditions, calves can use this energy for growth and maturing instead.”


Labor Efficient

Any efficient space to work in makes it easier take care of the calves and can also improve employee morale. Be sure to analyze the flow of your facility and make sure it fits your needs.


“Labor efficiency for pre-weaned calf housing facilities must be evaluated,” Gooch says. “Raising dairy replacements represents between 15%-20% of the total farm costs, and labor expense is the second largest expense for the overall heifer enterprise. Housing facilities for pre-weaned calves need to be as labor efficient as possible without any sacrifice to animal health or performance.”


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