Calf and Heifer Housing
To achieve this goal, the facility must:
- produce replacement heifers that are ready to breed at 13 to 15 months of age;
- provide a comfortable, healthy environment for calves and heifers;
- provide a convenient working environment for the operator. A complete calf and heifer raising facility must meet a number of other requirements from an animal's birth to freshening.
The newborn calf represents the highest genetic potential for milk production on a well-managed farm. Therefore, the care given in raising this animal should be consistent with its high value. A variety of methods and facilities can be used to raise a replacement dairy animal. Facilities can be old structures or new facilities, elaborate or simple. However, they must provide a management and housing system that allows the dairyman to consistently produce healthy replacement animals on a year-round basis.
There are seven groupings in a housing system based on the age of the calf or heifer. The needs of these groups vary according to management, feeding, and health requirements. Groups may be housed separately or combined in the same facility. The age groupings are:
- Group I - zero to two months old, single pen or stall
- Group 2 - two to four months old, weaning pen with three to five calves the same age
- Group 3 - four to six months old, variety of housing choices
- Group 4 - six to nine months old, variety of housing choices
- Group 5 - nine to twelve months old, variety of housing choices
- Group 6 - twelve to eighteen months old, variety of housing choices
- Group 7 - eighteen months to calving, variety of housing choices
A growing animal's needs change with age. Various age groups will not always contain the same number of animals. A flexible system that will accommodate changing requirements in management, housing, feeding, and overall animal care is a must. The number of groups housed on an individual farm depends on facilities and, more important, on the number of animals. Groups 4 through 7 may be combined in one form or another when the total number of heifers is small.
A well-designed and properly managed maternity pen or area is necessary to a good calf and heifer management program. A grassy pasture area, maintained exclusively for calving, makes a very satisfactory maternity area during warm weather, but weather conditions in Pennsylvania dictate that indoor maternity pens be used for a large part of the year. A maternity pen should:
- be separate from other animals;
- be clean and well bedded, preferably with straw;
- have skid resistant floor;
- be a minimum of 12 feet by 12 feet in size;
- have a stanchion to restrain the animal and a lifting ring;
- have drinking water available.
A separate maternity pen should be provided for every 20 to 25 mature cows. These maternity pens should not be routinely used for treating or holding sick animals. In the event a maternity pen is used to treat a sick animal, the area should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before being used for calving.
A maternity pen should be large enough to allow cow and calf movement and to permit. access to the cow in the event of complications. A pen approximately 12 feet by 12 feet allows space for the cow and calf, and facilitates treatment when necessary. The animal can easily be restrained by a stanchion placed on one side of the pen. A lifting ring or similar device, centered over the pen, should be provided to help· "downer" cows. Gates and doors must be wide enough (6 feet or more) to admit power equipment into the area for cleaning or removal of downed animals.
Maternity pens should be separate from the milking herd or other young calves. This is best accomplished in a separate facility. It also can be a closed-off area in the same facility provided it has its own ventilation system.
Group 1 (calves under two months of age)
Special provisions should be made to get baby calves off to a good start. To minimize disease transmission, they should be separated from older animals in dry and draft-free living quarters, designed to facilitate easy feeding and regular observation.
General requirements for calves under two months on predominately liquid diets are:
- individual hou.sing for each calf;
- isolation from older animals;
- well-ventilatd but draft-free quarters;
- dry pens with ample bedding;
- suitable location to encourage regular observation;
- pens designed so the dairy farmer can conveniently work in the area;
- pens easily cleaned and sanitized between use.
Several types of housing can be used to meet these requirements. These include individual calf hutches, solar or gang calf hutches, and floor pens with solid sides in well-ventilated buildings. Experience indicates that proper ventilation is much more important to calf health than warm temperatures. Therefore, select a housing system that provides good ventilation year-round. Naturally ventilated "cold housing" is excellent for maintaining good calf health. Calf hutches or solar hutches are excellent because they provide their own suitable ventilation system. Floor level pens can be used in cold barns that are properly ventilated. If natural ventilation openings cannot be provided, exhaust fans may be necessary.
Insulated, heated, mechanically ventilated calf barns are not recommended. They cost more to build and operate correctly than "cold housing" systems. Increased sickness and management problems outweigh perceived benefits of warmer temperatures provided by this housing system.
Group 2 (calves two to four months old)
This period in a calfs life is also critical for good growth. A small group housing facility for three to five calves should be provided for a postweaning period of at last one month. The housing and environmental conditions should be similar to the baby calf facility and preferably be located in the same area to minimize stress on the calf caused by changes in living· arrangements. Placement with the zero to two months-old calves allows for regular feeding and observation of the two groups. Such an arrangement also minimizes calf stress at this early age. Housing for this age group can include large group hutches, sometimes called super hutches, located adjacent to the calf hutch area, or an open front shed. Buildings with individual pens for baby calves should also have a group pen at least 12 feet by 12 feet to house three to five postweaning calves. Whether group hutch or inside pen, the weaning area should provide:
- continuously available frostproof water;
- at least 18 inches of bunk space for each calf with stanchions or dividers to define individual eating areas;
- ample bedding and protection from drafts;
- a location to encourage regular observation;
- easy mechanical cleaning.
Group 3 through 7 (heifers five months old to calving)
Once the calf is well adjusted to group living and is eating from community feed bunks and waterers, there are a variety of choices available for housing. The main requirements for these age groups are dictated by the increased space needed as the animal gets older, changes in rations, herd health, breeding, and observation. The degree of shelter required decreases with age.
A housing facility for heifers from five months to freshening must provide:
- grouping by age and size for each group;
- ease of movement of animals from one group to another;
- ease of observation;
- feeding by age groups as necessary;
- restraint facilities for treatment and breeding;
- convenient manure removal and bedding as necessary;
- continually available frostproof water;
- good natural ventilation.
These requirements are best met by a series of free stall areas, bedded packs, or pens along a feed bunk. Three housing types commonly used in Pennsylvania are gated free stall barns, gated bedded packs, and gated counter-slope barns. On many farms, existing buildings and sheltered pastures may also be used to quarter some or all of the groups.
The advantages of single barn grouping include efficient chore patterns, ease in moving animals from group to group within the barn, and better, more consistent observation. However, if good usable facilities are available at different locations, this method also can be adequate so long as safe and convenient movement of animals between locations is possible.
When using existing facilities, make sure they are suitable for normal heifer growth. Inconvenient, poorly ventilated, moisture laden structures can result in poor heifer growth, more health problems, and increased labor. Converting existing facilities for heifer housing can often cost more than planned. Also, repair and upkeep costs can be a financial burden. Locating animals that require regular observation in remote locations can reduce productivity. When considering renovation of an old building for heifer housing, evaluate its location, condition, and size. The most difficult step in renovation of an old building is making a realistic judgment of the value of the building and how much to spend. It is important to remember that, even after extensive, costly renovation, the facility may still be inconvenient and outdated.
For Pennsylvania conditions, individual 4 feet by 8 feet calf hutches provide highly satisfactory housing for baby calves. The individual calf hutch is a small, completely open front ·structure in which one baby calf is raised from zero to about two months of age or until weaning. The calf is restrained in the calf hutch area by either a fenced-in front yard or by a short chain tether. The most common and successful calf hutches are made from plywood, fiberglass, or other solid materials, and are roughly 8 feet deep, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet high. Fenced-in exercise areas are usually the width of the hutch and 4 feet to 8 feet long and are located in front of the hutch. During cool or cold weather, it is important that the sidewalls and back of the hutch be completely air tight to prevent drafts from blowing through the hutch. During the hot summer, hutches with small ventilation panels that open in the back appear to be more comfortable for the calf. If a back opening is provided, it is critical that it be closed tightly during the winter.
The hutch should be placed on a dry, elevated area to exclude surface water. Often a base of sand or gravel is necessary to accomplish this. Lightweight hutches should be anchored to prevent wind from blowing them over. Normally, the hutch faces south to allow the winter sun to penetrate as much as possible. The hutch should not be placed where older animals can have access to the calves or near exhaust fans from dairy barns. The hutch should be well bedded with straw, shavings, or other suitable material. Hay and grain should be placed just inside the front section of the hutch to keep these materials dry. A rack to hold a small bucket is best for grain feeding, and provides for easy feeding, cleaning, and sanitizing. A second bucket rack located outside the hutch, usually on the pen fence, can be used for liquid feeding. Locating the feeding area to the front and outside the hutch helps reduce bedding maintenance.
When a calf is moved to another housing system, the hutch should be tipped, and all manure cleaned from surfaces, as well as the area beneath it. Washing and disinfecting the hutch gives additional protection from the spread of disease from one calf to another. If the calf hutch is to be used immediately, it should be moved to another location, to allow the original area to dry.
Surface water drainage problems around the site and blowing or drifting snow must be considered when deciding on the location of a calf hutch. It should be placed in an area near where calf feed is prepared and stored, as well as convenient for regular observation.
Hutches for individual calves should be placed on a dry, elevated base of sand or gravel. A fenced in front yard or short chain tether holds the calf. Provide a bucket rack for two pails, one for liquid, the other for grain. The hutch should also include a hay rack.
Solar or Gang Calf Hutch
Another type of self-contained portable housing for baby calves is a solar hutch. This building is a portable skid-mounted unit, usually containing three to five individual calf pens, 3 feet to 4 feet wide, and approximately 7 feet deep. The open front and the low sloping roof allows penetration of sunlight during the winter months, and provides shade from the hot summer sun.
As in the case of individual hutches, the solar hutch should be located on an elevated base of sand or gravel to exclude surface water. Placement should prevent blowing snow from entering the structure. In areas with high winds it is advisable to tie the unit down with stakes or guy wires.
The divider walls between each calf within the hutch must be made of solid material and extend beyond the front feeding area to prevent physical contact between calves. Access to the pen is provided by a removable front gate that also serves as a feeding unit. The front gate can be made to hold buckets for liquid feed and grain. The hay rack can be placed on the side of the pen, or incorporated in the front gate.
In severe cold weather, a removable cover can be placed over the back 3 feet to 4 feet of the calf pens within the solar hutch for more protection. In summer weather, the top 8 inches of the back wall swings down to provide cross ventilation for the calves. When using a solar hutch be sure the area between the skids on both ends is plugged with bedding to prevent cross drafts.
After calves have "graduated" from the hutch, it can be either tipped on its backside or skidded to another location to allow for cleanup of the base area and interior scraping and washing. If the hutch is to be reused immediately, it may be desirable to skid it to a new clean and dry location.
Solar hutches provide more protection for the calf feeder but have the flexibility of a portable system. The number of pens within each solar hutch tends to dictate the number of calves weaned and moved at any one time. Farmers raising small numbers of calves should use hutches with fewer pens per unit. Calves can be removed at the same time and the entire hutch cleaned and disinfected for reuse.
The roof on this gang of individual calf hutches allows winter sunlight to warm the calf and protects the operator during feeding. One calf is housed in each 4' by 7' section. Solid sides prevent contact between calves.
A very satisfactory facility for raising baby calves can be provided by placing portable solid-sided individual calf pens inside a building for shelter from wind, rain, and snow. New buildings can be constructed for this purpose or existing machine sheds, hay storage barns, or other farm buildings can be used. The main criteria are that they be well ventilated to prevent buildup of moisture and condensation, and that they provide for convenient calf care and cleanup. Each calf pen should be a minimum of 4 feet by 6 feet. A 4 feet by 8 feet pen is preferable. The pen should have three solid sides and a partially open front to allow for feeding and also to prevent stale air from being trapped within the pen. As in the case of solar hutches, the pen fronts and sides should be designed to prevent physical contact between calves.
A 4' by 8' individual pen that can be easily disassembled for cleaning can be used in a variety of new or existing barns, particularly those that are cold and well ventilated. The solid sides protect the caff from drafts. The slatted front prevents foul air from being trapped in the pen. Buckets for liquid and solid feed are located outside for easy access and to minimize contamination by manure.
The pens should be of a modular construction so they may be easily disassembled and removed for cleaning. Portable pens that can be disassembled and cleaned then used in another location, allow the barn to remain vacant for extended periods of-time to help control disease buildup. Barns and pens should be cleaned as soon as calves are removed and allowed to stand idle for as long as possible.
As in a hutch, the calf can find the location within the pen that is most comfortable for her. Removable covers can be placed over the rear 3 to 4 feet during extremely cold weather. Feeding fronts and provision for feeding hay can be similar to those used with solar hutches. Two pail holders should be provided, one to hold grain, the other for liquid feed. A hay rack should be available as well.
When designing new structures or renovating old ones, provide enough space so a tractor can easily be used to clean under pens.
Various modifications of these calf housing systems are normally quite successful, provided the basic principles of each system are maintained.
A heated utility area for feed preparation and cleaning utensils should be located near the inside pens. If a special barn is constructed for calf raising, consider locating a small insulated room within the barn to contain the hot water tank, wash sink, calf replacer, medicines, and records. Windows appropriately placed in this utility room can allow observation of the calf feeding area.
At least one weaning pen should be located in buildings where calves are started. The weaning pen should be a minimum of 12 feet by 12 feet and accessible for mechanical cleanout. If more than five calves are likely to be weaned per month, more than one pen will be necessary. Its location should allow good ventilation and prevent drafts. In many cases, it is advisable that the pen have two to three solid sides at calf level. Continuously available fresh water and a feed bunk should be located on one side or corner of the pen to separate the dirtier feeding and watering areas from the bedding area. For most feeding and management systems, it is important that all calves be able to eat from the feed bunk at the same time. Therefore, allow 18 inches of feed bunk per calf, with dividers or stanchions to minimize pushing and crowding by the more aggressive animals. Hay may be fed in the feed bunk or from a separate hay rack, depending on personal choice.
A 12' by 12' pen near individual calf pens provides easy transition for weaned calves. Solid sides around the resting area reduce drafts. Feed and water should be located along the open side away from the resting area. Place only 3 to 5 calves in the pen to minimize crowding and competition for feed.
If lockups are not provided along the feed bunk, at least one self-locking stanchion should be conveniently located for animal restraint.
Group Hutch Weaning
A large skid-mounted open-front shed 8 feet to 10 feet wide by 12 feet to 16 feet long makes a very satisfactory group weaning facility, especially when calf hutches are used. An outside yard is also desirable. Animals in the group hutch should have access to continuously available fresh running water and 18 inches of feed bunk space per calf. Locating the feeding unit and waterer in the outside yard will help keep bedding in better condition. Place a cover over the outside feeders to maintain feed quality and encourage eating in inclement weather.
For cleaning between weaning groups, skid the hutch to one side, wash thoroughly, and remove the manure pack. The hutch and front yard should be elevated from surrounding surfaces to allow for good drainage. When convenient, change hutch and yard locations between groups. Water may freeze in the large portable hutches. This problem can be eliminated by installing a frostproof waterer with a surrounding concrete pad. Portable fences and gates can be manipulated to service more than one hutch or hutch location.
Since the animals in the weaning pen are larger and have a fair amount of free space, a restraint facility should be provided to hold the animal for examinations and veterinary treatment. Fence line feeders with stanchions can meet this need. A simple arrangement of hinged gates located on one side and front of the hutch can also provide sufficient restraint for animal care.
Open Front Shed
An open front shed, with or without an exercise yard, is another satisfactory facility for weaning calves. The shed might be a specially constructed building, a renovated shed, or the end of an existing barn. The requirements for space are the same as for weaning pens or group hutches. Adequate ventilation and draft control for both summer and winter are a must. The pen should allow access for tractor cleanout. Other housing areas should be available so the weaning pen can be cleaned and left idle for a short time between groups of calves.
A permanent or skid-mounted open front shed can be used to wean calves from hutches. Skid-mounted units can be moved tor cleaning or use in more than one place. Frostproof water is required and an exercise yard is desirable.
Combination Baby Calf and Weaning Pens
Some farmers develop a baby calf raising facility that can be converted to an appropriate weaning pen. Various units have been developed that can house individual baby calves until weaning age, when divider partitions are removed to make a larger pen for the weaning group. Baby calves require individual housing units of 24 to 32 square feet per calf, with solid sides to protect them from drafts and prevent access to other animals. The unit must be well ventilated to allow for removal of moisture and odor buildup from bedded packs. At weaning time, the unit must provide for group living of three to five calves that is draft free, dry, and easily bedded, and accessible for mechanical cleanup. Other requirements are continuously available fresh frostproof water and adequate feed space.
Gated Free Stall Barn
Gated free stall barns are popular in Pennsylvania because they can be managed to provide healthy, clean, well-grown heifers with minimum labor and bedding requirements. An alley with two rows of free stalls and a feeding alley along a feed bunk are constructed parallel to each other. The resulting two straight scrape alleys provide for very efficient manure removal, and the continuous feed bunk allows easy feeding. The free stall length and width are adjusted to match the age group pens specifications. False fronts are used to shorten free stalls for younger animals, while maintaining a straight curb line.
Divider gates between groups in both alleys serve to block off cross alleys during cleaning. This arrangement allows the operator to walk through the barn, driving animals to one side or the other, opening the divider gates for cleaning, and, at the same time, locking in heifers on the other side of the barn. The gates should be hung on posts set far enough back over alley curbs so the gates, when opened, are protected from the tractor and scraper by the concrete curb. Locating waterers in the feed alley so two groups can share a single waterer reduces the investment in frostproof waterers. Self-locking stanchions can be placed along the feed bunk for animal restraint. If self-locking stanchions are not provided, other allowances for animal restraint and treatment should be made for each group.
It is recommended that gated free stall barns be "cold" naturally ventilated barns. This reduces construction costs, makes ventilation system management simpler, and results in good heathy animals. For typical gated free stall barns, a 36 feet to 40 feet wide barn with natural ventilation is used. Total capacity is determined by building length. Larger barns may be constructed with two gated free stall arrangements facing each other along a center feed driveway. In either case, continuous open ridges and openings along the eaves on both sidewalls are required. During hot weather, the barn should be open as much as possible. At a minimum, one-half of both sidewalls should be opened their entire length. Some of these openings should be at animal level to expose them to cross ventilation on hot, still days.
Manure cleaning in a gated free stall barn is done with a tractor and scraper, Provisions should be made to scrape this manure to a push-off lip or gutter cleaner for direct loading into a spreader or manure storage area.
A gated free stall barn provides a convenient facility for calves 4 months of age and older. Gates across the barn allow for multiple groups. These same gates, when opened for cleaning, hold animals on one side of the barn Each section must have access to frostproof water. Self-locking stanchions along the feed bunk provide convenient animal restraint.
Gated Bedded Pack Barn
A gated bedded pack barn is similar to a gated free stall barn, except the rear portion is a bedded pack resting area instead of free stalls. A single concrete scrape alley runs along the feed bunk on the front side of the bedded pack. Gates and partitions that separate the animals into groups are arranged so that the gates can be opened to scrape the feed alley and also block the heifers on the bedded pack. The feeding and watering area should be located along the concrete scrape alley to allow for convenient and regular cleaning and reduce bedding use. Many farmers construct a barn with the dimensions of a gated free stall barn, then begin with a bedded pack system.
If this arrangement is not satisfactory at a later date, it can be converted easily to a gated free stall arrangement. Approximately 30 to 50 square feet of bedded area are required for each animal in a bedded pack barn. The size may vary according to the age of the animal. Approximately 7 to 9 feet should be allowed for the scrape alley. Since the bedded pack builds up with use, it is important that cross partitions and gates have adjustable hinges and mountings so they can be raised as the bedded pack becomes deeper. Construct building walls around the pack area of concrete or heavy planking wherever manure will build up against them. Divider gates on the bedded pack side can be used during bedded pack cleanout to pen animals in the feed alley.
A gated bedded pack barn is inexpensive to build if ample bedding is available. Divider gates and a scrape alley along the teed bunk allow regular cleaning and prolong bedding life. Frostproof water should be located along the scrape alley. Self-locking stanchions along the feed bunk make animal restraint convenient.
Counter Slope Housing
A counter slope heifer facility is a modification of the bedded pack system. It is normally placed in an open front building that covers a sloped concrete resting area along a single scrape alley. Proper orientation allows sunlight to enter the resting area during winter months. Animal traffic works the manure off the resting area into the scrape alley. The resting area and feed bunk apron are sloped 1 to 2 inches per foot toward the alley. This system requires no bedding if properly managed. Some operators, however, choose to use slight amounts of bedding for the youngest animals or during severe weather. Since no bedding is normally used, animals are often much dirtier than those housed in other facilities. Experience has shown no adverse effects on animal health or growth rate from lack of bedding. The layout of this system does not allow easy access to the resting area for bedding or mechanical cleaning. Therefore, an operator who chooses to do this defeats the purpose of the barn and has a labor intensive and inefficient unit. A covered feed bunk is located on the other side of the scrape alley. As in the case of the resting area, the floor is sloped so animal traffic works manure into the scrape alley.
A counters/ope barn is designed for use without bedding. The resting and feeding areas slope towards a manure scrape alley. Animal traffic works the manure into the a/fey. Dividing gates swing open to hold animals in the resting area while the alley is being scraped. Orientation allows sunlight to warm the resting area during winter. Since no bedding is used and there is always some manure in the resting area, animals are often dirty.
Low, solid partitions are used to divide the resting area for desired groupings. Floor to ceiling partitions for the youngest group will provide additional protection. Swinging gates across the scrape alley and feed apron keep animals separated into groups. When' opened for scraping, the gates hold the animals in the resting area. Manure can be removed by a tractor-scraper along the alley, through a slatted floor in the alley for underfloor storage, or by flushing, gravity gutter, or mechanical scraper.
When using existing facilities, it is sometimes necessary to use animals in group pens with no access to outside yards or feed bunks. The pens are bedded with feed bunks along one side. When group pens must be used, they should be designed according to animal size and number to be in the pen at any given time. In general, a bedded pen is not recommended because of high bedding and labor requirements. If possible, inside pens should be designed in a rectangular form, providing a defined feeding area on one end and a resting area on the other. This arrangement will tend to keep the resting area cleaner and, with proper gate location, can become a miniature version of a gated pack barn, allowing animals to be held on one side while the other side is cleaned.
Shelters and Pastures
Three-sided open front bedded barns or mounds and windbreaks can be used while pasturing older animals. In most situations, provisions for supplemental feeding must be made. Portable hay racks and silage bunks, a concrete slab with fence line feed bunk, or mechanical bunks shared by older cows can be used.
Before designing and/or building your own calf and heifer facilities, make sure you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each system. Visit some of the facilities in your area and seek the advice of dairymen who currently use these structures. Plan ahead or you may end up with a system that does not work well for your needs.
Calf and Heifer Housing Plans available from the county Extension Office or 204 Agricultural Engineering Building, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802
- 723-214 Calf Hutch With Movable Paddock
- 723-219 Solar Calf Kennel
- 723-505 Group Calf Hutch
- 723-506 Minnesota Super Calf Hutch
- 723-202 Heifer Barn-Gated Free Stall
- 723-204 Heifer Barn-Free Stall (gutter cleaner)
- 723-201 Heifer Barn Loose Housing
- 723-388 Youngstock Housing Facility (counter-sloped)
- NRAES FS-34 Naturally Ventilated Dairy Cattle Housing Guideline
|*Groups 4 to 7 may be combined in one form or another when the total number of heifers is small. When selecting which groups to combine, consider feeding requirements, management needs, and size or age of animals.
+Feed space per animal may be reduced approximately 20 percent in groups over 6 months of age if total mixed rations are fed.
|1||0-2 months||1||24-32 ft²||-Individual Grain Pail
|2||2-4 months||3-5||3 weeks
||30 ft²||18 inches with Dividers
||30 ft²||15 inches
||Self-Closing Fenceline or Chute and Stanchion or Headgate|
|4||6-9 months||10-20||3 months
||30 ft²||15 inches||30 inches
||10-20||3 months||200 lbs
||30 ft²||18 inches||34 inches
|6||12-18 months||10-20||6 months||300 lbs||40 ft²||20 inches||38 inches||72 inches|
|7||18 months to calving||10-20||6 months||300 lbs||40 ft²||22 inches||42 inches||84 inches|