Ideally, all calf housing would enable the calves to be in an environment which has good ventilation and have low humidity. This will help reduce the risk of any airborne diseases. However, in reality, most calf housing rarely meets these criteria. It is not expected that all calf housing to be luxurious, but with some effort and careful planning, the farmers have the ability to ensure that the basic needs of calves can be met. Even small alterations can have a very big impact on the comfort and performance of the calves. Every calf housing will be different as individual calves have different requirements. However, there will be some basic factors which are constant.
Here are some basic requirements for a good calf housing:
Ensure that the calves have a clean, dry bed in a well ventilated but draught free conditions.
New born calves needs to kept in housing with temperature less than 7ºC. At the age of one month old, calf have the ability to withstand temperatures around freezing point.
The width of individual stall or pen for the calf from birth till eight weeks old should be at least equal to the height of the calf at the withers. This is measured at a standing position. Hence, the pens should be at least 1.5 x 0.9m, but ideally, it should be 1.8 x 1.0m.
Calf should always have a dry bed. The concrete floors should have a minimum slope of 5%. This would enable effective drainage of water and urine.
Space allowances for group housed calves
It is highly recommended that calves are housed in groups no greater than 12. This would make it easier to identify sick calves and hence would allow prompt treatment. There should also be less than 30 calves sharing the same space. Younger calves should also not share the same air space with older cattle.
It is crucial to ensure low humidity in calf housing. Humidity would increase if there is poor drainage, especially when calves are bucket fed, around automatic feeders and by water bowls and troughs. One solution is to have a drainage channel underneath the buckets with good falls to a drain, usually situated outside of the building. One of the consequence of ad libitum feeding is large amount of urine on the floor. Hence, a slope of 5% is encouraged to enable drainage of urine.
It is crucial to have good ventilation system in the calf housing. Dust and gas can have negative effects on the health of young calves. It will irritate the respiratory tract and mucous membrane, causing permanent damage to the lungs.
The inlet and outlet areas should be approximately 0.05m² and 0.04m² per calf respectively. The outlet should be at least 1.5m above the ventilation inlet.
Good ventilation will prevent respiratory and other diseases as it removes stale and damp air which ensures that viruses and bacteria cannot survive for long outside the animal.