Specific steps can be taken on-farm to create comfortable spaces which help alleviate stress and create the optimal conditions for successful calf growth and performance.
Why is comfort such an important part of successful on-farm calf management?
Paying attention to the level of environmental comfort during the first weeks of a calf's life will positively affect their health and future performance. Alternatively, poor environmental conditions can have negative effects on both immune status and growth, due to increased energy demands and stress. Research has shown that stressed calves not only have lower immunity and slower growth, but that their future performance can also be compromised.
What 5 factors influence calf comfort?
Several factors influence overall calf comfort on-farm. Addressing each of these factors is essential to provide as comfortable a space for calves as possible. The following is a list of these factors, and some specific ways calf comfort can be addressed.
1. Bedding provision and space:
- All bedding should be clean, dry and comfortable.
- Bedding should be thick enough so calves can nest and regulate their own body temperature.
- Bedding should be replaced as often as needed (should it become soiled or damp).
- Calves need space to move around, so housing that allows for movement is ideal.
2. Air quality, movement and drafts
- Calves should have open and airy spaces with as much natural light as possible.
- Proper ventilation is best to ensure the replacement of stale air with fresh air.
- As calves are sensitive to drafts, special attention must be paid to excessive air movement.
- Solid barriers and sheltered areas should be created to protect calves from cold and drafts.
3. Level of humidity and cleanliness
- High moisture levels are detrimental to calf health as pathogens thrive in moisture.
- Excess external moisture should not be allowed inside of calf housing.
- All moisture generated inside calf housing should be removed efficiently; for example, with the use of absorbent bedding and good drainage.
- A dry, clean environment is healthiest for calves.
- Calves are less tolerant of cold than adult animals.
- When calves are too cold, energy will be diverted from growth to maintain body temperature, leading to lower ADG and possible issues with immunity.
- To avoid these growth and health issues in colder temperatures, feed rates can be increased when the temperature drops.
- Calf jackets and supplemented bedding can help keep calves comfortable when colder temperatures set in.
Comfortable and stress-free calves grow into healthy and productive cows. Managing the factors that can compromise calf comfort are key to attaining the LifeStart Program's calf performance goals.
Maintaining calves in a comfortable environment influences both their health and growth by reducing stress and energy demands. Even when the best, high quality colostrum and pre-weaning feeding protocols and combined with the highest standards of cleanliness and consistency of care, on-farm results can be compromised if calves are not comfortable. Ensuring calf comfort is an important way that dairy farms can raise the bar for on-farm performance.