Is your calf accommodation up to scratch?


With the continuous expansion of dairy herds in recent years and the number of calves born in the country having increased to in excess of 620,000 in February alone, We give you a guide to the perfect calf housing, is your calf accommodation adequate

Is your calf accommodation up to scratch?

  • ADDED
  • 10 mths ago

With the continuous expansion of dairy herds in recent years and the number of calves born in the country having increased to in excess of 620,000 in February alone, We give you a guide to the perfect calf housing, is your calf accommodation adequate

According to recent data published by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, January 2018 saw a total of 224,719 calves registered in Ireland in total, with a further 627,143 born in February!

This makes calf accommodation all the more important and in light of such, we have a guide on what is required from the ideal calf housing unit! Continue reading below to see if your current facilities make the grade!

Air -
There are a few must-haves when it comes to calf accommodation, the first of which is ensuring the housing is a completely draught-free environment with good air ventilation.

Calves in their early days are very vulnerable animals and are susceptible to many illnesses such as pneumonia. They should always be kept in a dry, draught free area, as any draughts will lead to energy and heat loss. You should aim to have temperatures in calf accommodation at greater than 20 degrees and a calf house, according to Teagasc, should have at least six air changes per hour.

As always, Ventilation is very important in calf housing, as they are particularly susceptible to pneumonia and any air inlets should be located at heights greater than the height of a calf. Teagasc say that there should be a minimum of 7m3/calf total house cubic air capacity provided per calf at birth, increasing to 10m3 by two months of age.

Animal Health Ireland advise that a roof pitch of 22 degrees (a rise of 1 in 2.5) will give the best performance under “stack effect” and “wind effect” ventilation. Good ventilation will help eliminate toxic gases, draughts, stagnant air, airborne contaminations, decrease airborne pathogen concentrations, decrease airborne endotoxin levels, whilst also maintaining the optimum temperatures and environmental humidity levels.

Bedding -
As calves spend approximately 80% of their time lying down, ensuring you have the correct bedding is very important. Concrete surfaces should always be covered with some sort of bedding, in order to prevent falls and the spread of harmful bacteria.

In order to maintain dry conditions in a pen, Teagasc advise that calves need up to 20kg/head/per week of straw bedding. When slats are used under the straw, this total can be halved.
There are many other bedding alternatives which are suitable for rearing calves, according to Teagasc, which you can read in the table below.

Material Suitable (Yes/No) Reasoning
Bark Chips Yes Wood chips, tan bark and post peelings are absorbent bedding materials with good insulating properties and low palatability to calves.
Straw/Hay Yes Using straw or hay as a bedding should be avoided if it is also supplied as a dietary fibre source. Calves may consume contaminated bedding and increase their exposure to pathogens. For example, if you use straw for bedding, feed hay as the forage/ fibre source.
Wood Shavings Yes, if untreated Treated wood/pine shavings or sawdust should not be used as these can be toxic if consumed.

Not Suitable: Some products not suitable to rearing calves is sand, which provides no insulation or absorption qualities, sawdust, which is less suitable than wood shavings, and rubber mats, which are only suitable for use alongside other beddings. One their own they get too cold, leading to energy loss.

Calves require a minimum of 1.7m2 lying space per calf, with a maximum of 50 calves per unit. The target per pen should be 4-5 calves maximum. To avoid overcrowding, sell any surplus calves at the earliest convenience.

When setting up your pens, one should ensure there is an adequate drainage system in place for each pen. This will help prevent the build-up of moisture within the bedding and will also prevent the development of bacteria and pathogens. A wet calf pen will lead to health problems and in turn, will hit your pocket.



Regular Cleaning and hygiene checks -
All sheds should be cleaned and disinfected prior to the introduction of any new calves to the housing unit.

After the calf’s introduction, pens should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. Calves should really be given fresh bedding every day, as this helps prevent the development of pathogens.

Food and Water -
Having access to plenty of food and a clean supply of water is very important in the development of a calf.

Having access to clean water is particularly important when animals have scour or are extremely dehydrated. If they have access to contaminated supplies and are thirsty, they will drink it!
Calves should also have adequate feeding and drinking space. This not only prevents ‘bullying’ but also ensures your calves are each getting all they need. When bucket feeding, calves will need up to 350mm of feed space each.

With automatic feeders, ensure that each pen has access to at least one teat. Teagasc advise that meal troughs should be at least 450mms above floor level, while 100mm deep and 250mm wide.


(Picture - JFC AGri)

Lighting -
Lighting is another important factor to consider when preparing your calf housing unit.

Approximately 10% of the roof area should accommodate for natural light (E.G: Perspex sheeting) while with artificial light, about five watts per meter squared is the general threshold.



The 'Don’ts' of calf accommodation -
  • When housing calves, never house a group of younger calves with older ones, as the competition for food, space and water will see some thrive and some falling behind.
  • Don’t group calves at two weeks old.
  • Never mix animals from different pens.
  • Never return ill or previously isolated calves back to their original group.
Check out the full guide from Teagasc on calf rearing here.

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