Calf Housing and Management
Baby calves need adequate nutrition, housing and other types of care to grow into a healthy and productive adult cow or bull. It helps to have a good understanding of best calf management practices and how each practice benefits both the calves and you as a livestock owner.
Here are some quick tips for properly caring for calves:
- Keep young calves separated until they are weaned. Once a calf has been weaned and if a calf is healthy and disease-free, release the calf into the herd.
- Sanitize calf pens, hutches, waterers and buckets before introducing a new calf into a previously-occupied space.
- Work with your local ag extension service to develop a biosecurity plan for proper herd management.
Separate Housing for Calves
Cattle enjoy being part of a herd, and they often feel isolated and threatened when they become separated from the herd. Despite this, it is a best calf management procedure to keep young calves housed separately from one another and from the herd until they are weaned. This is to protect the calf from becoming infected by any type of contagious outbreak within the herd or from another calf. It is also to keep the rest of the herd protected from any type of contagion that could be transmitted by the calf.
A calf may not enjoy being isolated from its peers; however having separate living quarters for young calves is an important part of herd management. To reduce anxiety in isolated calves, place single calf pens close enough together so that calves can hear or even see each other without having nose-to-nose contact.
There are two types of single calf housing options, including calf hutches and indoor pens.
Calf hutches are not only the most popular form of housing for calves, but they also enable proper herd management. In the case of a contagious outbreak, calf hutches can be easily moved or re-organized, allowing for more flexibility in your biosecurity plan. Often made of Fiberglas or plastic, calf hutches can be easily cleaned and sanitized. Most commercially-available calf hutches have bottle and bucket racks built in. Calf hutches should be placed in a well-drained area and secured with stakes so the hutch can withstand heavy winds. Place the hutch with the opening facing south to ensure the calf will have the warmest and most secure environment possible.
Indoor Pens and Livestock Barns
Many livestock owners keep calves in single pens inside a barn. Barns should be well-lit and have good ventilation. Livestock owners should keep barns and pens as sanitary as possible, especially when keeping calves. This will help reduce the chances of a contagious outbreak.
One disadvantage to keeping calves in a single pen inside of a barn is that, in the case of a disease outbreak, pens are not easily moved and there is less space to work.
Regardless of which calf housing option you choose, it is always good to provide the calf with an area of at least 12-16 square feet. Line the entire area with a thick layer of bedding to keep the calf warm, comfortable, clean and dry. Lay down an extra layer of straw on top of the calf's bedding to insulate from colder weather. Completely replace bedding and sanitize the stall when a new calf is introduced to the hutch or pen. If possible, allow the hutch or pen to sit empty for a month or two prior to introducing a new calf into the same space to prevent the spread of disease.
How to Reduce Stress among Calves Transitioning to Group Housing
Once a calf has been weaned, it is almost ready to release into the herd. Weaning is usually a stressful time for a calf because the calf is used to suckling, and how it has nothing to suckle. Newly weaned calves will suckle just about anything they can get their mouths on, and this increases the chance of spreading disease. For this reason, it is recommended that cattle owners wait a few days after weaning to release a calf into the herd or into group housing. This will help reduce stress in the calf as well as give you time to introduce new feeds and feeding equipment. Introduce the calf into a small group of 3 or 4 calves that are similar in size and age and watch the